Elvis Week Day 5 – The Top 5 Coolest Things I Did Yesterday

By Jon Waterhouse

A tornado of activity swirling around on Saturday had me all shook up, in a good way. The thrill of Elvis Week began hitting its peak. The excitement of fantastic events, the love and passion found in fellow fans, and unadulterated fun hit the fevered pitch of a Bill Baize high note.

Now I sit in my hotel lobby noshing on breakfast reflecting on the day’s events. Man, I’m a fortunate son in this international Elvis family. Smack me, Kid Galahad, I must be dreaming.

THE TOP 5 COOLEST THINGS I DID YESTERDAY

The Elvis Fan Reunion

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Call it cliche, but Elvis Week does indeed resemble a family reunion. This inspired Elvis Week organizers to put together an Elvis Fan Reunion inside the packed Main Stage. Tom Brown, Joey Sulipeck, DJ Argo and Memphis Jones played the roles of the wacky uncles, interviewing fans, hosting games, giving away goodies and more. Seeing a sea of familiar faces from around the globe not only stoked my heart, but served as undeniable evidence of the impact Elvis continues having. And it was all sunshine and rainbows until I got busted peeking at Lesia Marcum’s answers during Elvis Trivia. Yikes!

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Meet ‘n’ Greet with Betty Harper

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I popped in at the Heartbreak Hotel to visit Elvis artist Betty Harper’s exhibit and get an eyeful of her work up close and personal. These inspired pieces nearly glow from their easels, and Betty’s created more than 20,000 Elvis-related drawings throughout her career. This includes the fabulous “Me, Myself & I” currently on silent auction at the Heartbreak Hotel. Auction proceeds go to the Bridget Chérie Harper Artist Scholarship Fund to help inspire the next generation of Betty Harpers.

Getting suited up at Lansky Bros.

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Hal Lansky, owner of the clothier to the king, gave me a call, requesting my presence at his store. Upon walking inside, I hear the news I just missed Joe Walsh of the Eagles, who slipped in for some stage duds. Hal then told me he wanted me to look good for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals. Soon, I found Lansky wrapping me in a gorgeous blue vest to wear for the occasion. Thanks, Hal!

Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals

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The energy level at the Orpheum Theatre downtown sizzled like a toasty frying pan in aunt Delta’s kitchen. Moments before the verdict, I sat backstage with the final five: Dwight Icenhower, Victor Trevino, Jr., Ben Thompson, Travis Powell and Pat Dunn. I felt the weight of anticipation and pressure in the room, but the common bond and support among the participants still very apparent. “This particular contest is so different, because you can be up there for two songs,” Icenhower told me, “and you come off of the Ultimate stage and feel like you’ve done a two-hour show. Your emotions are so high.” Icenhower’s emotions reached 11 upon hearing the news.

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After participating eight times in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition, Icenhower finally took home a win. I had the honor of standing with him onstage as he received the title. Goosebumps materialized on top of my goosebumps.

The Jeff Lewis & Friends After Party

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I couldn’t have imagined a better capper for the day. Lewis, a former Ultimate competitor, has created one of the most remarkable gatherings I’ve ever attended. Elvis fans the world over swarm the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street for impromptu jams featuring special guests, including award-winning Elvis tribute artists, special Elvis Week guests, Memphis musicians and celebs. Lewis asked me to help him kick off the show with the incomparable Tom Brown, the Johnny Carson of Elvis Week. The three of us took turns singing “That’s All Right” with an all-star band behind us.

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Dean Z rocked the Scotty Moore licks on guitar, his lovely wife Stephanie hit the background vocals, Tim Hendry provided the heavy artillery on drums, and a roster of other seasoned musicians rounded out the stage. Unbelievable, unforgettable and epic. It drops again tonight. Don’t miss it!

Q & A WITH BETTY HARPER

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Certainly one of the sweetest and skilled members of the Elvis fan community, and a true contributor to the legacy, would be Betty Harper, the artist of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Betty’s Elvis art history dates back to a billboard she designed in 1978 that loomed above traffic near Graceland. To date, she’s drawn more than 20,000 images of Presley with no signs of slowing. I caught up with Betty Harper at the Heartbreak Hotel where her exhibit, “The Art of Betty Harper,” will be on view through August 15.

On Elvis Week:
For me, it’s always seemed like a big family reunion. Having done it for such a long time, I’ve met so many people. It’s our time of the year to get together and celebrate Elvis, music and have a week of a lot of fun. I’ve seen people from every race imaginable and from all corners of the world the last 35 years. And we’re all here to enjoy Elvis and enjoy each other. But it really is like a family reunion, because Elvis always seemed like a part of our family, not just a singer. He didn’t just have a few songs and go away. He hung on.

On Elvis Week memories:
The very first time I went to Memphis was in 1979, I think it was. I had a show at what was then the Quality Inn on Brooks Road. My art was set up in the lobby. There were five bus loads of a British fan club who arrived, and we started talking. I had gotten up early that morning. We stayed up all day, all night, all day the next day, the next night and into the next day talking about Elvis and all of the music we love. You don’t come to Elvis Week to sleep.

On what she enjoys most about drawing Elvis:
I’m really an illustrator, and I enjoy drawing everything. I’ve created everything from mausoleums to record covers. But I really love drawing people, and I love drawing Elvis. Every time I drew Elvis, he always looked different. Early on when I was developing my art, one thing I realized was a lot of kids I knew who were good at drawing didn’t put the time into it to be proficient. My interest in Elvis made me put my time into it to get good at it.

On her 20,001 Elvis drawing, “Me, Myself & I”:
I just completed my 20,001 drawing of Elvis. I’ve drawn with pencil, crayon, pastels, oils and acrylic, pen and ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and everything you could imagine. With this one, it started as a sketch of Elvis in his Army fatigues. Then I just decided to incorporate a lot of other things. It’s a conglomeration of other mediums that I’ve used or learned to use. I use the computer a lot now. It’s three different poses of Elvis. I came down to the completion of it, and I thought about it. My daughter passed away last August. She was a ceramic artist. When she died we set up a fund, the Bridget Chérie Harper Artist Scholarship Fund, to help young artists. So I decided to set up a silent auction to raise money for the fund. Whatever comes from it, I’ll add to the fund.


1 Comment

  1. Susan Sand

    It was so fun to meet you and have you at our Jeff Lewis and Friends after parties! I’m enjoying all of your Elvis Week blog, but this mention of the party is, of course, my favorite piece. I know of no where else during Elvis Week that we fans can see the very best ETAs, and special guests, just relax and jam all night long. That, added to the unbeatable location and staff of Hard Rock Cafe Memphis, make the after parties the place to be!

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