I’m sitting here in the Memphis International Airport awaiting a flight for my next work trip. It’s gloomy here today. There is a drizzly rain coming down and the sky is so gray that the clouds have blocked any semblance of sunshine. The airport seems eerily quiet, even though there are people all around. Despite my eternally optimistic outlook on life, I find the bleakness of Memphis today somewhat appropo. It is, in fact, the 39th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.
I spent last week at Elvis Week 2016, Graceland’s annual celebration of all things Elvis. We were in town to promote Tupelo as the Birthplace of Elvis Presley to his fans from around the globe. We did media interviews, recorded a podcast, worked a booth at the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competiton, and hosted the official competition after-parties at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street. In between all of this, we talked to fans about Elvis and took every opportunity we could find to invite them to see where the story began.
We have created an annual tradition of hosting an event at St. Jude Children’s Hospital during Elvis Week. We take a tribute artist who performs for the patients, their families, and the staff, while we pass out Elvis glasses to the crowd. Brandon Bennett, a Tupelo winner and Ultimate ETA, joined us this year and he was absolutely fabulous! Also, during the Tupelo Elvis Festival each year, we take up a love offering as part of the Gospel Concert Sunday morning that is presented to St. Jude. This began when The Landmarks, a local gospel quartet, performed annually at the festival and asked for a donation to be made to St. Jude in lieu of payment. Elvis’ legacy of giving generously is continuing.
We helped sponsor the Jeff Lewis & Friends official after-parties at the Hard Rock each night after the competition. These events are great because tribute artists and influencers in the “Elvis World,” become brand ambassadors for Tupelo, promoting us from the stage all night long. The event is one big jam session and my favorite part is the diverse talent that hits the stage. Tribute artists don’t just sing, they play guitar, and drums, and bass, and keyboard. The event is emulated during the Tupelo Elvis Festival, so those who can’t make it to Memphis can join in on the fun in June.
I’m sitting on the tarmac and the rain is coming down harder. Elvis Week 2016 has come to a close and his fans have begun their journeys home, taking with them a piece of Memphis, and hopefully a piece of Tupelo, as well. This plane is full of people in Elvis shirts, Elvis jewelry, Elvis sunglasses, and even an Elvis wig. I’m sitting here in my business-casual attire, Starbucks in hand, ready to start the new Harry Potter book. While we don’t look like we have much in common, it’s our respect and admiration for the world’s greatest entertainer that is our common ground. For that, we can thank Elvis Presley.