Back at Elvis Week 2002, the best entertainment values in town were the two Elvis Midnight Blues Jams at the Daisy Theater on Beale Street. These were totally misnamed, because there was no blues music performed at either show. It didn’t matter. They were so much fun, anyway.
For three nights in a row that year, Publisher Darwin Lamm put on prime-time concerts with big name entertainment at the Peabody Hotel. If that wasn’t enough for you, you could walk a couple of blocks down to the Daisy Theater and catch his budget late show for very little. $15, I think. The first two nights were the blues jams, and the last night was an Elvis Gospel fest. I skipped the Gospel show. Instead, I helped close down BB King’s club, dancing with Arleen from Canada and Kathy from Japan until 2AM.
The Daisy may have been a nice, quaint little theater in its heyday, but in 2002, it was a dive. There were probably only forty people in the seats, not near enough to drink up all the beer they had for sale in those coolers at the head of the center aisle. In retrospect, this was the perfect venue for the shows that Darwin put on. He didn’t take in much revenue, and he didn’t pay much for the acts.
The one exception may have been the live band. Those guys were good and probably didn’t come cheap. The MC was an Italian guy from New York who also did a Blues Brothers bit with another singer. Joe Esposito and Charlie Hodge came up on stage and talked to Darwin and did some good-natured kidding with each other. A long-haired hippy-looking guy named Julio sang five Elvis songs, backed by only his own acoustic guitar. He was surprisingly good.
There was also a fabulous group of ladies called The Gracelanders who did dance routines to two Elvis songs. They wore white jumpsuits, black Elvis wigs, and the signature sunglasses. But the best part was that these were all big women, some probably pushing 200 pounds. They were so energetic and having so much fun, that they won over the audience and got huge applause. Do you remember the tutu-wearing hippos that danced in Disney’s Fantasia? That’s what popped into my mind as I watched them.
Of course, a midnight Elvis show needs tribute artists, and there were lots of them at the Daisy those three nights. One bit I remember was two ETAs on the stage at the same time. One was Ryan Pelton, dressed as the 50s Elvis, and the other was Shawn Klush, who wore a white jumpsuit. I don’t remember what they sang, but I do remember thinking, “These two guys are pretty good.”
Fast-forward 5-1/2 years to the present. The Elvis Birthday Tour 2008 has recently completed seven concerts in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. The venues held as many as 3500 people, and tickets cost $36 and $50. Significant revenue, and significant payouts to the performers, I am sure. Well, it turns out that two of the three headliner ETAs were Ryan Pelton and Shawn Klush. Shawn was still doing the 70’s Elvis in jumpsuits, but Ryan was now 60s movies/Comeback Special Elvis. A younger performer, Donny Edwards, invoked the King’s rock-a-billy and early Rock & Roll days.
My friend Jim Lane attended one of the Elvis Birthday Tour 2008 shows, and he wrote me a detailed review of it. Last week we looked at his impressions of Donny Edwards and Ryan Pelton. Let’s look at the final act — Shawn Klush.
Jim wrote, “The set began with a film of Shawn Klush, looking like a dead ringer of Elvis, boarding a helicopter at Graceland.” This, of course, was previously used as a lead-in to Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert last August 16 in Memphis. If Shawn was smart enough to negotiate rights from EPE to reuse this video that they financed, he gets kudos as a businessman, as well as an entertainer. What a superb addition to an Elvis tribute show.
My friend continued, “Then, with music from “2001: A Space Odyssey” filling the auditorium, Shawn came down the aisle and leaped on the stage.” Now, that is a grand entrance. I don’t think Elvis ever entered like that, but it certainly is a nice touch.
“He was in fine voice and wowed the crowd.” Shawn has been like that every time I’ve seen him. “His manager furnished him with an endless supply of scarves presented with a kiss to the many women who rushed the stage.” I promise you, every woman who came back from the stage was absolutely thrilled. “He ended, not surprisingly, with “An American Trilogy. By the end of the song, with the image of the American flag behind the performers, most people were standing, many with moist eyes.” So, I ask you, how good of a job is Shawn doing to recreate the Elvis experience, if he can bring the fans to tears?
Jim had a final thought on the entire show: “All three were more than derivitive and had unique personalities. While honoring the past, they exuded an aura of youthful exuberance. On one level, it’s somewhat hard to believe that fans would get so excited over tribute artists.”
No, it’s not, Jim. Not for the really good ones.
© 2008 Philip R Arnold All Rights Reserved www.elvisblog.net