This weekend promises to be one of the biggest of the year for Penticton, with both the Beach Cruise and the Elvis Festival drawing in visitors and locals.
“We’ve got guys competing from England, Scotland, all over the United States. We’re getting well-known,” said Terry Michels, chair of the Penticton Elvis Festival, which is back from June 21 to 24 for its 17th year. “It’s taken a lot of time to get there.”
Penticton is one of only two Elvis festivals in Canada, and Michels said fans go to both.
“The thing they like about this one is it is almost like a family. They come back, they hug the same people year after year and they will sit down and party with the same people,” said Michels, adding the party continues to expand. “It’s just good music and you can’t get a better venue than the side of the lake.”
The festival takes place In Okanagan Lake Park, dozens of professional and amateur Elvis tribute artists gracing the outdoor stages.
“This year we have four pros that have never been here before. People are going to be amazed at the show this year because of that,” said Michels. One of the key events of the weekend is the headliner show on Saturday evening, which features Dean Z and Johnny Lee Memphis performing at the Trade and Convention Centre. Comedian Patrick Maliha opens the show at 8 p.m.
The competition finals start at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, after another highlight event, the by-donation Gospel Show and pancake breakfast in the park Sunday morning, which includes the teddy bear toss.
“We’re the only festival, I think, that does it. Every hockey club in Canada has a teddy bear toss in the middle of winter, we have a teddy bear toss in the middle of summer,” said Michels. “When one of the artists starts singing Teddy Bear, everybody throws their teddy bears on the stage and we give them to the firemen, policemen, groups like that.
“We filled two pickup loads of teddy bears last year. I just hope this catches on with the rest of the Elvis festivals. We started it, we will see how it goes.”
Special guests this year are Mindi Miller, who dated Elvis through 1975 and 1976, along with Dave Hebler, one of Elvis’ personal bodyguards. The festival also has Darwin Lamm, former publisher of Elvis … The Magazine.
“He knows more about Elvis than a lot of people. He’s going to do some interviews with the people and he knows a lot about it, so he can draw out some really good stories,” said Michels.
Michels, who has been with the festival since the beginning, said there is no sign that the popularity of Elvis, or the festival, is waning.
“The first year we had it, waiting at the front door of the Trade and Convention Centre were women between 60 and 80. Now they are between 40 and 60,” said Michels. And some even younger, he added, noting that at last year’s wrap-up party there were a large number of people under 30.
“There’s a whole new generation,” said Michels. “The songs were clean, you could hear him singing, and it had a good beat. That’s really what it was.”
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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