Friday, March 21, 2008

Elvis Week Memories: 2007 Elvis Week Reaction

***Here are some of my memories that I posted just after I returned from Elvis Week 07, one of the biggest and best ever. Excuse any typos...this proved to be one of the hottest Elvis Weeks in history and I was exhausted when I wrote it. I am also including a few rather blurry shots from the fabulous Insider's 07 Conference as well****

I have been attending Elvis Week now for more than five years and I must say that this one was among the very best so far. Although the temperature in Memphis was unbearably hot and kept me feeling exhausted, the events the EPE staff came up with were extremely exciting. Here is a rundown of some of the events I attended, a few honest criticisms and a few random thoughts.

One of the first things my Mom and I always do upon arriving is to peruse all of the shops around Graceland to see the new merchandise, and to just begin to soak up the atmosphere in general. The newer products this year were for the most part well done. The T-Shirt designs are typically pretty superb and I try to overlook certain things that have been licensed that I don’t find all that appealing. There wasn’t anything overtly offensive that I saw this year, such as the dreaded Elvis Duck heads that have popped up in the past few trips.

I am continually disappointed by what is happening to Elvis’ music selection in the shops. The "Good Rockin Tonight" music shop should be just that, and there is no excuse for it to not be fully stocked with all of the FTDs as well as all of the currently available BMG products. T-Shirts and souvenirs are fine but in the end it should be about the music and a new fan walking into this store would have trouble knowing what to get. I think a total overhaul of the store is in order, with not only getting all the music in stock but also some sort of interactive guide (and a knowledgeable staff) that could help newcomers with their collection. Each year Elvis’ cds seem to be pushed further and further back which is a real disservice to the man and his legacy.

Our first big event this year was the annual A CELEBRATION OF FANS and that was a very well organized and fun time. It is always a pleasure to see and hear Jerry Schilling and his presence along with the wonderful display of charity made by the fan club presidents was inspiring.

The ELVIS EXPO that ran for three days was also fairly well organized. Most of the booths set up were very respectful and the people for the most part were extremely friendly. It was difficult to get the Insider’s guests autographs during the conference due to time and the crowds but I think EPE handled this as well as they possibly could.

August 12th brought the beginning of THE ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST CONTEST. We did not attend this and I find EPE’s embrace of this to be the most disappointing decision they have ever made. While some of these ‘artists’ are talented and love the man, overall they have done more to hurt the legacy of Elvis Presley more than anyone else. I refuse to have anything to do with this and I am really saddened by EPEs sanctioning of such an event. That said, outside of the usual jump suited idiots walking around Graceland, we were free of having to see any of this.

The Sunday night scavenger hunt was a serious blast as always and this is a great event that the staff of EPE obviously work extremely hard on. It is a great way to see the mansion, have fun, learn about Elvis and maybe even win some prizes.

Monday was Day One of The Insider’s Conference and it was pretty solid although it wasn’t as memorable as some past Insider’s Conferences. The highlight of the day was the spirited Mary Ann Mobely who seemed very friendly and obviously happy to be there. The Maxine Brown-Joanne Cash segment would have been in serious trouble had the always reliable and personable Host Tom Brown not have been there to come between the two of them. The co-stars talk between Darlene Tompkins, Chris Noel and Cynthia Pepper was okay but they had such limited time with him that I kind of wished for something a little more substantial for the thirtieth anniversary. I won’t say much on the Colonel Parker segment. I appreciate that Loanna Parker is looking out for her late husband’s best interests but no amount of revisionism will make me forget many of the things Elvis sacrificed artistically because of his very greedy manager.

The first ever concert on Graceland’s lawn was held that night and while I had mixed feelings about it, it turned out okay. It started late and not being a Nascar Fan I was a bit baffled by the whole Dale vibe, but a lot of people really got into it. The Dempsey’s performed a fairly spirited set and Andy Childs group did a solid, if not totally memorable, job. The restored print of "Viva Las Vegas" was then shown and it looked fantastic.

Day Two of The Insider’s Conference was a real triumpth and was easily one of the highlights of the whole week. We were treated to fascinating conversations by the TCB Band, The Sweet Inspirations and The famed American Studio Memphis Boys Band. All of these segments were fascinating and everyone was obviously very excited to be there and their passion for Elvis was infectious. The real highlight was Jerry Schilling’s talk with Priscilla. She is so much more personable, friendly and open in person. At one point Jerry tried to stop and she asked to continue. She was obviously enjoying being there and her talk was a really special thing to see.

Night Two on the lawn was also much better than night one. We were treated to a very fitting gospel show featuring The Stamps, The Imperials and The Sweets and then were shown "That’s The Way It Is." Hearing this wonderful music in front of Graceland as the sun went down was really special and it seemed like everyone there felt it. I still have mixed feelings about so many people about being on the lawn, drinking, eating and most likely littering but it was still a nice event.

Wednesday the 15th was of course The Vigil. There isn’t too much I can say about that. It was moving, it was hot, it was packed. The floral displays this year were really incredible. We attended three film showings at the Malco Theatre earlier that day and that was loads of fun. Seeing "Girl Happy", "Charro" and "Live A Little, Love A Little" on the big screen was amazing. "Charro" especially was spellbinding and the staff of the Malco is always great. It is a fine event and I can’t understand why more fans don’t go. There has been a misprint two years running in the Elvis Week newspaper guide regarding the directions to the Theater and I wonder if that has caused some to miss the event.

We slept in on Thursday after the Vigil, missing both the Jerry Osbourne talk and George Klein memorial, in preparation for the two concerts. The Fed-Ex concerts were incredible, mind-blowing events and were both unforgettable. The TCB band as well as the backing groups were all smoking (particularly in the much looser second show) and the filmed opening was chillingly great. I can’t imagine how emotional it must have been for Jerry, Joe and George to film that. Lisa-Marie’s duet on "In The Ghetto" and seeing her get down with Myrna Smith on stage was worth the ticket price. I have a few reservations about the video but I realized that it was done in a rush, and the song was so great that I can forgive any shortcomings. Highlights of the first concert, outside of the opening and the duet, was the second half where the band really locked into gear and by the time "An American Trilogy" started everyone was on their feet. The second show was perhaps even better. Starting out with a killer orchestrated version of Bill Conti’s "Gonna Fly Now" from "Rocky" and then brief opening sets from The Sweets and Imperials; the TCB band hit the stage roaring. "Pola Sald Annie" was especially jaw dropping with Jerry Scheff doing some of the most intense and dirty bass work I have heard in a long time. Both shows were stunning.

We spent our last day touring the mansion and I must say the heat and the crowds finally got to us and I think we were both suitably exhausted by the time we got ready to go.
Despite the heat, this was one of the best Elvis Weeks ever. Thanks to all the EPE staff, especially Scott and Angie who are always so incredibly friendly, for putting so much work into making the week special. It was an amazing trip I will never forget.

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