Elvis returns to Penticton for tenth year

Ten years ago, Osoyoos Mayor Tom Shields sat down with Penticton Mayor Mike Pearce to talk about the possibility of putting together an Elvis festival in the Okanagan.

Elvis tribute artist Mark Stevenz of Washington State autographs a program much to the delight of fan Lisa Warren of Armstrong during the 2010 Elvis festival

Ten years ago, Osoyoos Mayor Tom Shields sat down with Penticton Mayor Mike Pearce to talk about the possibility of putting together an Elvis festival in the Okanagan.

Both men have moved on from their respective mayorships, but the event they established, Penticton’s Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival, has endured as their legacy to the South Okanagan, and is now celebrating a decade of fun and music.

Terry Michels, this year’s chair, has been with the Elvis festival from the very beginning.

“The first couple of years were pretty lean. We lost a lot of money in the first two years but to our advantage — if we didn’t do it right the first year, there wouldn’t have been a second year,” he said. “So even though we spent a lot of money we shouldn’t have, the show came off perfect. The sound was perfect and everything was bang on and that got people fired up. If it had been just a rinky dink show, we wouldn’t have had a crowd the next year.”

This year, the festival is undergoing a major change, switching venues for the indoor shows from the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre to the larger facilities at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

“That’s a biggie. It’s going to be something that a lot of people haven’t seen. We’re using what’s called a half bowl, half the arena, so the sound will be really good,” said Michels. The facility also has about double the number of seats than what were available in the Trade and Convention Centre.

“We’re going to have about 3000. We’re probably going to be close to about 1,800 people there,” said Michels.

Along with the headliners and almost 30 Elvis tribute artists competing in the professional and amateur categories, the organizers have also booked two special guests.

“We’ve got Joe Esposito coming back this year, Elvis’ best friend and road manager. And Darwin Lamb, who runs Elvis International, the magazine; they work very well together,” said Michels. “There were a couple of people we would like to have but the budget demanded, no, can’t do it, because it is costing us a fair bit of extra money to go into the SOEC this year.”

The festival is following much the same schedule as previous years, with shows on Friday night, Saturday daytime and the Sunday gospel show outdoors. Organizers have, however, eliminated the outdoor concert on Saturday evening.

“We usually have a Saturday night show in the park, that is what we have dispensed with. It was hard to man, for one thing, and we were competing against ourselves,” said Michels. “So this is the year we decided to cancel it and force everyone inside, because that’s where the show is. And the guy we’ve got coming is awesome,”

Sean Klush, this year’s headliner, is the 2008 world champion Elvis tribute artist — and has even performed at the Penticton festival.

“We had him here in 2009. We had trouble manning the show Saturday night in the park, because all of the entertainers wanted to see this guy, that’s how good he is,” said Michels. On stage, it’s eerie. That’s the only way I can describe it. He is so close.”

The 2011 Elvis Festival runs from June 24-26. Visit www.pentictonelvisfestival.com for schedules and venues.