By Jon Waterhouse
The closer you get to Graceland, it seems sideburns start getting longer.
It’s a beautiful thing I noticed yesterday as I trekked from Atlanta to Memphis. Although I couldn’t get to Graceland quick enough, an Elvis pilgrimage isn’t complete without a stop at the King’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi for a quick “thankyaverymuch” and a dough burger at Johnnie’s Drive In.
A bite into a dough burger always aligns my taste buds with the rest of my psyche as I prepare for some extended Elvis indulgence. Back when Elvis was growing up in Tupelo, times were tight. Folks didn’t always have enough coin to pony up for a full-on hamburger. So Johnnie’s made it a bit easier by offering the less expensive dough burger, which consists of a patty made of ground beef mixed with flour.
After wiping mustard from the chin, I swung by Fairpark where a looming 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Elvis was unveiled the night before. Its bronze glistening regally in the sunlight, the creation comes from the hands of artist Bill Beckwith. Serious Elvis fans know the picture he based it on, that famous 1956 photo by Roger Marshutz of Elvis performing his Tupelo homecoming concert.
Then it was time to travel the same road the Presley family did in 1948 as they moved from Tupelo to Memphis. Although I was born and bred in Georgia, arriving Memphis always feels like a homecoming of sorts. And with Elvis Week 2012 in full swing, it’s something akin to a family reunion of the Elvis faithful.
I immediately dove inside the impressive Main Stage. This sprawling portable concert hall is located next to Graceland Plaza and was built specifically for Elvis Week. Primo sound and a comfy environment are highlights. The blast of air conditioning was a welcome perk as I soaked up the sounds of the local musicians performing throughout the Memphis Music Foundation concert. Aron Shiers, whose parents gave him Elvis’s middle name, tipped his hat to the King with an acoustic version of “Suspicious Minds.” John Paul Keith & The One Four Fives reminded us that Memphis’s musical blood runs blue with a blistering version of “Hideaway.”
Later on I zipped over to AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis as the Memphis Redbirds faced the Tacoma Rainiers for a minor league baseball battle. The first 5,000 fans scored Elvis bobblehead figures. I proved to be one of the fortunate as I gripped the kitschy effigy that features the King wearing a Memphis Redbirds uniform.
Brad Birkedahl and the Burnin’ Love Band had fans swiveling their hips during a pre-game concert. Birkedahl and company weaved through a set pairing staples such as “Suspicious Minds” with deeper gems like “Patch it Up.” A guy shrouded in an impressive Elvis jumpsuit posed with fans in front of a Graceland backdrop, and a pair of classic Thunderbirds parked in the plaza garnered their own share of paparazzi.
While hanging in the plaza I came across a pair of British birds getting their first dose of baseball. Elvis fan Marie Pinfield of Birmingham Redditch, England said they decided to come to Elvis Night at the Redbirds game to “see something American.”
“But you’re missing the Olympics,” I countered.
“Yeah, we have the Olympics,” replied her friend Vivian Murdoch of London. “But you have something better than that: Elvis!”
As game time neared, the Budweiser Clydesdale horses trotted around the field while pulling a carriage with Elvis.com’s own video host Memphis Jones riding shotgun. Once the horses rounded home, Jones jumped off and was one of a handful of luminaries invited to throw out the first pitch.
Terry Blackwood, a member of The Imperials, belted out “The Star Spangled Banner,” firing on the same cylinders he did when he sang back-up vocals for Elvis.
My formal apologies to those who were seated around me. I couldn’t help but bust into a full scale sing-a-long as the loudspeaker played Elvis tunes throughout the game. And the Elvis theme kept on rocking and rolling into the evening.
When each Memphis Redbirds player made it up to bat, an image on the massive screen in the outfield showed the respective player donning Elvis shades and a jumpsuit.
All of that positive Kingly energy paid off as the Redbirds took care of business by winning 3 to 1 over the Rainiers.
Elvis Week 2012 knocked its first day out of the park. As I climbed into my hotel bed, I could feel my sideburns growing already.