Elvis blinked, and the Michigan Elvisfest will go on complete with impersonators, rhinestones and its good name. Elvis Presley Enterprises, guardian of all things Elvis, decreed two weeks ago that every Elvis celebration must either dispense with imitation Elvises or stop using Elvis' name and likeness.
That left Ypsilanti's Elvisfest caught between a hound dog and a fire hydrant. There's not much point to an Elvis festival without Elvises, and "Michigan Deceased Rock Singer from Tupelo Festival" takes too long to say.
Then, Tuesday morning, Elvisfest director Tracy Briggs awoke to an e-mail from EPE declaring it had changed its corporate mind and would "license all festivals once again."
"Every now and again, the little guy comes out ... well, I won't say 'on top,' because they came out on top as much as we did," Briggs says generously. But the pleas and arguments from affected Elvis festivals -- along with heaps of bad publicity -- won the day.
Briggs says she pointed out that without supervision from Graceland, cheesy festivals could run rampant across the landscape. There also was the whole incongruity of EPE putting the squeeze on nonprofit civic celebrations in the name of someone who used to give Cadillacs to virtual strangers.
At EPE in Memphis, the director of worldwide licensing says she was won over by the fundamental sincerity of the 20 or so Elvis festivals it sanctions. As for the initial problem, Carol Butler blames those pesky, troublemaking Canadians.
The Collingwood, Ontario, Elvis Festival draws 70,000 people to the Georgian Bay area every July. Its imitators spawned imitators, Butler says, including festivals in Brantford, Ontario; Penticton, British Columbia; and some others she couldn't think of right off hand.
"One festival would call and complain about another," Butler says: The dates or locations were too close together, or one festival wasn't playing fair, or one festival was touching the other festival's stuff.
"It was like handling small children," she says. "We were taking our maps out, trying to figure out the distance between one place and another and how long it would take to drive if you wanted to go to both."
The new directive from the King's court tells the festivals to work those things out themselves. In Ypsilanti, meanwhile, where everyone gets along just fine, Briggs says things are back to normal.
Organizers are lining up musical acts and fried banana sandwich vendors and all the other things that make up an Elvisfest. They're making grand plans for their expanded space at Riverside Park, across the street from the smaller Frog Island Park where they drew 7,000 people last year.
The dates are July 11-12, Briggs says, and y'all come, because Elvis lives.
(By Neal Rubin / The Detroit News)