The spirit of the late King of Rock 'N Roll is still alive in Northwest Indiana and helping young people in a very real way.
It's the time of year when generations of Elvis fans descend upon Woodland Park Plaza (2100 Willowcreek Road) in Portage for three days to celebrate everything Elvis – the music, the man, the legacy. After each day's event concludes, attendees are welcome to join the EFF artists and production team for nightly after parties, this year being held at Shenanigans Pub & Eatery (6121 Melton Road) in Portage.
“Elvis Fantasy Fest began in 1992, after the then director of the Porter County Tourism Board had contacted the Elvis Presley Enterprises office at Graceland in Memphis to seek out any Elvis Presley Fan Clubs in Indiana, in the hopes of starting an annual city event tied to Elvis. They were put in contact with me, because my husband Paul and I had started a fan club/memorial committee after Elvis had passed away," recalled event co-founder and producer Kay Lipps.
"Being from Indianapolis, where Elvis had performed his very last concert, Paul and I had already started doing a June 26 benefit in remembrance of that final show with proceeds from it being donated to a local charity in his name. We felt it was important to not only remember Elvis’ musical legacy, but also his charitable and humanitarian side," Lipps said. "Because of us doing that event in Indy, we already had established a relationship with Graceland by the time Portage reached out to us in 1992 to host what became the first Elvis FANtasy Fest."
The charity of choice to benefit from the annual Elvis FANtasy Fest in Portage was The Porter County Special Olympics because of Elvis' love of children. Over the years since that first event was created by and for Elvis fans, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised and donated to the Porter County Special Olympics.
"The Northwest Indiana community has always welcomed us with hospitality and has helped our team to make this a very successful event each year," said Lipps. "There are many people who work very hard all year long to make the Elvis FANtasy Fest happen each Fall. This has always been a team effort by a lot of people who love the Special Olympians and who start working on next year's event, as soon as the current one ends."
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Special Olympic athletes and parents serve as the volunteer force to help run the event. There is always a silent auction with some great prize packages along with a theme basket raffle. Food is served at the event along with several dealers who sell Elvis merchandise.
Each day of the event features performances, with Saturday and Sunday being the contest days, when Elvis tribute artists (or ETAs as they are called) compete before a panel of judges to win the right to compete in the national ETA competition held during the annual mid-August "Elvis Week" festival in Memphis. This year has 22 Elvis hopefuls stepping up to swivel, shake and sing their favorite Presley songs with instrumental backing by the top shelf Change of Habit Band.
Each year, a special aspect of Elvis Presley's life and career is specifically acknowledged and celebrated. This year's EFF will focus on the legacy of Presley's musical output at the famous American Sound Studio in Memphis and the 50th anniversary of the historic sessions there that marked the artist's "comeback", following his landmark 1968 television special. Following his hugely successful, ratings-grabbing "1968 Comeback Special" as it came to be called, Presley spent January and February of 1969 in American Sound Studio reinventing his sound and career. During those two months, Elvis recorded an extensive number of tracks that became some of his biggest of his latter day career, including "In The Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," "Don't Cry Daddy," "and "Kentucky Rain."
For the curious among you, the historic American Sound Studio folded in 1972 and the building was torn down in 1989. Today, in its place at 827 Thomas Street, where history was recorded not just by Elvis, but also by such top artists as Neil Diamond, B.J. Thomas, Joe Tex, Bobby Womack, Dusty Springfield and The Box Tops, is a Family Dollar store. Only a small metal County historical marker remains on site there to remind passersby it is the hallowed ground where 125 charted hits were recorded between 1967 and 1971, adding much to the proud musical legacy of Memphis. The studio's legacy will be honored this weekend in Portage as the songs Elvis recorded there will be focused upon at this year's Elvis FANtasy Fest.
Yes, it's true that Elvis "left the building" and this world many years ago, but he is still very much alive in the hearts of his fans, many born well after the entertainer's death in August of 1977. Those who doubt, need only rock and roll their way into the Woodland Park Community Center this weekend. Parking is always free. For tickets and more information, go to: elvisfantasyfest.com. Tickets also available at the door.