UPLAND, CA. What do you call 11 ETAs, plus one adorable five year old ETA and a rockin’ Elvis tribute band?
The first Elvispalooza was held at the Grove Theatre & Academy in Upland, CA. The event was a fundraiser for the historic theatre to help raise money to pay off a $162,264 mortgage demanded by the legal counsel representing the City of Upland Community Redevelopment Agency.
Coming up with $162,264 in 30 days is a bit tasking for the small theatre. The solution to raise the necessary funds to help pay off the mortgage is a series of entertaining fundraisers. It’s what they do best. Elvispalooza was one of several fundraisers to be held at the theatre throughout the month.
Backed by one of the top Elvis tribute bands in California, the TCB Flash Band provided the music and backup singers for the ETAs and rocked a sold out theatre. The host for the evening was Ex-Rev 2, Bill Kinison. You may recognize the moniker and name since Bill Kinison is the brother of the late, raucous comedian, and Ex-Rev, Sam Kinison. He and his wife, Sherry, purchased the theatre in 1992 and have successfully sustained it themselves through the variety of entertaining shows that have played out on its stage. The theatre has been self-sufficient since it was purchased 23 years ago by the Kinisons and this is the first time they have asked for monetary support from the community.
At $10 per ticket the Elvispalooza was hugely successful and raised $3,000-$4,000. The emcee for the fundraiser was professional ETA, Chris Luna, who started off the show with his son, Presley. They stole the show before it began by singing a duet rendition of the lullaby Big Boots from Elvis Presley’s movie G.I. Blues. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
The most important Elvis fan is the next generation of children exposed to the life, music, and legacy of Elvis Presley. The adorable, talented, Presley Luna, represents the next generation of both fans and ETAs who will keep the memory of Elvis alive for years to come. Presley made his debut stage performance at the Elvispalooza with his dad for a father and son duet and set the bar very high for the rest of the ETAs.
The ETAs had no problem reaching the bar; and leading the way was 17 year old Jacob Roman. Roman has won a number of awards since his debut at the 2013 EP EXPO this past January where he placed first over many veteran ETAs. He has the skills to capture the electrifying energy of an early Elvis at the peak of his early skyrocketing success from 1956-1958. Handsome, young, and talented, Roman captures the hearts of the gals and inspires the guys to keep the memory of Elvis alive.
Riding on the energy of the TCB lightning bolt ignited by Roman was Joe Bullock swooning the audience with the alluring Power of My Love wearing the 68 Comeback Special leathers. It’s a lesser known song from the critically acclaimed Memphis album recorded in 1969, but it’s always a crowd pleaser and the song simply rocks hard. Bullock wowed us again later in the show with his exciting version of Polk Salad Annie while dressed in the Powder Blue Nail jumpsuit.
Seasoned ETA, Steve Murphy, showed us why he has performed over 500 shows during his career. He is very comfortable performing on stage with a live band. Possessing a strong, clear voice and keen knowledge of Elvis, he rocked the stage like it was Elvis in Las Vegas and kept the fast paced show going, leaving barely a moment for us to catch our breath.
Sometimes with the fast pace, unforeseen mishaps can slow things down. Lessons on “the show must go on” were taught to us by Fernie Ramirez when the neck of his guitar broke off the body. It was an Elvispalooza and there was not a shortage of guitars. While Ramirez grabbed the next guitar and kept on rockin’ without missing a beat we took the opportunity to catch our breath. He didn’t let us rest for long before jumping right into the song.
The shake, rattle, and rolling kept on going with a bit of humor added when Gary Anderson and Ceasar Garcia were handed a pair oversized Elvis sunglasses during their performances. Being good sports they put on the sunglasses and gave us all a good laugh and kept on singing. Garcia burned up the stage with Burnin’ Love while Anderson invoked our patriotic spirits with American Trilogy.
Brad Carrow, with his mischievous grin, and Jesse Ortega, who just became a great grandfather, were not to be outdone along with Raul Condé. Carrow has a fantastic voice he skillfully used to catch those high notes in Loving You. Ortega rolled us down the river with the fun, fantastic Proud Mary with those iconic Elvis moves that make you want to stand up from your seat and dance. Condé reminded us to not forget the forgotten children of the inner city with one of the few message songs by Elvis, In the Ghetto.
What is an Elvispalooza without the most requested Elvis song and without a gospel power hymn? Boring! Fortunately, the show was anchored by Todd “TNT” Torres keeping the excitement going with Suspicious Minds and Chris Luna bringing us to humble, quiet reverance with How Great Thou Art. Their respective performances were far from boring.
Torres brought us all back to the unique, charismatic, rock roots of Elvis expressed magnificently with Suspicious Minds. The song is a rock-n-roll ballad with guitar rifts, heavy drums, and a symphony of horns making our ear drums ring and our bodies rock to its rhythmic beats. Watching Torres perform it took us all back to that Las Vegas stage where Elvis did the song as only he could. Torres gave us a great Elvis illusion of what it was like to see Elvis.
Luna then showed us why Elvis is so captivating with his music and named the greatest entertainer of all time. Elvis’ talent to move from the popular genre of Suspicious Minds to the age old How Great Thou Art hymn is unprecedented in music history. Luna’s powerful voice is demonstrated best when he sings this song, and similar ones, that touch the soul. Always a show-stopper and almost impossible not to stand in awe when the final note is nailed.
The final song, and perhaps the saddest song, gathered all the ETAs together on the stage to sing Can’t Help Falling in Love. It’s a signal the show is over and the song Elvis always closed his concerts with. It was his way to say thank you to his fans and the final opportunity to pass out scarves to screaming girls.
Elvispalooza came to a close, yet, left us all wanting more. Let’s hope there is another Elvispalooza next year. I think Chris Hernandez may have stumbled on an event that could be held to raise money for other charities. ELVISPALOOZA 2014 anyone?
As good as each ETA is in their own right they were made better by the talented TCB Flash Band lead by Chris Hernandez with guest keyboardist, Aaron Magers, Sr. The dynamic trio of Hernandez’ TCB Flash Band, Magers on the keyboard, and the backup singers put the show on the level of a Las Vegas revue.
Our list of gratitude begins first with thanking Chris Hernandez and the TCB Flash Band for their willingness to donate their time for the event. A huge THANK YOU to Bill and Sherry Kinison and the theatre staff for letting us enjoy Elvis and our ETAs. Your vision for the arts and belief in their importance for the community is seen with every act, and heard in every song performed on your stage. An equally huge thank you goes to each ETA who donated their time and talent for the fundraiser. Thank you for keeping the memory alive.
Most importantly, our gratitude to the most important people of the show: THE FANS. Thank you for your contribution to keeping the Grove Theatre & Academy a thriving venue for the arts and for keeping the memory of Elvis alive.