PLANT CITY — Some of the area’s biggest Elvis fans showed off their best pelvis thrusts and lip curls Saturday as they vied for the chance to represent the Tampa Bay area in a national impersonator contest next month.
The preferred term is Elvis tribute artist, said Vickie L. May, producer of the annual Elvis Tampa Bay Festival and Contest. And the winner of the local competition, which is in its 12th year, will go to the semi-finals of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis during Elvis Week in early August.
The Plant City festival is always a big deal, May said. It usually attracts several hundred people who come to watch the performances and browse tables full of Elvis memorabilia.
But next year, May, who is president of the Elvis Tampa Bay TCB (Taking Care of Business) Fan Club, hopes to make it even bigger.
She wants to include the annual contest in a huge celebration marking the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s performance at the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory in Tampa on July 31, 1955.
Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business entity of The Elvis Presley Trust that sanctions the national impersonator competitions, has granted the local fan club permission to hold the Tampa Bay contest a week later next year, May said. She still has to look into potential venues for the event, but her goal is to host the celebration at the landmark armory on Howard Avenue.
“What better entertainment is there than Elvis?” she said.
The Elvis Tampa Bay Festival and Contest was started 12 years ago by Nilo Menendez, who then was working as the arts and special events manager for Tampa’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Then-mayor Dick Greco had asked him to come up with a unique new festival to put on the city calendar, Menendez said. He is a big fan of the The King, and came up with the Elvis-themed event.
It became one of the first impersonator competitions to be sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises, he said.
Besides the iconic 1955 performance at the armory and other performances in Tampa, Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was a former City of Tampa employee, Menendez said.
“The main focus (of the festival) was celebrating Elvis’ ties to the city of Tampa and enjoying his music,” he said.
The Tampa Bay festival no longer is put on by the city. The Elvis Tampa Bay TCB Fan Club took it over in 2007, May said, and has hosted it at the Strawberry Festival grounds in Plant City.
People came Saturday to watch the 20 Elvis performers, most of whom were decked out in the famous white jumpsuits with popped collars. Between performances, festival-goers perused vendors’ booths, which were selling everything from collectible photos to Elvis pop-up books to a still-in-the-package Elvis Loves Barbie doll set.
For performer Steven Gillis, of Lake Mary, the Elvis festivals are about more than competition.
“It’s about hanging around with the guys and the brotherhood,” he said.
A civil engineering inspector by day, Gillis has been studying The King’s performances and mannerisms for about 10 years as he has traveled around for his own shows.
“Even though you’re not Elvis and you’re not making his money,” he said, “it’s just the feeling of being up on stage and enjoying it.”