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VOL. 127 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 13, 2012

Fit for a King

Elvis Week 2012 promises to be bigger and better than ever

By Sarah Baker

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Each August, thousands of Elvis Presley fans make their annual pilgrimage to Graceland to pay homage to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

But this year – being the 35th anniversary of Presley’s death and the 30th anniversary of Graceland being open to the public – will be one for the record books.

More than 25 events are scheduled for Elvis Week, an eight-day celebration from Friday, Aug. 10, through Saturday, Aug. 18, that includes concerts, movie screenings, panel discussions, autograph sessions, sporting events and an art exhibition.

“It’s just going to be Elvis Week on steroids per say,” said Kevin Kern, director of public relations for Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. “There’s a lot of folks coming in from around the world who come in on these anniversaries ending with a five or a zero, and 2012, as the 35th, is going to be very big.”

Graceland averages 600,000 visitors annually, and this summer expects its 18 millionth guest since opening its doors June 7, 1982.

“As far as was it going to be successful, nobody knew the answer,” Kern said. “To be honest, they thought they might have two, three years of tours and that would be it. But here 30 years later, we’ve become a tourism staple and it was the birth of a new industry in the city as tourism.”

Graceland is Memphis’ top out-of-town tourist attraction next to the Beale Street Entertainment District. But virtually all of Graceland’s attendees travel from 500 miles away or more, said Regena Bearden, vice president of marketing for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Memphis’ culture is all about music. Anyone that knows about Memphis certainly knows that,” Bearden said. “Graceland and Elvis Presley being the superstar that he was, and actually still is, helped us get a lot of advantages that started that music destination revolution for us.”

In 2007, for the 25th anniversary, Graceland saw about 75,000 visitors. EPE expects that same magnitude of people this year, if not more.

“We do have repeat customers, but we also have a lot of new folks who do come to Elvis Week each year,” Kern said. “We have a lot of international folks coming in – around 2,000 from the United Kingdom alone is what we’re hearing and expecting based on tour operators out of the U.K.”

While every Elvis Week is filled with traditions like the annual Elvis Presley 5K Run and candlelight vigil that winds through Graceland’s Meditation Garden, EPE also promises new events each year to make the experience unique for first-timers and returning fans alike.

One of this year’s novelties is the entertainment tent at Graceland that will seat 1,200 spectators. The onsite venue is something that EPE’s guests had desired to keep from “driving all around town,” Kern said.

The 100- by 150-foot, air-conditioned space will host several events throughout the week, including the kickoff celebration, “Memphis Celebrates the King Music Fest.” The daylong festival will spotlight local musicians that were inspired by Elvis on Friday, Aug. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s free to the public, with donations benefiting the Memphis Music Foundation.

“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase some of these up-and-coming artists in front of an international audience,” said Dean Deyo, president of the Memphis Music Foundation. “In addition, each of these artists, when they finish performing, will be doing live spots on Elvis Radio, which is on Sirius XM.

“It’s just a great way to promote Memphis music, and we’re also proud that it’s really one of the very first times that Graceland has allowed an artist to come on their grounds and play something besides all Elvis music. Each of our artists will be doing some covers of Elvis songs, but they’ll be doing their own songs as well.”

Elvis Week 2012 events include the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and the 30th annual Elvis Presley 5K run at Graceland. (All photos used by permission, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.)

Meanwhile, the Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert Thursday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. at FedExForum is anticipated to be the biggest yet. Appearances will be made by Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley, as Elvis’ original Taking Care of Business band and back-up singers perform in tandem with him as he appears via video screen.

“This is a unique concept that we’ve had for a number of years,” Kern said. “The concert essentially takes archival footage, which was recorded in multi-tracks, so everything has been silenced except for Elvis’ vocals. It’s like being at a real concert, it’s quite impressive.”

Lisa Marie will make a second special appearance at Graceland’s Main Stage Entertainment Pavilion on Friday, Aug. 17, during “Conversations on Elvis – Behind the Stage.” The event explores what went on behind the scenes of Elvis’ touring productions with special guests who were there to experience it.

The week concludes with the annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, equipped with some of the best performances from around the world. The 2012 king will be crowned on Aug. 18.

Elvis Week 2012 Events

Elvis Week Kick-Off Concert with Andy Childs & Band
8 p.m., Main Stage Entertainment Pavilion, Graceland

Hard Rock Last Chance Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest – Round 2 
6 p.m., Hard Rock Cafe, 315 Beale St.

Graceland Trivia Tour
5 p.m., Graceland Ticket Office

Elvis Week Dance Party
8 p.m.-11 p.m., Main Stage Entertainment Pavilion, Graceland

“Love Me Tender” and “Clambake”
10:30 p.m., Main Stage Entertainment Pavilion, Graceland

Candlelight Vigil
8:30 p.m., Gates of Graceland

George Klein’s Elvis Mafia Reunion
Noon, Main Theatre Building, Univ. of Memphis

Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert
8 p.m., FedExForum, Downtown Memphis

Morning and Evening Walk Ups to Meditation Garden
7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m., Graceland

Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest Final Round
7 p.m., Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 North Main St.

For full list of events, visit www.elvis.com

There are also opportunities to go the more interactive route during Elvis Week. Sun Studio, for instance, is ramping up its staff and offerings in preparation for the eight days that historically have boosted up to three times the normal volume of visitors.

“When it’s the five-year anniversaries are when we get it really big,” said Jayne Ellen White, Sun Studio public relations director. “The first year that I was here was the 30th year, and it was estimated that 75,000 people came to that. That one was really a lot of fun, but it was definitely insane. Of course, they’re expecting this one to be just as big or bigger.”

In preparation of the big 35th anniversary, Sun Studio is tailoring its tours toward Elvis, whom recorded more than 20 songs there from 1953 to 1955.

“We’re doing a lot of training, we’ve hired some new staff and we’ve cleared out our gift shop … so there will be room for people to stand,” White said. “We’re going to stay open a little later and maybe open up a little earlier, and just expect to have a whole bunch of fun Elvis fans here. And we’re stocking up on water.”

Tad Pierson, owner and driver of American Dream Safari, is expecting to see a boost in business as well. His company takes tours to the landmarks of Memphis rock and soul in true Elvis style – a pink 1955 Cadillac.

“I’ve got tours running all that week – just rocking steady with the average Elvis fans, showing them around town,” Pierson said. “I show them the standard stuff – Elvis’ early history, the (Humes) high school, Lauderdale Courts (where he used to live), things like that. I’m not completely maxed out, but I’ve got quite a few bookings already.”

But the excursions don’t stop there. For the more epicurean Elvis fan, Tastin’ ‘Round Town is offering Downtown and Memphis barbecue tours.

And for the more remote advocates of the King, Memphis Jones will host daily video updates throughout the week at ElvisWeek.com.

“Every day for the festivities, I’m going to be racing from event to event to event, highlighting the experience for people that can’t make it to Memphis, so that they’ll know what they can expect when they finally do get here in time to enjoy Elvis Week themselves,” Jones said.

“It’s informative. Because there are two kinds of people in the world: Elvis fans and people who haven’t heard enough yet.”

Whether participating in events on or off-site, Kern said the one constant of Elvis Week is its opportunity for the city to shine. A variety of media come in town for the eight days of festivities, such as NBC’s “Today” show and the BBC.

“Elvis Week showcases Memphis in a very positive light,” Kern said.

“People come from around the world to see what our city has to offer, so it’s something that I think folks should take pride in. We welcome the world to Memphis each and every August, and this is a big August for us because it’s the 35th and we’ll have more than the normal aspect.”

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