Summerland Elvis tribute artist hopes to join Penticton man in Memphis

Summerland Elvis tribute artist looking to do well in his first professional competition at Penticton Pacific Northwest Elvis Fest.

Chris Kelso

Chris Kelso

They are two hunks of burning love and if all goes well this weekend their Elvis journey will be complete.

It was just over five years ago when Summerland’s Chris Kelso challenged his Penticton friend Adam Fitzpatrick to enter the Penticton Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival. For eight months, the duo practiced at least once a week, with the help of Kelso’s dad (Joe) who already was a well-seasoned Elvis tribute artist.

In 2008, Fitzpatrick won the amateur division of the Penticton Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival and this past March he won the right to move on to the mecca of Elvis competitions, the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition held in Memphis this August. Kelso, who has taken a year and a half off from performing, would like to join him. He is entered into the Penticton festival this year as a pro and a win would complete the circle in the duo’s journey.

“Well, it is a pretty far-fetched dream,” said Kelso, grinning about the one-in-eight chance he has this weekend. “But, it would be amazing to join Adam in Memphis. It is essentially the Stanley Cup of the Elvis world and Adam is going. It would be amazing to share that with him.”

For Kelso, the whole experience of being an Elvis tribute artist is what draws him in.

“Just sharing the passion of Elvis with everyone. The performers are a close knit group and help each other. We also get so much support from local people it’s amazing. We are doing a tribute to Elvis and when we get a crowd reaction from a move or note and it is a heartfelt reaction. It is very cool,” said Kelso.

Going into the competition this weekend, Kelso said his confident stage presence and well-choreographed Elvis moves are his strong points and his vocals are something that he continues to grow.

Fitzpatrick will not be competing this weekend, but plans on singing at the opening ceremonies on Friday, the gospel show on Sunday and will perform a few songs during the finals on Sunday while the scores are being tallied up. The busy showman also will be performing a show at the Copper Mug on Friday at 9 p.m.

Fitzpatrick said he is still in a daze after clinching his spot to the Ultimate Elvis Festival, essentially putting him in the top 31 Elvis tribute acts in the world. While his plan was originally to enter the Toronto Elvis festival to try and earn a berth, he found himself seventh on the waiting list. Then the opportunity to compete at the Rockin’ Elvis Festival in Pala, California, was brought to his attention.

“I pretty much had two songs to prove myself. It was a little intimidating because I didn’t really know many of the other performers,” said Fitzpatrick. “It still hasn’t hit me that I won. Maybe it will hit me when I’m in Memphis standing in the back with guys I have been watching even before I have done this, or guys I have seen on YouTube.”

Elvis tribute artists from around the world must earn a berth into the Ultimate Elvis Contest in Memphis by winning a professional category at an event like the one in Penticton this weekend. Winners of the Ultimate Elvis Contest earn a cash prize of $20,000, a contract to perform with Legends in Concert and other prizes.

“It will be the 35th anniversary of his death so it will be special. I have heard it is pretty intense that week already,” said Fitzpatrick, who was invited to Memphis in January to perform a few songs at a hotel for Elvis’s birthday.

Fitzpatrick plans on taking his act full-time to free up more practice time and open his availability to book shows.

He shakes his head while thinking about how things have progressed and how Elvis has changed his life.

“It literally happened overnight. My friend’s mom always has this big pool party on the Sunday of the Penticton Elvis Festival and when I won amateur in 2008 on the way up there I literally did not stop laughing. I could not believe it. I bought a $50 sport jacket on sale and used it all week except a shirt I borrowed that barely fit. I had a lot of fun doing it though and thought maybe I would try it again. Well, I did 35 shows that year on my own and with Elvis Generations,” he said.

Walking a few blocks in Penticton on Wednesday the pair are immediately recognized, even while dressed casually. Two passerby’s yelled “Elvis” from their vehicles. One of the cool perks of being a Elvis tribute artist, but not the reason they perform.

“You get compliments that you look or sound just like Elvis, and those are flattering compliments, but I’ve had people cry during a song because it had a meaning behind it for them. If you can touch one person and bring back that memory then that makes the show totally worth it. It is not about making ladies scream, or being that sexy Elvis up there trying to nail down every move. We do this for one reason: the love of Elvis,” said Fitzpatrick.