Elvis may have left the building in August 1977, but as millions of devotees and tens of thousands of Elvis impersonators will tell you, his spirit endures through his music and the tight-knit fan community formed in his name.
Thousands of such fans will converge Sunday for the wildly popular Elvis Festival at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa.
"It kind of reminds me of a small-town carnival," said Kirk Wall, the festival's host since its inception. "They have things like watermelon eating contests and a huge turnout. A lot of different Elvises perform and compete, but it never gets ugly; it's always really light."
"It's great fun, and so well-produced," festival performer Danny Jacobson said. "It's a complete, daylong celebration of the King with impersonators, dancers, vintage cars, Elvis fan clubs and more. I am very honored to have been invited to perform this year."
The 12th annual tribute to the King, held in conjunction with the Market Place's popular swap meet, includes seven impersonators — and many more karaoke singers vying to step into "Blue Suede Shoes"; more memorabilia than the "Heartbreak Hotel" could ever fit into its rooms; and more Elvis-inspired food truck items than any "Hound Dog" could ever wolf down, including the King's favorite grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.
PPW Toys and Elvis Presley Enterprises will hold an Elvis Trivia Bee and will be offering a collectible '68 Comeback Special Edition Mr. Potato Head Elvis for sale; Mr. Potato Head will be rakishly clad in a leather jacket and holding a mic. The company introduced a jumpsuit-clad Mr. Potato Head last year.
Keep an eye out for a 9-foot, 6-inch tall stilt-walking Elvis and Priscilla Presley; magician Abbit the Average Elvis; and a classic car display, including a cotton candy pink 1961 Cadillac Sedan DeVille with pink leopard interior and wide whitewall tires.
One of the world's top official fan clubs, the Jailhouse Rockers of California, will be on hand as well.
Wall brings a long history of Elvis fandom to his Sunday performances of movie song medleys; he'll be accompanied by the Halau Hula Lani Ola dance troupe during his "Blue Hawaii" and "Rock a Hula" numbers.
"I became an Elvis fan when I was a child," Wall said. "He was my favorite singer; still is."
Wall recalled trying to emulate the King's signature moves using badminton rackets with his brother, and coming up with Elvis-inspired personalities for performances of "Grease" on the musical theater circuit. He also had a memorable job performing singing telegrams under the persona of "Pelvis Esley."
Wall wore glue-on sideburns because he also worked as an actor. But when he started getting a rash from the glue, and when his Elvis gigs became more numerous to ignore, he became the King full-time. Wall, who leads a bluegrass band at the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland, still keeps a divide between being the King and being just Kirk; the non-stop Elvis memorabilia gifts all are corralled in one room of his home.
Fellow impersonator and Sunday performer Danny Jacobson owns about 600 Elvis song recordings, including the original '50s movie soundtrack albums of "Loving You" and "King Creole."
His love of Elvis also is nearly lifelong.
"I've been doing my impression of Elvis since the age of 7," he said. "I'm actually not so much an impersonator but a singing impressionist in the style of the late Vegas entertainer Danny Gans, with over 50 legendary singers in my repertoire."
Although Jacobson performs impressions of everyone from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash in his show, he always closes his shows with a tribute to Elvis, he said.
A relative newcomer to the performance circuit, he began entertaining professionally five years ago.
Jacobson said the hardest part of his job is memorizing all of the song lyrics, but added that he has a good memory for melodies.
"The best part of the job is definitely going out into the crowd at the end of each show and singing directly to members of the audience," he said. "It's such a great thrill to make an emotional connection with Elvis fans during a show and bring back his memory for them."
Along with Jacobson, other slated impersonators during the live set from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. include Joe Banuelos, who is just 17; John Reade Fisher; Steve Williamson; Dave Hoover; and George Thomas.
'I Just Can't Help Believing'
There also will be a Crème de la King Elvis Karaoke Contest; the four finalists will gain spots in the KaraokeFest 2011 competition, the largest of its kind in the world.
Competitors will join with the professional impersonators for a group performance of "Hound Dog" and an audience singalong for "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Wall recommended that would-be Elvises "don't take themselves too seriously when they do it. 'Cause it gets weird. Go see the other Elvis impersonators and watch how they do it; their nuances. You'll find things that you like and things that you don't like."
"The singing voice is the most important element of any impersonator's show," Jacobson said. "To do an effective impersonation of Elvis you must first become a good vocalist. Once you learn to sing well you can then begin work on capturing his Southern accent, vocal tone, vibrato and general style. The body moves, posture and facial gestures come next and the last items to add are the costume ('50s or '70s), hairstyle, accessories and the rest.
"Don't go cheap on the costume. If you do, it will distract from your performance. Record yourself and then play back your version along with Elvis' version of the same song. Do this over and over again until you get as close as you can to the original. If you need help, take vocal lessons. It's well worth it."
Insider Tip: Can't make it during the day, or don't want the party to end? To declare fidelity for your hunk of burnin' love Sunday night, visit the Azteca restaurant and bar in old town Garden Grove to gape at a memorabilia collection that has to be seen to be believed. Legendary impersonator Phil Shane will be performing live from 7 to 11 p.m. For more information: aztecamexicanrestaurant.org.
If You Go
What: 12th annual Elvis Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Orange County Market Place, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $2; children 12 and younger get in for free. Free general parking; $5 preferred parking.
Information: (949) 723-6660 or ocmarketplace.com
On The Side
Elvis-inspired Gourmet Food Truck Offerings:
Spudrunners truck: Grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich
Tropical Shave Ice truck: blue Hawaii shave ice (Hawaiian Punch and coconut)
Barcelona on the Go truck: Memphis mac and cheese with bacon
Rolling Sushi Van: "Love Me Tender" roll (freshwater eel and salmon on top of California roll) and rock' n chips (tomato mixed with fresh tuna, green onion, and masago, served with potato chips