All things Elvis will be celebrated in the Region this weekend.
“He really would be amazed and so happy at how much people still love him and to see what people are doing in his name and memory,” said Joe Esposito of his friend and his boss of many years, Elvis Presley. “He’s looking down from heaven on all this smiling, I’m sure.”
The “all this” Esposito refers to are fundraising efforts for charities done in Presley’s memory. Efforts like those of Elvis fan Kay Lipps and her team, the people behind this weekend’s “21st Annual Elvis FANtasy Fest” at Woodland Park Plaza in Portage.
Portions of the proceeds each year from EFF benefit the Porter County Special Olympics and Lipps reports close to $300,000 has been donated to date. Checks from the event are ceremoniously presented to the organization every January on stage at Star Plaza Theatre during the annual “Elvis Birthday Celebration,” produced by local promoter Omar Farag. Last year, just over $14,000 was raised and donated.
“’This (EFF) all started when the director of the Porter County Tourism Board contacted Graceland to find the Elvis Presley Fan Clubs in Indiana,” explained EFF founder Kay Lipps of Indianapolis, who continues to produce the yearly event.
To help keep the event growing bigger and better, Lipps has enlisted help in co-producing this year’s event from Connecticut-based Sherry Management that produces a series of national Elvis-related festivals (www.ElvisFestival.com).
“My husband Paul and I had started a fan club/memorial committee after Elvis had passed away. Being from Indianapolis, where Elvis performed his very last concert, we started doing a June 26 benefit in remembrance of that show with proceeds going to charity in his name because we felt it was important to not only remember Elvis’ musical legacy, but also his charitable and humanitarian side. Because of this, we already had a relationship with Elvis Presley Enterprises by the time Portage contacted us in 1992 to host what became the first ‘Elvis FANtasy Fest’.”
“I do a lot of Elvis events, but this one is special to me,” said Esposito, who was there for the first Portage EFF. “Kay Lipps and I have been friends forever and her event is all about helping Special Olympics, so I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Esposito will do meet ‘n’ greets throughout the weekend, talk about Presley on stage, and host a special fan dinner Saturday night that also features Portage native Sandi Falcetta, author of the book “Dear Diary: An Elvis Fan Remembers.”
Esposito met Presley in Germany in 1958 when both were serving Uncle Sam as U.S. Army G.I.s. He was there when Presley lost his beloved mother, met his future wife Priscilla, was “best man” at their 1968 Las Vegas wedding, and was Presley’s right hand man and road manager from 1960 until death claimed Presley at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.
Esposito helps keep Presley’s legacy alive by sharing stories from his personal journey with the world’s most iconic entertainer of all time.
“He’s still got me working,” laughed Esposito. “I’m on the road all the time going to places to talk about him. Elvis was a good person. He treated everybody well and with respect. He loved to do things for people. He’d read a newspaper article about a kid needing a wheel chair and he’d send me to go buy it. He’d see people who were poor and down on their luck, and he’d walk over and give them a check. He had a big heart and was the most generous person I’ve ever known. I’ve never met anybody like him. I’ve met every big star in the world and honestly, NOBODY compares to Elvis.”
After Presley’s death, Esposito spent time as road manager for artists like The Carpenters, John Denver, The Bee Gees and Gary’s own Michael Jackson. “They all asked me about Elvis. They all wanted to hear the stories,” he said of his famous clients. “Everyone always wants to know what Elvis was really like.”
The public’s fascination with Presley generates millions of dollars each year, almost four decades after his death. Elvis is second only to Mickey Mouse, as the world’s most recognizable pop culture figure of all time.
Had Presley not died so young, Esposito said he would still be performing. “Elvis always wanted to make some serious movies, so I think he would have focused on doing that, but I know for sure he would have kept on singing. He’d still be singing today if he were here.”
Elvis was happiest when he was on stage. “More than anything else in the world, Elvis loved being on stage,” continued Esposito. “He was always a bit nervous before every show, because he never wanted to let his fans down. Elvis told me many times, ‘Joe you have no idea what it’s like to walk out there on stage in front of 20,000 people to sing.’ He’d go out there and all the applause, the screaming and the love the fans gave him made him really come alive. He took that energy and love from the audience and gave it right back to them.”
Performances are a large part of “Elvis FANtasy Fest” each year. “We are a pre-qualifier for ‘The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest’ held in Memphis each year during ‘Elvis Week’,” said Lipps. “We have sessions on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and the finals are on Sunday. There are a lot of very talented tribute artists to be enjoyed each day of the fest.” The winner this weekend takes home a $1,500 prize and will represent the Portage EFF next August during Elvis Week in Memphis.
Non-competing guest Elvis artists performing Saturday night are past EFF champions Dwight Icenhower and Ted Torres. They kick off the 8 p.m. “Aloha Indiana” headlined by British performer Ben Portsmouth, last year’s Memphis winner of the “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.”
The celebratory Elvis Weekend kicks off tonight at 6 p.m. with an Italian dinner served by Porter County’s Special Olympians, followed by a performance from last year’s EFF champion, Elvis tribute artist David Allen, followed by a sock hop.
EFF also features “Jukebox Live” on Saturday with entertainers performing as Ricky Nelson, Tom Jones and Rod Stewart (5-8 p.m.). The event wraps up with a luncheon, the final round and crowning of a new EFF champion, and a special march by the Special Olympic athletes.
“It’s pretty non-stop,” said Lipps. “There’s a lot to do and see each day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”