Situated at about an hour's drive north of Frankfurt, Braunfels is a charming health resort dominated by a 750-year-old castle that can be seen from miles around. It is also the headquarters of the "largest German-language fan club" in the world, the "Elvis-Presley-Gesellschaft e.V.", also known as EPG.
Unfortunately, the town is quite off the beaten track, and some 400 kilometers away from Munich (my "adopted" hometown), so that getting there by train is nothing short of an adventure: in other words, the fans who live far and who don't have a car (sounds like a line from a song), usually don't go.
Last weekend, however, circumstances were far from usual: not only would there be a screening of "That's The Way It Is - Special Edition" at the April 7 meeting, but the club's president, Peter Kranzler, had invited not one, but three of the TCB band members, namely Glen Hardin, Jerry Scheff and Ronnie Tutt. This was too good a chance to miss! And as luck would have it, I was not the only Munich-based fan to feel this irresistible urge... The meeting was scheduled to begin at 12 noon, but when we arrived (by car) at 10:30 or thereabouts, a crowd already stood in the lobby of the "Haus des Gastes", a venue that can hold (so I was told) 400 people. There were stands selling Elvis merchandise, and while others caught up on the latest CDs and FTDs, I was able to add yet another Tunzi book to my collection. Raffle tickets sold well as a line started to form in front of the doors to the dining hall. At 11:45, the doors opened, and everybody did his (her) best to secure the best seat possible. As usual, long tables had been set up so that people could eat and drink as they watched the stage. The room filled up quickly, and soon all the chairs were taken. The show could begin!
The program started off with a sequence from the first of the "He Touched Me" videos, in which Elvis can be heard singing "Somebody Bigger Than You And I" while dreamy landscapes fill the screen. This was followed by a brief presentation of new and future releases (or "escapes", as Elvis called them), and then it was time for the first highlight of the day: the new version of "Elvis-That's The Way It Is", or TTWII-SE for short. Some of us had already seen the film on their TV sets at home (thanks to our multinorm VCRs), but watching Elvis evolve on a large screen while in the company of other fans was a different experience altogether: with the impressions of "Elvis The Concert" still fresh in our minds, it was as though we were seeing the film for the first time and could relive the excitement of a live performance. During the rehearsal of "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water", it is obvious that Elvis knows precisely the sound he is seeking for, and his expert yodeling proves without a doubt that his tastes in music were eclectic: in other words, he is a musician through and through, and a vocalist extraordinaire. At last, he walks - no, he glides onto the stage, and soon he has the audience in the palm of his hand: he laughs at himself and at some of his greatest hits, he is always in motion as he sings with an intensity that is captivating, and that takes our breath away. The crowd screams and shouts and moves to the music, and songs like "Just Pretend", "In The Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds" earn him standing ovations. The Las Vegas audience and the Braunfels fans are enthralled: it is an hour and a half of magic, and all too soon he is grinning mischievously at us from under the curtain before appearing one last time, a sleek cat in black leather socializing with celebrities.
In the pause that followed - and that was necessary to allow us to return to the present -, the raffle tickets were drawn, and a lucky few won some neat prizes, including several promo CDs. The results of an Elvis-themed quiz that had been handed out earlier to all the guests proved that many of those present were true "Elvisologists" - and that even Elvis fans can work together sometimes, provided they can agree on the goal.
The second highlight was announced in the form of a brief video collage prepared by the club and showing the "TCB trio" performing with Elvis and also at previous EPG meetings attended by the musicians individually: however, this was the first time that the three men would be appearing together, and as they walked onto the stage, they were greeted with thundering applause. For the first hour or so, they replied to the fans' questions, and although they had heard them many times before, still they smiled and their respect for Elvis rang true. Most of their answers have been printed before, too, so let me just repeat one here: upon being asked what had been their most memorable moment while working with Elvis, Ronnie replied that it had been the "Aloha from Hawaii" concert; Jerry recalled Elvis' return to live performances on 31 July, 1969 in Las Vegas and the way Elvis was literally transfigured when he walked onto the stage and realized that his fans still loved him; Glen told of how one evening Elvis sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and dedicated it specially to him, because it was Glen's favorite song. An autograph session followed, and everyone presented a photo, a concert program or a book to be signed. Pictures were taken, hands were shook, and the line seemed to go on forever. In fact, the session lasted so long that the organizers treated us to a second screening "That's The Way It Is - Special Edition", while waiting for the room to fill up again so that they could move on to the next part of the day's program, and the third highlight: the live concert which the "TCB trio" would be performing for our pleasure!
And so it was that the fans gathered that day in Braunfels were treated to a "scaled-down" version of "Elvis The Concert", perfectly adapted to the size of the hall (no competition for either Wembley Arena or the Olympiahalle), and still producing a maximum effect: "hard-working" Ronnie Tutt, Jerry "play the bass" Scheff, and Glen D. Hardin were joined by guitarist Tony Smith and Elvis interpreter (not impersonator) Jenson Bloomer. It wasn't long before people started clapping their hands to the music, and many rushed to the stage to either dance or take pictures, or both: male and female, old and young, they stood and watched as the music carried them away one more time. Jenson encouraged everyone to sing along, too, with varying results, although it should be noted that there was almost no English native speaker in the audience - and yet people sang! It was fun, it was fantastic! It was also the end of a long day, and still the "TCB trio" gave us their best, and more: an encore, to much shouting and even more applause. And then it was over, and everybody left the building with Elvis in their ears and in their hearts.
Later we were told that the music could be heard all the way to the castle on the hill: whether this is true or not, I don't know, but one thing was certain - on April 7, 2001, Elvis was in Braunfels, and Braunfels rocked!
In closing I would like to thank: Peter Kranzler and his charming wife Monika for making this day possible, Chris Schäfer and the other Munich fans for sharing the excitement with me, Glen Hardin, Ronnie Tutt and Jerry Scheff for sharing Elvis' music with us all, and of course Elvis himself, wherever he may be, for enriching my life and that of many, many others.