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Birthday bash for Elvis draws fans and tribute artists to Largo center

At a celebration to honor what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday this Friday, impersonators Kenny Grube, Jeremy Ewbank, Steve Roberti, Bill Lindsey, Bill Akins and Jim Jinelli, from left, perform a group finale on Sunday at the Largo Cultural Center. Besides the king’s songs, the birthday bash offered some of his favorite foods — like biscuits with sausage gravy.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

At a celebration to honor what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday this Friday, impersonators Kenny Grube, Jeremy Ewbank, Steve Roberti, Bill Lindsey, Bill Akins and Jim Jinelli, from left, perform a group finale on Sunday at the Largo Cultural Center. Besides the king’s songs, the birthday bash offered some of his favorite foods — like biscuits with sausage gravy.

Had Elvis Presley been looking down from that great big Graceland in the sky, he'd likely twitch a lip and smile at the birthday bash thrown for him at the Largo Cultural Center on Sunday.

It was, after all, an event fit for the king, who would have turned 75 this Friday.

A brunch catered by the Stuffed Mushroom featured his favorite foods like biscuits and sausage gravy, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and banana pudding.

Six Elvis tribute artists — or "Elvi" for short — sang, shook and swiveled to well-known oldies like Can't Help Falling in Love, Kentucky Rain, Viva Las Vegas and Are You Lonesome Tonight?

The audience — mostly star-struck, silver-haired females — let out sporadic squeals, especially when the Elvis clones cranked their pelvises into high gear.

During the tribute, many of the fans filed up to the stage to receive scarves, leis and pecks on the cheek from the raven-haired songsters in tight spandex jumpsuits.

In the audience was Ann Margret's godmother, Helen Olson, 85, of Hudson. She confirmed that the rumored affair between Ann and Elvis was true.

"I met Elvis in '63 when Ann was going with him. They went together for a year and a half. She's 68 now," she said.

When the concert was over, the Elvises didn't leave the building.

Instead, they shared birthday cake and photo ops with audience members.

Ethel Carter, 79, of Largo remembered waiting in long lines that snaked around the block for Elvis tickets when she was young and living in Dayton, Ohio.

She'd do it all over again.

"Oh, we go to everything Elvis," she said.

Diana Clymer, 67, of Brooksville was all aflutter after receiving a kiss from one of the Elvises.

"It was burning love," she said. "I'm all shook up."

The concert began with Kenny Grube, 42, of Weeki Wachee performing in a white, two-piece suit with a red necktie, reflecting "the gospel years."

"Spell my name Kenn'E' — the E is for Elvis," he said backstage.

Grube remembered that he was playing with trucks when he heard Elvis died.

But it was that sad event that gave him a career.

These days he performs the "animal circuit," he said. "The Eagles, Elks, Moose and Lions clubs."

Steve Roberti, 38, of Clearwater is often sighted at weddings and other gigs, busting a move during the Suspicious Minds number.

He stretched his hips and inner thighs backstage.

"If I don't, I'll pull a muscle," he said. "There are lots of splits in this one."

He admires everything Elvis — except the king's movies.

Jeremy Ewbank, 40, wore a chest-baring white jumpsuit for his performance.

He grew up listening to Elvis 45s.

"I'd go into my bedroom, slick back the hair, shake the leg and strum the guitar," the Tampa resident said.

When he was 6 or 7, his mother traded her cooking just so he could have guitar lessons.

These days he makes a living as a party DJ and Elvis impersonator. He offers mobile notary services, too, "so people can get married by Elvis."

Being Elvis is a family affair in his household. He brought out his daughter Crystalyn, 6, who sang along with him during the song Don't Cry Daddy. Destinii, 14, helps make their costumes and his 2-year-old is named Preslie.

Bill Lindsey, 53, of Tampa has won many Elvis contests including three out of four titles during the Elvis Extravaganza at the 2009 Florida State Fair. He's the official Elvis for the Tampa Bay Rays, he said.

"I saw Elvis in concert in 1974 and I said I wanted to sing like that one day," he said.

So does he?

"Oh, yeah."

Jim Jinelli, 51, of Kissimmee first saw Elvis perform at the Chicago Stadium when he was 13 years old.

He spent most of his teen years mimicking the voice inflections and movements of the king. Today he is a full-time Elvis, performing on the road between here and Chicago.

"It gets more and more difficult as the years go by because there are so many tribute artists out there, but it keeps me going," he said.

Bill Akins, 56, of Hudson has been impersonating the king for over 25 years. He speculated that if Elvis would have lived, he might be in between knee replacement surgeries about now.

"It's a shame he couldn't be here," he said. "He missed a lot of good things since 1977."

Birthday bash for Elvis draws fans and tribute artists to Largo center 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 10:22pm]
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