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Elvis memories live in tributes

Fans don glitter, gather at festival

Monday, June 1, 2009
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Elvis tribute artist Paul Hunt of Schenectady sings "Help Me" at the Painted Pony Fairgrounds Sunday morning.
Photographer: Barry Sloan
Elvis tribute artist Paul Hunt of Schenectady sings "Help Me" at the Painted Pony Fairgrounds Sunday morning.

— Elvis may be dead, but The King’s memory was alive as more than 60 Elvis tribute artists performed over the weekend during the LakeGeorge.com Elvis Festival.

His memory was alive Sunday in everyone from grandmothers to 11-year-old boys, men and women from all walks of life and places throughout the country and Canada.

It was alive in 11-year-old Brenen Katolinsky, of Ontario, Canada, who shook his hips and curled his lip as he performed on stage in the youth division finals of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists Competition.

Katolinsky, who performed two songs from the 1950s, was dressed in a black suit with pants short enough to show off his white socks, black loafers and his hair fluffed out in front. He said he’s been an Elvis fan his entire life thanks to his father. His brother, Brycen Katolinsky, 15, also competed Sunday. The family travels throughout the states performing.

“I love Elvis and performing his music,” Brenen said. “I love the way the fans react.”

Indeed, more than 1,000 Elvis fans, some dressed in rhinestone-studded jumpsuits, sunglasses and dark wigs, whooped and cheered at every hip shake and “thank ya very much.”

Art Dias, 45, of Suffield, Conn., was dressed in a purple jumpsuit decorated with silver rhinestone stars. Dias and a few of his friends drove to Lake George on a “party bus,” as they called it, for the festival. Some in his crowd had been coming to the festival for years, like Bobby Bond, who was dressed in Elvis-style sunglasses and muttonchops.

All said they had been fans of Elvis since they were children.

“Elvis is The King,” Dias said. “He had the music, he had the moves, he had the style. He was, hands down, The King.”

Shirlee Schwebs of Kissimmee, Fla., 73, said she is not just an Elvis fan. She served for 11 years as the president of the Elvis Presley Continentals, the original Elvis Presley fan club that was named by The King himself in 1955.

“I really like being around people like GaryElvis, who is trying to keep Elvis’ memory alive,” she said. “I think that’s really, really important.”

Tribute artist GaryElvis Britt, of Plant City, Fla., said he’s been performing at the Lake George festival for the last five years and he said it is one of the top 10 festivals in the world.

“I’d say 25 percent of these performers you’d pay $50 to see and feel like you were getting a bargain and maybe 10 of them you’d pay $100 to see and say the same thing,” Britt said.

Britt, who performs around the country as an Elvis tribute artist, said he’s been a fan of Elvis his whole life, but thought impersonating The King was an insult.

However, Britt said there is a difference between a tribute artist and an Elvis impersonator, who tends to wear cheesy outfits and pretend to be Elvis for show. Britt said tribute artists are concerned with keeping Elvis’ memory alive through performing the music in The King’s style and often wearing authentic outfits and jewelry.

E. Rock, 48, of Kansas City, and Robert Washington, 50, of Maine sat backstage with a bunch of other Elvis tribute artists waiting to perform in the finals Sunday afternoon.

Rock, who has been singing for the last two years, said seeing Elvis live in 1973 saved his life.

“I didn’t have any family. I was depressed and suicidal, but Elvis’ music gave me hope and motivation,” he said.

Rock competed in the non-professional division, where he sang Elvis music from the 1970s, but Washington, who has been an Elvis tribute artist for the last 22 years, sang in the professional division.

“Being a fan is a must, but it also helps to have the look and the hairstyle, and the ability to sing helps, too,” he said.

Both Rock and Washington said singing for and being around Elvis fans is the best part about being an Elvis tribute artist.

Competitors, who were broken down into five categories, were vying for more than $8,000 in prize money.

In its sixth year, the Lake George Elvis festival changed venues this year to the Painted Pony Fairgrounds. The contest was delayed for an hour Sunday afternoon because of high winds that threatened to tear off a tarp covering the main stage.

 
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