Carol@ladyluckmusic.com


This month, due to unforeseen circumstances, I found myself with a story but not many photos. However, not to worry... I put word out, and friends and fans of the performers in this year’s EBT shows eagerly rallied to help by sharing their own great photographs. Many, many thanks to: musician Ray Anthony and his son Ryan; Love For Elvis fan club president, Ronda Marson; “superfans” Terri Mueller, Heather Marshall, Haley Claxon. And be sure to click the link at the end of the column for more concert pics by photographer, Angie Wdowiak.


It had been three years since I’d last been to the highly acclaimed Elvis Birthday Tribute shows which take place over two weekends each January in the Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky areas. It was high time to re-visit the Elvis Birthday Tribute, so off I set on the 7-hour drive to Merrillville, Indiana to catch the l7th annual concert at the Star Plaza Theatre, during the first weekend of the tour.

The stellar lineup this year included DJ Fontana, The Sweet Inspirations, Shawn Klush, Ryan Pelton, Travis LeDoyt (first weekend), and Justin Shandor (second weekend). Ray Anthony (musician and “Ritchie Valens” tribute artist) had also flown in from Las Vegas that first weekend to play guitar with the Fabulous Ambassadors Show Band. All these talented performers, and band leader, Dan Lentino, have been interviewed, featured, or pictured on LadyLuckMusic and I was looking forward to seeing them together in one production.

But before that, there were a couple of people I wanted to catch up with.....

Shortly after arriving at the venue, I spent some time talking with Ray Anthony. Ray, a multi-talented musician and singer in his own right, is currently recording some great Elvis tunes for an upcoming CD he’s releasing (Ray Anthony Sings Elvis) -- and just wait till you hear his beautiful voice singing those Elvis songs! I've ordered my copy already! Ray is now touring with the ever popular Winter Dance Party cast (Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, Big Bopper) and will be with this show at the Branson Mall Music Theatre in Branson, Missouri during March and April.

While I was talking to Ray, The Sweet Inspirations, with their beautiful smiles, happened by and I took the opportunity to ask Myrna Smith that burning question: “Myrna, how come we’ve all aged about 27 years since Elvis died, but you don’t look a day older....you look wonderful. How do you do it?” She laughed out loud as she told me, and I laughed too - but it's a secret - thanks, Myrna!

Next, in the backstage “green room” (and, yes, the carpet really was green!), I met up with Karen Fontana, DJ’s lovely and gracious wife. DJ, who was at the sound check, also walked in from time to time to join in the conversation. As I’ve written in previous pieces, DJ is one of my favourite people on this earth, and, along with Scotty Moore, one of my “music heroes.” I mentioned to DJ how much I’d liked the following quote in his book, “The Beat Behind the King” ....where he relates what he’d say to Elvis if Elvis were still alive:

“Hey (Elvis), let’s me, you, Scotty and Bill, get back in one of those old Cadillacs and go back on the road. Working these small towns where we’d all be together. And have a great time like we did once before. We could do it again. I think we’ve gotten a little older, but I think some of us could play. At least some of us can. And the fans would still love you like they did fifty years ago.” (Just like we still love you, DJ!).

On hearing this, DJ turned to me, his eyes lit up, and he said how great indeed it would be to perform with Elvis, Scotty and Bill once again and how much they would all have enjoyed it. I’ve spoken to DJ many times, but I had to catch my breath for a minute this time and remember that this down-to-earth man who was talking to me as if he were a next-door neighbour, is, in fact, a legendary rock and roll pioneer who was there at the start nearly 50 years ago. He set the standard for drummers in the early days of rock and roll, and is one of the few people still alive who contributed so much to Elvis' early music (and for years after). DJ is the most unassuming person you could meet, but his contributions to rock and roll, his work in the music industry, and his work with other rock and roll artists, must never go unrecognized. He is indeed "the legendary DJ Fontana" although he’d be the last person to refer to himself that way.

Click the link at the end of this column to help to get DJ Fontana inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And wouldn’t it be nice if he were inducted in his lifetime, not 25 years from now?

We were still in the green room when ETA Travis LeDoyt entered and bounded up the back stairs 3 steps at a time to his dressing room....in seconds, he bounced back down with a big grin on his face and exclaimed, “I actually have a room with my name on it!” Travis, just being himself, is so much like the young Elvis that he instantly endears himself to you. He has the same boyish charm, “crazy” sense of humour and impish grin... and an absolutely delightful personality . He spotted a piano and immediately sat himself down and treated us to some impromptu tunes...let me tell you, the boy can play! I did think to ask Travis about his recent first appearance in Canada, where we’d first met, and he mentioned how much he’d enjoyed the Canadian fans, and hoped to be back soon. We hope you’ll be back soon, too, Travis! Thanks for the extra entertainment!

At this point, it was time to leave for the evening’s show........

......and by 8 pm the huge Star Plaza Theatre was filled to the rafters, buzzing with the sound of close to 3,000 excited fans, ranging in age from 2 to 92, who know that the EBT shows are not to be missed and return year after year. In fact, many fans count down the days each year till “show time”......and this was no exception:

The first performer to grace the stage was talented “newcomer,” Travis LeDoyt, whom we’d just seen a little earlier, and who is already considered to be one of the top "young Elvis" stylists in the world. This was the first EBT production Travis had appeared in, and many in the audience were also seeing him for the first time. From the crowd reaction and from the comments I overheard during and after the show (the word I heard most was
“amazing”), it won’t be the last! Travis concentrates on Elvis’ 1954-59 era and does he ever nail it. He’s light on his feet, and has the moves down to a T. He’s on his knees leaning over the stage one moment, then lying on his back singing the next, working that microphone, and capturing, with incredible similarity, the very essence of Elvis during the Tupelo and early movie years. A naturally talented, born entertainer, Travis also looks so much like the young Elvis and can play the piano and sing with such “Elvis style” that he delivers a complete early Elvis performance that is rarely seen. Travis captivated the audience with songs such as King Creole, Hound Dog, Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do, an awesome version of Love Me Tender and much more. He ran down into the audience, schmoozed with the fans, then bounded back up again to the stage (with a few lipstick kisses on his face!). He’s a treat to watch and listen to, and his slightly different and natural approach is like a breath of fresh air! At this concert, he also took to the piano for one rousing number with the Fabulous Ambassadors and the stage just came alive with the sound of music, showing us why Travis is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (he also has his own rockabilly band). Watch out for Travis LeDoyt! For more on Travis, check his website at: www.travisledoyt.com

During the second weekend of the tour, Justin Shandor portrayed the young Elvis and delighted the fans. I wasn’t able to see Justin this time around, but for comments from the lucky fans who did, check our Fanview page. For more on the very talented Justin Shandor, check his website at www.justinshandor.com

I also enjoyed Ryan’s rendition of A Little Less Conversation. This was Ryan’s 6th year with the Birthday Tribute shows, returning year after year by popular demand. He’s always a fan favourite as you can tell from the cheers and the long lineups after the show. The first weekend of the EBT shows usually coincides with Ryan’s own birthday also, and I’m sure he was receiving lots of birthday wishes himself along with all those red roses from the fans! Ryan Pelton is currently performing at Legends in Concert in Myrtle Beach. Be sure to see him there and check out Ryan’s website at www.ryanpelton.com

After a short intermission, fans returned to their seats and waited with anticipation for the next part of the show to begin .....

.......and the appearance of another wonderfully talented crowd favourite - Legends in Concerts’ Shawn Klush, who is often referred to as “closest to the King.” As at all EBT shows, there was an air of excitement as spotlights swept the room and the audience tried to guess which entrance Shawn would use. A door finally opened and Shawn made his way down through the crowd, barely making it to the stage as he was mobbed by fans wanting to take photos and to see him up close. This was Shawn’s 7th year with the EBT shows, and he showed us why! As fans who saw the real Elvis Presley in l972-3 will tell you, Shawn Klush has that rarely seen, magical ability on stage to replicate Elvis’ moves, look, stance, walk, mannerisms, and facial expressions from those years and to actually look so much like Elvis at times it’s uncanny.

Shawn, who also brings Elvis’ humour, personality, and magnetism to the stage, truly does justice to each and every song he sings, and he delivered a supercharged and simply outstanding performance. His version of Polk Salad Annie was about the best I’ve heard, and he sang the power songs, such as Hurt and My Way, just the way Elvis sang them! I also loved his renditions of My Boy and the remixed Rubberneckin’. Another highlight was listening to Shawn’s spine-tingling version of American Trilogy, with the Sweet Inspirations providing the background vocals, and seeing the crowd rise to their feet to give a much deserved standing ovation. Shawn has been a lifelong, diehard Elvis fan (singing Elvis songs at the age of 6) and it shows. You can tell by listening and watching that not only is his tribute “closest to the King,” but he knows Elvis’ music and sings it from the heart. Be sure to catch Shawn at the Legends in Concert venue in Branson, Missouri and check his new website at www.shawnklush.net.

The Sweet Inspirations (Myrna Smith, Estelle Brown, and Portia Griffin) were a superb and much appreciated addition to the Birthday Tribute shows this year. We heard their soaring background vocals throughout the show and they also came to the front of the stage to sing some wonderful songs that highlighted their talent. Their inspiring renditions of The Lord’s Prayer and You’re My Sweet Inspiration were beautiful. For the original fans in the audience, this also brought back fond memories of the many times we’d seen The Sweets with Elvis so long ago. As Estelle told a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, “We loved Elvis. We worked with him and knew him, and we want to keep his memory alive.” Hope you’ll all be back next year!

Elvis Tribute Artists Radio

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And, finally, as he has been so many times before, legendary rock and roll pioneer, the Tennessee Thunder himself, DJ Fontana, was the VIP guest drummer with the Fabulous Ambassadors Show Band again this year. The fans, and all the people associated with the EBT tour, including the performers, have a tremendous love and respect for DJ and he is always a special guest of honour. On stage, both Dan Lentino and Shawn Klush mentioned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the petition to induct DJ (see below) ....and of course the crowd gave a roar of approval and a loud round of applause. We look forward to seeing you again next year, DJ!

Like all good shows, this one, although it lasted close to three hours, ended much too soon, with the performers taking to the stage one last time, and then the audience members wending their way to the lobby to meet the stars of the show. This in itself was quite a feat, with fans crowding the staircases, lobby, and autograph tables for nearly two hours. I never fail to be impressed with how down to earth Shawn Klush and Ryan Pelton are, and Travis LeDoyt and Justin Shandor are every bit as personable and friendly. As I watched the fans mixing and mingling with DJ Fontana and each of the tribute artists, it was clear how much everyone was enjoying this part of the evening also.

Everybody Loves DJ. Pictured here l. to r. backstage: Ryan Anthony (thanks for the photos, Ryan!), DJ Fontana, Ray Anthony (guitar), Jimmy Johnson (keys). Join with other fans and musicians to help to get DJ into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click here for petition

Details:
Elvis Birthday Tribute Show: www.elvisbirthdaytribute.com

For great EBT concert photos and Angie Wdowiak’s Rock Your World Gallery, click here.

Thanks to all the performers, the band, Dan Lentino, and producer, Omar Farag, for another series of uplifting, entertaining, quality Birthday Tribute shows. And for those of you who haven’t yet experienced the Elvis Birthday Tribute tour, the countdown’s on for 2005. Be sure to get your tickets early!

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Meanwhile, who better to next make his entrance on to the stage than Legends in Concerts’ award-winning, model handsome (or should I say “gorgeous”) Ryan Pelton! A winner of the 2000 Worldwide Images of the King contest, Ryan was fresh from his most recent contest win at the Potawatomi Casino just two days before. I had seen Ryan portraying the young Elvis and the army/movie years in previous performances, so it was a nice change of pace to see him re-creating the the ‘68 Comeback era this time. As always, Ryan was greeted by a cheering audience when he first came out wearing black leather and also when he later changed to a white suit. -- if anyone can wear those outfits, it’s Ryan Pelton! During his performance Ryan also jumped down into the audience to sing to the delighted crowd --and back up on the stage, he had the screaming fans in a frenzy as he threw teddy bears out to the audience! Later, they listened in rapt silence as he sang some beautiful gospel numbers with the Sweet Inspirations, and songs such as Memories and If I Can Dream.

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