| Sep 01, 2011

Photo: Elvis times four, l-r; John Cigan, Al Ross, Frank E. Cross and Eric Evangelista

The well-known 30-year-old Tweed legend that Elvis lives somewhere in town was proven true... and then some this past weekend. No fewer than 33 ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists) from all over Ontario, Quebec and the US arrived in town Friday for the first-ever Tweed Tribute to Elvis Festival (TTEF) and the event attracted close to 2000 visitors per day.

The event was the brain child of Kathy Scott, who after recently moving back to her home town Tweed, decided to take a chance. “I was at the Collingwood, Ont. Elvis festival a few years ago and kept hearing over and over again how Elvis lives in Tweed. I thought a festival here would be a great thing,” Scott recalled.

She approached Tweed Reeve, Jo-Anne Albert, with the idea, and Albert was immediately on board.

“It's really about celebrating Elvis, his music and spirit and it’s also a great way to attract tourists to the area as well as to bring the entire community together.” Scott said. She and her committee of 12, along with over 60 volunteers, worked tirelessly for the last 10 months putting the event together, and their hard work definitely paid off.

The festival opened on Friday night with a ceremony that included guests MPP Daryl Kramp and Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky. That was followed by the first preliminary round of songs by all of the 31 competitors, who each paid $100 to demonstrate their King within.

Saturday’s events began with a special performance at the Tweed jailhouse, which is one of North America's smallest jailhouses, by the two youngest ETAs at the festival. The duo “Double Trouble” - brothers Brenen, 13, and Brycen Katolinsky, 17, of St. Catharines, Ont. - sang, bumped and ground their hearts out and ended up in the tiny Tweed slammer in a mock arrest by one happy-to-oblige local OPP officer. The two, who were too young to compete in the actual festival competition (rules stipulate that you must be 18), were happy to look, listen and learn from some of the best.

And speaking of bumping and grinding, the main hot spot for the festival was the Tweed fairgrounds where Elvis fans took in the second round of the competition on Saturday when the top 20 ETAs each sang two numbers. The 10 finalists were chosen to compete in the final round on Sunday.

The final winner, who was Matt Dowsett of Belleville, received $1500 in cash and an invitation to enter the preliminary competition of the 2012 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, which will be held in July, 2012, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Other attractions during the three-day event included a Vendors’ Village selling every kind of Elvis memorabilia imaginable; a “Memories of Elvis” display at the Heritage Centre Gallery; the “King of Rock” Saturday night dance at the curling club (which alone might have been worth the price of admission); a classic car parade; a Lions pancake breakfast, bake sales, barbecues, and on Sunday, a gospel service with Rev. Jean Brown.

I spoke to a number of the competitors, many of whom were sweating profusely in the mid-day sun in their full-body polyester, jewel-studded Elvis onesies.

“It’s all about the look, the singing, the bling and of course the moves,” one competitor told me. “And not only do you have to be able to perform, you also have to willing to make some pretty big investments if you want to get your look just right. My belt alone cost $300 and the jumpsuits can cost up from anywhere up to $1000 each.”

Some performers go so far as to purchase actual replicas of Elvis’ most prized pieces of jewelry, some of which are made, I was told, from the original molds created by Elvis' personal jeweler, Lowell Hayes, who apparently also made the trek to Tweed on the weekend.

Festival goers paid $40 for a weekend pass or $20 a day and Saturday's 2000 tickets were sold out by the early afternoon.

The festival is not for profit and proceeds will be used to further advance the Tweed fairgrounds site. Kathy Scott said she hopes to see a permanent amphitheater built on site there. Like so many festival goers, Scott grew up listening to Elvis and has always been a fan. “He had incredible charisma and really changed the face of rock and roll,” she said.

Judging by the non-stop photo ops the tribute artists freely offered up to fans, and the huge buzz and applause engulfing the stage after each Elvis struck their final pose, it looks as though Elvis does indeed now live in Tweed. All 31 of him in fact. They sure did this weekend anyway. And according to Scott they and many more like them might all be back again next year - which is A-OK by her.


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