From the Daily Journal. Not long ago Elvis tribute artists got a cold shoulder from their inspiration's corporate entity, Elvis Presley Enterprises. For years, the owner of Elvis' name, likeness and image distanced itself from the hordes of men - and handful of women - who dressed and performed something like the King of Rock 'N' Roll.
"We represent the real thing," said Todd Morgan, EPE's director of media and creative development. "The impersonator thing for the public and the press ... has often been a negative. When you think impersonator,' you think parody.' We could never find a comfort level in embracing it."
That meant events featuring such entertainment couldn't get licensed by EPE, and those that EPE already licensed - like Tupelo's annual Elvis Presley Festival - largely were prohibited from having such entertainment.
But that's changing. The corporate entity has warmed to the idea of impersonators, and that means greater opportunities for festivals like Tupelo's to feature more of what the public wants - Elvis.
"Over the past years we have had a lot of discussion about the Elvis tribute artist phenomenon and what to do about it," Morgan said. "We realized it was never going to go away. It has gotten bigger, the entertainment has gotten better. So we thought maybe if we get involved in some way, maybe we can bring attention to the most talented tribute artists."
Tapping the resource
And thus bring attention to EPE's own events. Morgan acknowledged that impersonators draw large crowds and suggested that Graceland could tap that resource to boost attendance at its own functions.
It tried the tactic for the first time Friday by hosting an Elvis tribute artist showcase in Memphis. Last year, EPE quietly co-sponsored a similar showcase to test the waters, Morgan said. And next year it plans to expand those efforts.
The entity also worked closely this spring with Tupelo officials to host a re-enactment of Elvis' 1956 homecoming concert complete with three tribute artists at the June event. It drew the largest crowd in the festival's eight-year history.
Festival organizers here hope to continue that practice.
Although Tupelo had featured a tribute artist, it now will have more of them and even hold a contest, said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, which hosts the event.
Those who win the contest will compete at Graceland against winners from other EPE-licensed festivals, said Linda Butler Johnson, who heads Tupelo's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Those plans are not yet firm, however.
Still, Brangenberg and Johnson lauded EPE's more relaxed attitude toward impersonators and the more open relationship it now has with Tupelo.
For example, EPE invited the city to have a presence at Graceland for Fan Appreciation Week, and expressed interest in partnering with the festival, CVB and the Elvis Presley Birthplace during memorial events for the King's Aug. 16 death.
"It's a change in tactic for EPE to open up doors to what we can do," Johnson said at a recent CVB meeting. "It's a new day for EPE, and we're going to try to take advantage of it."
By Daily Journal - Emily Le Coz