July 5 will be the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first rock and roll recording, and this weekend fans of The King will get an early start to the celebration of his music.
The 13th annual Penticton Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival will be one of the largest competitions the city has hosted yet.
“There is no slowing down for us,” said festival chairman Damon Bremner. “We have a lot of pros this year, probably the most we have ever had and some big names coming too. It is going to be incredible.”
Elvis tribute artists, or ETA’s as they are commonly known at the festivals, will grace the stage on Saturday vying for a chance to get to the finals on Sunday which take place at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre at 2 p.m. The winner in the professional category on Sunday gains entry to the Ultimate Elvis Competition, held annually in Memphis during Elvis week in August.
After the competition is over the festival is hosting an after party at the Penticton Lakeside Resort ballroom. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 and includes a burger and beer or wine.
“That is one of the most fun events. Everyone takes their wigs off and lets their hair down. We changed locations this year so we have enough room for 500 to 600 people.
“Tickets are priced reasonably considering you get fed and it is such a fun night hanging out with everyone,” said Bremner.
The festival includes opening ceremonies on Friday with artists taking the stage at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the competition begins at 9 a.m. and then in the evening, at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, headliner Bill Cherry will entertain the crowd focusing on Elvis’ concert years.
Cherry was named one of the Top 10 Elvis tribute artists in the world by Time Magazine, won the 2009 Ultimate Elvis Competition and has a number of other awards.
Sunday morning is reserved for the Elvis Gospel Show in Okanagan Lake Park, which will include a special guest appearance.
“Adam Fitzpatrick, who won last year’s festival in the professional category, will be coming to perform and I understand he is doing a full set, which is great because he is a local boy,” said Bremner.
Fitzpatrick, who originally is from Summerland, was first runner-up at the Ultimate Elvis Competion in Memphis last year. In 2012 he gained entry to the competition and finished 15th overall. He will be heading to Blackpool, England, July 4 to 6 to try and qualify for the Ultimate contest again.
“My schedule is very tight so I can really only enter two to three (qualifiers) a year,” said Fitzpatrick, pointing out he heads to Vegas for another qualifier one day after he returns from England. “Just in case, I’m also going to Collingwood, Ont., where they hold the biggest Elvis festival in the world.”
Whether he wins a berth in the Ultimate Elvis or not Fitzpatrick has booked a show in the Memphis Hotel during the week of the competition.
The Penticton festival will attract people from all over western Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Bremner said the attraction to the festival keeps growing.
“If anything it is going to get bigger. Next year is going to blow everyone’s socks off and then for our 15th anniversary we have some big plans for that too. Collingwood is the biggest festival in North America and we want to be a close second,” said Bremner. “We want to put Penticton on the map for ETAs.”
Competing this year are Ben Klein, Randy Klein, Christopher Blaine, Roger Anderson, Rick Grinnell, Rob Knight, Scott Coon, Bret Wiggans, Dave Greene, Darrell Douglas, Burle Craven, Tyler Cody, Cliff Moody, Corney Rempel, Dino Macrif, Oliver Steinkoof, Jeff Bodner, Rick Johnsen, Kevin Mills and Paul Rodriguez.
Professional Ben Klein finished in second place last year, but has previously won the festival in 2005 and 2008. Rempel, also in the professional category, finished third last year and has placed in the top three the past five years.
Coon returns as last year’s winner in the non-professional category. Knight placed second in the non-professional category at last year’s festival.
Tickets for all the events, including Bill Cherry, are available in person at the South Okanagan Events Centre box office or online at www.ValleyFirstTix.com.