Elvis Festival returns to the fairgrounds

The 13th annual Elvis Festival, themed the "Magic of Elvis," will honor the king of rock 'n' roll Sunday at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa.

California's only Elvis festival will commemorate the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, Aug. 16, 1977.

Presley's "Blue Hawaii" co-star Darlene Tompkins and lifelong friend Jimmy Velvet will make their first Orange County appearances during the festival's We Knew Elvis Q&A; at 12:15 p.m.

The pair also will be at the festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with memorabilia, signing autographs, posing for photos and talking about Elvis.

At age 15, Velvet met Elvis backstage at a Hank Snow and Carter Family show in Jacksonville, Fla. In the 1950s, Velvet went on to tour as Presley's guitarist. He has also worked with many other rock 'n' roll stars, including Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

Throughout five decades of tours and appearances, Velvet said he took more than 9,000 photos of 100 stars.

In 2007, he published 1,090 of the photos in a 288-page coffee table book, "Inside the Dream." Velvet's book, which will be available at the festival, covers his experiences touring with Presley in his early days and includes radio station charts, posters, 45s and his memories.

At the news of Presley's death, Velvet gave up his music career to start the first-ever Elvis Museum, which he opened across from Graceland in 1978.

"Elvis, his memory needed to be there," Velvet said in a phone interview. "And my main reason was because of his unbelievable generosity. This man would give anything to anyone whether he knew you or not. He was so generous not only with his money, but with his time."

Velvet started out with 21 of the King's possessions that he and his family gave him. At one time, he owned 21 cars, 21 guns, 40 pieces of jewelry and 11 jumpsuits — the largest collection in the world, he said. Since then, he has sold most of it, but continues to keep Presley's memory alive.

"My stories may differ from some of the other guys, who have these awful stories to tell for one reason or another," Velvet said. "They got paid a lot of money to do a book.

"He was just the most special human being you could ever meet, and I have nothing bad to say about him."

Tompkins, who appeared in two films with Presley in the 1960s, will also be on hand.

"He was unreal," Tompkins said in a phone interview. "He was so gorgeous in the movies. I wasn't expecting him to be more beautiful.

"Once you got past his beauty and his charisma and you just talked to him, he was a friend. When I met him, it wasn't like he was meeting me. It was like he was seeing me again."

During 1961's "Blue Hawaii," she spent many hours with Presley onset and offset. He was a normal man who was patriotic, religious and intelligent, she said.

In particular, she remembers Presley coaching his impersonators in the 1950s.

Today, there are 35,000 tribute artists who carry on more than 800 songs to a new generation, she said.

"If it wasn't for the tribute artists, [the public] wouldn't know these songs, and it's opening up a whole world of music," Tompkins said.

Tompkins and Presley lost touch in the later years of Presley's life. She didn't revisit the life of the King until 2002, when she was asked to work at Elvis-a-Rama Museum in Nevada.

"There are so many things about Elvis that people don't understand, and I want to correct it," she said.

"Now that he's passed away and it's been 35 years, there are so few of us that knew him," Tompkins said. "He would want [the public] to know what he is: the king of rock 'n' roll, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, and a man who touched and changed so many people, their lives and their music."

The Elvis Festival is held in conjunction with the weekend swap meet at the fairgrounds.

The festival will also include three stages of Elvis tribute artists; Elvis fan clubs, hula hoop contests, singing competitions, an ice cream-eating contest, an Elvis quartet, stiltwalking, a classic car display, an Elvis Trivia Bee and Spudrunners food trucks.


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If You Go

What: 13th annual Elvis Festival

When: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; Darlene Tompkins and Jimmy Velvet Q&A; at 12:15 p.m.

Where: Orange County Market Place, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Tickets: All Elvis Festival events included with swap meet admission: $2 general admission, children 12 and younger get in for free

Information: (949)723-6660 or http://www.ocmarketplace.com

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