“Hey Steph, you should come to the Elvis Festival in January, we dress in rockabilly get up, people drive classic cars and there are heaps of Elvises (Elvisii?) everywhere…” Say no more Karen, I’m there.
Who doesn’t love a bit of Elvis? From his signature quiff, zero-fucks-given lip curl, infamous lust-inciting pelvis and deep Southern drawl, right down to his blue suede shoes (don’t step on them), you cannot deny that Elvis was the epitome of cool. It is impossible to think of The King without thinking of the USA in the 1950s – diners with chequerboard floors, drive-in movies, milkshake-coloured Cadillacs and more hair product than you can shake a wig at. Small town Australia lends itself beautifully to recreating this era, with neat rows of Tim Burton-esque suburban houses and main streets where time appears to have stood still for a good sixty years.
The Parkes Elvis festival is an annual event, which this year ran from 7th-11th January and had a ‘Roustabout’ carnival theme in honour of The King’s would-be 80th birthday. My friend Karen ran a 1950s hairdo production line at 7.30am on Saturday and when we had sleepily zipped and buttoned ourselves into outfits that would not look out of place on the set of Grease, we settled in the car for the drive across to Parkes. We arrived in time for the parade, a spectacular conglomeration of sleek cars, stiff-haired Priscillas and every version of Elvis imaginable.
We all have our favourite version of Elvis, be it gold lamé Elvis, powder pink suit Elvis, military Elvis or sequinned peacock Elvis. My personal favourite version of Mr Presley is Drugged-up Sweaty Elvis circa 1970, packed into his white jumpsuit, trying to make it through Suspicious Minds without keeling over while the crowds of Las Vegas scream and clamour for him as though he were still in his prime. When he swivels his hips, he looks more like your dodgy uncle after too much lager and lime than a cultural icon and international sex symbol. That is my favourite version of Elvis because he is achingly human. You want to pull him off the stage and say, “Give it up love, the moment has passed.”
The parade made us hungry, so we headed to the market for delicious wood-fired pizza and browsed stalls groaning under the weight of Elvis memorabilia. You could buy jumpsuits, gold aviator sunnies, wigs, winklepickers and even get Elvis airbrush tattooed on your body part of choice. We nabbed a good spot in the park to watch the junior Elvis and Priscilla lookalike contests (cute) and cringe our way through supposed Elvis soundalikes, most of whom seemed to think it was a Tom Jones soundalike contest. Well, it’s not unusual…
The weather took a turn for the grey and rainy and Elvis bingo seemed like the perfect indoor escape. The only thing Elvis-related were the prizes, which seemed like a huge missed opportunity. I had anticipated a jumpsuit-clad bingo caller spouting song lyric puns galore in his best imitation Tennessee drawl. I came frustratingly close to a full board several times, foiled once by the number 13. Karen’s housemate Bec did win a fridge magnet though and I have to say that bingo is kind of addictive. I will never understand why some people go to the bingo for their hen do, but I’d definitely go again just for the pure nerdy satisfaction of it. And some people had managed to wangle Elvis daubers – I WANT ONE!
The gorgeous photographic exhibition on display at the Parkes Shire Library made me wish that taking photos of Elvis impersonators had been an option on Careers Day back in school. My favourites were the Elvis hitchhiking to Parkes and an elderly Johnny Cash lookalike leaning against a red Cadillac in the glinting sun. We took a stroll down the main street and watched Elvis buskers perform in front of shops proclaiming, ‘Elvis is in the building!” We hit Elvis Central for some loot and were stopped by several of the festival’s official photographers keen to snap us in our rockabilly glory. I wonder if we’ll end up in next year’s program?
A stop-off at the Elvis rhino on the way out of town for a quick photo-op rounded off the day nicely. The festival is just the tip of the iceberg – a year-round museum, The King’s Castle, is located at the Henry Parkes Centre, an Elvis Wall of Fame and replica Graceland gates ensure that in Parkes at least, The King most definitely lives.