The Elvis Festival is now world renowned so it is hard to imagine that it was dreamt up over a dinner conversation by a few locals including Bob and Annie Steele.
Once the idea took hold, they formed an Elvis Revival committee and organised the entire event that included the first street parade, dinner and dancing at their Grasslands restaurant, a flea market and a memorabilia display by locals. I read that quite a few local shops had dressed up their windows for that first festival and I really enjoyed the effort they had gone to this time around.
From those early beginnings where only a few hundred people attended for a few years, word spread around Australia and then the world. Now there are about 25,000 people who descend on the area, bringing much needed economic stimulation to Parkes and the surrounding area.
The festival was a big deal this year to the delight of locals and die hard fans as it had been postponed for more than two years due to Covid. It is usually held in January to coincide with Elvis’s birthday, but this year it was held in April. We did a road trip to Parkes in our motorhome, driving the Bells Line of road with a few stops along the way, including our favourite stop at Bilpin to pick up an apple pie.
It was our first time at the festival and we were amazed to find that people came to the event time and time again. As people book their accomodation about a year in advance, we felt lucky that a camp spot had opened up at the Parkes Showground when I called a few weeks before the event took place. You can take the Elvis Express from Sydney and the people who do, say that is part of the fun of the festival. There is a shuttle bus that does a loop around town and surrounding venues, picking and dropping off people all day, so you don’t really need a car if you decide to catch public transport.
The festival lasts about 5-days and is a street photographers dream. Elvis music was piped all over town and no matter where you went, you would hear his voice, crooning a love song or two. It really added to the atmosphere. There are so many events to choose from, street parades, Elvis and Priscilla competitions, free music and markets at Cooke Park, paid concerts, buskers around town as well as golf, horse racing and an Elvis Park run.
As we were staying at the show ground, Wednesday night was spent with Elvis at the Trots. The racing is interspersed with a live performance by one of the Elvis artist. It is quite an intimate affair and there was a lot of friendly banter as the night wore on. I’m not into horse racing so this was a first for me. Harness racing is a form of horse racing where the horses race at a specific gait and pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky occupied by the driver. My partner pointed out the finish line to me and said that I should be aiming to get some shots as the horse approached or crossed the line, to capture wining moments including the emotion conveyed by the jockey.
The train from Sydney arrived on Thursday. We joined the throng that made their way to the station to greet it. A local dance group were practicing their moves on the street. The platform was crowded with people in costume and there was dancing and singing in anticipation of the arrivals from town. It was an atmosphere I had never experienced previously. Covid worries seemed to be far away. With a few exceptions, almost no one was wearing a mask.
When the train arrived, and one of the ‘Priscilla’s’ stuck her head out the door, and the look on her face said it all. I think she was really amazed at the reception! Everyone had their phone poised to capture some images as the new arrivals spilled out. I was not in the best position to get the shots I wanted but I enjoyed the moment. Once we were all finally off the platform, people spread out on to the street and hung about chatting while till the rest of us took photographs. Everyone was in such a good mood and only too happy to have their picture taken.
That night we were fortunate to have purchased tickets to the Feature Concert of the festival with Taylor Rodriguez — winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition held in the Memphis. It is a competition with representation from around the world, so to see him was special. His singing took out breath away!
Each year, the festival theme is based on one of the movies that Elvis starred in. This year’s theme was based on the 1968 Elvis Classic Speedway with a special exhibition of cars from that era. There were a lot of ladies in black and white checked skirts and one of the dance floors also had this them. We lazed around that morning, listening to music and watching the dancing. That night we went for dinner to the bowling club and were treated to another intimate concert of music.
One of the highlights of the festival was the street parade on Saturday. The entire town seemed to come out to greet the parade of cars, Elvis and Priscilla look alikes and Elvis families. We followed the parade to Cooke park where there were prizes for the winners of the various concerts and more dancing and music to be enjoyed.
We started our journey home that afternoon. We had a blast and would highly recommend it.