PALA, CA. Each of us have our own memories from the Rockin’ Elvis Fest this year, but here are a few of those moments I caught with my camera that I thought were pretty special.
During Heartbreak Hotel, Ryan Collingwood had a moment of inspiration and whipped off his tie to give the gals a thrill. Collingwood said it was an impromptu addition to his performance he added during the song. It worked. The girls squealed with delight.
The picture on the left is one of my favorite shots of Bob ‘E Castro with his wonderful smile just before removing one of his rings and giving it to an adoring fan. There are reports of Elvis doing the same thing for his fans. Way to go Bob!
This is another one of my favorite pictures. It’s James Kruk after he sang Suspicious Minds. It says to the eye of the beholder, “Triumphant!” It exudes confidence, but also exhaustion and relief after an ETA has sang his heart out from stage left to stage right.
Triumphant is what every ETA must feel when they have connected with a song and know they gave it their all. Whether he placed first, last, or somewhere in between, he can walk away knowing he laid it all on the line and went for broke. Yeah, it’s awesome to behold.
Every competition has moments of triumph, but also times of heart-wrenching defeat. The worse thing that could happen to an ETA is forgetting the lyrics and the worst happened to Ceasar Garcia. It was hard to watch for both ETAs and fans alike, but it was also one of the greatest moments from the event. It demonstrated the graciousness of Elvis fans who extended their support for his effort with cheers and applause rather than booing him off stage in humiliation. That makes us all winners. We welcome you back next year Mr. Garcia.
Gospel was a big part of Elvis’ life and he often sang a hymn or two during his concerts. To sing gospel is to sing it with meaning and understanding. An ETA must feel the words, and become one with them in spirit, in order for the fans to feel it. I think Elvis did this and that’s why he could sing gospel songs to a diverse audience and they loved him for it. Chris Luna sang You’ll Never Walk Alone with the same conviction and secured his place in the top five. It moved me, and a few other folks, to tears.
In the area of showmanship, Ken Yuvienco scores a 10. He knows how to entertain the crowd and holds their attention from the first note to the last beat. What could easily be turned into a caricature of silliness becomes a wonderful time from a talented entertainer who knows how to put on a show.
The Canadians. That’s Chris Kelso on the left and Darrell Douglas on the right. Canada is host to several of the biggest Elvis festivals in North America: Collingwood Elvis Festival, Penticton Elvis Festival, and the Blue Suede Shoes Music Festival. It’s a mystery why Elvis is such a huge influence in Canada, but there are a lot of ETAs paying tribute to him every year at these large festivals.
I got to know Kelso, who is a likable, personable fellow with a great sense of humor and loves being an ETA. His focus is on the show tunes from Elvis’ movies which is always a special treat in a contest since many ETAs prefer the songs from the early years and concert years. However, this year he donned a jumpsuit for the first time and added a new era of Elvis’ career to his show.
Douglas was elusive, or maybe just shy, because I didn’t see much of him after each show and missed any opportunity to get to know him. He did give me some great photos and a great Elvis illusion from his final performance. Maybe I’ll get to know him next year.
Douglas Bryan is one of the newest ETAs competing, but already has a few years under his belt as an entertainer. Bryan wanted to win, of course, but it really didn’t matter because he was taking in the whole experience and having a great time. His enthusiasm is a welcomed infusion to the contest and a reminder for the reasons many of us frequent these contests. We love discovering new talent and watching a new generation of ETAs take on the crown and keep the memory of Elvis alive for years to come.
It’s difficult enough to look like Elvis, sing like Elvis, and move like Elvis all at the same time. Lie down on your back and sing a reprise from Hurt levels up the difficulty. It’s a showstopper, and I’ve yet to see Mark Stevenz transition into it smoothly, but not by any fault of his own. He can sing it standing up or lying down, but every time he transitions for the encore an enthusiastic gal runs up to the stage and vies for his attention. Being the good guy he is, Stevenz stays in character, bends down and kisses the girl just like Elvis would do, but misses his moment.
It’s a challenging dichotomy to either go for the win or stay true to the memory of Elvis for the sake of the fans. It’s obvious which is more important to Stevenz and I hope to some day see the entire, uninterrupted reprise. By the way, he still nailed it, and Stevenz scored high on my score sheet for kissing the girl and going forward with the reprise.
Dean Zeligman may have been the obvious winner as America’s Favorite Rockabilly Elvis Tribute, and indeed, he lived up to the name with stellar performances that brought the fans to their feet. He did not take it for granted this was a competition and earned his place. The rest of the ETAs, especially the remaining top four: Rob Ely, Mark Stevenz, James Kruk, and Chris Luna, did not take it for granted either. They made Dean earn it with equally strong performances. They were in it to win it, too. More importantly, was Dean’s gracious appreciation to take his place among the best in the world in Memphis. We can probably thank his mom for his good character.
Camaraderie. It really is a brotherhood among ETAs and many of them recognize talent when they see it. Despite instinctively knowing the high probability Dean Z would win the contest, Mark Stevenz and George Thomas showed their support and recognition for Dean’s talents when the top five were announced. Nevertheless, there was still money on the table and it was still a competition, and the rest of the semi-finalists continued on with strong, outstanding performances.
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There are too many things to recount from the event in a single post. It was a three day event with late nights of celebration followed by the dawn of an early morning sun breaking over the horizon. There was plenty of coffee ready to lift the morning fog so we could do it all over again. In between were buffets of delicious, exotic cuisine and comfort food from around the world and every bite chased down by a glass of an esquisite wine. All of it meaningless if it weren’t for the company of good friends, old and new, reveling in the good times together. These are simply a few of the moments which made it all worthwhile.
Lastly, the real motivation behind all of it is to see that wonderful smile each ETA puts on my wife’s face. It’s ooey, gooey mushy and I make no apology for it. Thanks fellas.