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Hunks Hunka Burning Love- Parkes Elvis Festival

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The memory of the hip swivelling, pelvis gyrating, pop culture icon of his day whose awe inspiring journey from an impoverished upbringing in Memphis to the man who would go on to be referred to ever after as "The King of Rock and Roll" is honoured each year when the township of Parkes throws open its doors to the world and welcomes fans of Elvis Presley to celebrate the life and music of this most remarkable man.  

Parkes almost doubles in size overnight during the Elvis Festival as it plays host to literally thousands of die hard Elvis fans from around the globe who make the journey to take part in the celebration of the tremendously exciting if somewhat tumultuous short life of the King.   Parkes is a place that previously had no connection whatsoever to the man from Memphis, Tennesee. Yet it has earned its claim to fame among Elvis aficionados by successfully staging twenty Elvis Festivals. 

Being a huge fan of Elvis myself and his brand of popular music that defined a generation, I felt honoured to take part in the celebrations this year.  Drawing 18,000 visitors, taking part in some 150 events, the Festival delivers a welcome injection of $9 million into the local economy.  It attracted 80 volunteers who dedicated over 700 hours of work over the five days of the Festival to ensure it went smoothly.

If you can visualise an Elvis impersonator on every street corner and a large parade through town, throw in a Gospel church service not to mention a series of Elvis tribute concerts, then add over 400 excited fans making the trek from Sydney on the Countrylink Elvis Express, you can certainly imagine that Parkes was well and truly "All Shook Up".

Local businesses reported record trade this year whilst most of the accommodation available had been booked out months in advance of the event.  An additional 70 powered sites were made available at the showground while camping sites were stretched to capacity.  Some generous local residents went even further and offered 1776 beds in their homes to visitors.  What better indication can there be than that of the wonderful sense of community this Festival engenders among the good people of Parkes.

Beginning way back in 1993, the Elvis Festival has blossomed over the years and in the process has created its very own legacy with the enthusiastic support of fans and local residents.  Parkes has its own special brand of die hard Elvis fans that go to extraordinary lengths to pay homage to the King. One local has changed his name by deed poll in honour of the man.  Another local couple for many years ran the Graceland Restaurant in town. 

The concept of the Festival was first conceived by passionate community members who recognised its potential as a regular fun event on the Parkes social calendar.  January was identified as the ideal time to stage it, given the traditional lull in tourism that month and most importantly it happily coincided with Elvis Presley's birthday falling on the 8th.

What has impressed me more than anything else about the Festival is the way it has imbued the local population with an infectious enthusiasm that that has manifested itself in a burning desire to see the town prosper.  It is more than a Festival to these people, the concept is warmly embraced by the entire community leading to an atmosphere around that time of year that is difficult to capture.  It really has to be experienced firsthand to truly understand and appreciate it.

So I'm issuing an invitation on behalf of the people of Parkes.  If you consider yourself to be a fan and think you know all there is to know about the King, and even if you are not and are perhaps curious enough to try and understand the public's undiminished fascination with the man then I urge you to mark the date in your calendar and make the trip next January to see for yourself why the legacy of Elvis Presley is alive and well in the central west of New South Wales.                          

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