You don’t generally think of Pittsburgh when you think of Elvis Presley. Memphis, yes. Las Vegas, definitely. The ‘burg? Not so much. Yet right here in our own backyard an active fan club celebrates the King with a festival every May.
Priscilla Parker, who lives on—go figure—Tennessee Avenue in Dormont, founded the We Remember Elvis Fan Club in 1981. Her address and her name—Elvis’ wife’s first name and his business manager’s last name—are pure coincidence. “My dad named me after the actress Priscilla Lane,” she says, adding she had no idea that Elvis’s manager’s name was Col. Tom Parker when she married Don Parker. “And we bought a house on Tennessee Avenue because we could afford it,” she says with a laugh. But with that kind of coincidence, she was destined to become the president of an Elvis fan club.
Her life with Elvis began in 1955 when she heard That’s Alright Mama on the radio. But when she called a record store to see if she could buy the album, they had never heard of Elvis Presley. A few months later Elvis signed with RCA and began his rise to stardom.
Although Parker never met Elvis, she’s been issuing the quarterly We Remember Elvis Fan Club newsletter and organizing spring festivals for 31 years (there was no festival last year, so this year’s is number 30). At one time the fan club boasted 1,150 members from around the world—Japan, Poland, Australia, England, Norway and Hungary. Today, club membership hovers around 450, with just a handful of international members.
Mt. Lebanon Police Officer Paul Petras has been a fan club member since the 1980s when he was still in high school. “I admire [Elvis’s] rags to riches story and how he served his country,” says Petras, a former Special Forces officer who, like Elvis, holds a black belt in karate. Petras tries to attend the festival every year. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with Elvis fans in the area and get some merchandise you can’t find other places,” he says. “It’s also a great celebration of his life. There’s always people there who knew him or interacted with him.”
The two-day festival features a handful of vendors—down from the dozens who used to come. “A lot of the people who used to do this aren’t in business anymore,” says Parker. (Although small vendors may be closing shop, Elvis makes about $55 million annually, the second highest grossing dead celebrity behind Michael Jackson.) But Frank Hobbes, a collector from Loveland, Ohio, will be back for his 13th year selling Elvis emery boards, TCB jewelry and other trinkets (TCB, for those not in the know, was Elvis’s motto—Taking Care of Business).
Expect everything from Zippo lighters to packets of Elvis Memphis Mocha Java Coffee. Need a needlepoint Kleenex box cover with The King’s image on it? Look no further. The auction of memorabilia—items donated by Elvis fans and businesses dealing in Elvis items—will return this year. In the spirit of Elvis. one of the most charitable celebrities who ever lived, auction proceeds will benefit the Elvis Aaron Presley Visiting Fellowship at West Penn Hospital’s Burn Center. Since 1989, the fan club has donated almost $90,000 to the program that brings doctors, nurses and caregivers from around the world to Pittsburgh to learn more about the care and treatment for burn victims.
Parker always finds a great speaker—someone who was friends with or worked for the King. This year’s special guest is Dick Grob, Elvis’s security chief for many years and author of the book The Elvis Conspiracy? Grob will talk about his years with Elvis on both Friday and Saturday.
Elvis impersonator Jim Felix returns for the concert that caps the Friday activities. Now, Felix looks nothing like the King, but at the last festival he just about packed the 120-seat ballroom. The women began swooning the moment Felix—thinning hair, white bejeweled jumpsuit and aviator sunglasses—raced up the aisle singing CC Rider. Felix covers the standards—Burning Love, Jailhouse Rock and Suspicious Minds and his voice is really good. In fact, I advise listening with your eyes shut—of course doing so might mean you’ll get beaned by one of the tiny teddy bears Felix likes to toss into the audience. For his final songs, Felix dons a cape that must weigh more than he does (he’s not Skinny Elvis). You will get a chance to have your picture taken with him after the show. Hey, it might not be the 1968 Comeback Special, but it’s a very good time….and Felix will thank you, he’ll thank you all very much.
This year the festival runs Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5 at the Green Tree Radisson Hotel. Friday hours are 2 to 9:30 p.m., with a small auction (all items going for $5 to $10) at 5 p.m. Grob will speak at a time to be determined and Jim Felix takes the stage at 8. Cost is $10 at the door. Saturday festival hours run 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with Grob speaking at 11 a.m. and the auction kicking off at 1. Tickets are $5. A dinner/dance starts at 6 on Saturday; tickets for the festival and dinner are $47. Call Parker at 412-561-7522 for tickets and information. Festival attendees are encouraged to donate nonperishable food items for the St. Paul of the Cross Monastery’s Food Bank.
Making it a true Elvis weekend, the Hollywood Theater in Dormont will play Jailhouse Rock 2 and 6 p.m., Sunday, May 6. Impersonator Randy Galioto, a festival mainstay for years, will perform between the movies at 4 p.m. Tickets are $7. For details, log on to the www.thehollywooddormont.org.
Yes, Tupelo’s most famous son may have died in 1977, but here in Pittsburgh it’s as if he’d just left the building.