I remember when my grandpa would tell me stories about meeting Elvis in Germany. I remember growing up in a small town and listening to his music or watching his movies all the time. Having family that was hardcore Elvis fans only meant my destiny was determined and the fan base would continue. When I heard about the Tupelo Elvis Festival to celebrate the life and the legacy of the King, of course, I jumped at the chance to attend the weekend festivities.
Let’s go back to 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. A struggling family in a small town in the south had a son, Elvis Aaron Presley was born. A town remembers what it was like for Elvis growing up and growing up in fame. A boy, who never gave up and never forgot where he came from. This is exactly the type of person Elvis was and it’s only appropriate that the town offers an annual Tupelo Elvis Festival to pay tribute to this legend.
Let’s take a look at a brief history of Elvis and find out exactly what the festival is all about.
Who is Elvis Presley?
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi to Vernon and Gladys Presley on January 8, 1935, as a twin; however, after a 35-hour delivery, Jesse didn’t make it leaving Gladys with one son and no chance of carrying a child again.
Most people know all about the life of Elvis moving to Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 13 and going on to build his empire known to many as Graceland. As a military man, actor, and of course, the heartthrob that left so many screaming for, Elvis’ legacy is one that deserves to continue and what better way to achieve this than by visiting the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival!
Elvis is an iconic name not only in Mississippi, Tennessee, and even the United States but also across the globe! His unique demeanor, flamboyant stage presence and of course, his desire to meet all of his avid followers made Elvis a lovable character by millions. But as we mentioned, Elvis’ stardom never made him forget his roots and his continued desire to return to Tupelo was something locals never would forget!
Elvis and Tupelo
How many of you know about those special moments that Elvis had in Tupelo? I will be the first to admit that I knew he was born there but beyond that, I knew very little. Visiting Tupelo to enjoy a weekend at the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival gave me the opportunity to learn so much more about who he was and what a special place Tupelo was to him.
We started our journey at Elvis’ birthplace which has a museum as well as the church Elvis grew up attending and where his gospel singing started. When Elvis started becoming a household name across the world, he returned to Tupelo and saw his home that he was born in for sale.
He granted money to the city of Tupelo and with a request that they purchase the home and make it a park because while he was growing up, that was something he didn’t have and wanted to make a difference for others.
The house is actually on the same land that it was when Elvis lived there but they relocated the church onto the grounds from a few streets down. The church was actually remodeled from a two bedroom home once the city purchased it and they restored it back to the church that Elvis would have known.
There is also a chapel that was built in memory after Elvis passed away. This was funded by fans who wanted to do something in the name of Elvis. Today, it can be used for special events or just a location for you to pay your respects to the family.
This is a testament to how much Tupelo loves Elvis and his family. Even though he was only there for a short time, Tupelo held a special spot in Elvis’ heart, which is why some believe he might have left Tupelo with unfinished business. He returned to make sure all debts were paid and of course, his generous offerings to ensure the location he grew up in continued to thrive in the heart of Mississippi.
Elvis’ Favorite – Johnnie’s Drive-In
Our next stop was Johnnie’s Drive-In, a local spot that Elvis visited frequently and one that we could enjoy delicious milkshakes at! However, before we arrived we met up with some friends that we would quickly get to know throughout the weekend.
When we arrived at Johnnie’s Drive-In, I wasn’t expecting somewhere so small; however, it turned out to be a great way to get to know the locals as well as learning more about the Elvis tribute artists. With 15+ people going to have a milkshake, it was definitely a little crowded but we all found a free seat and made a friend at the table we were at.
Tupelo Hardware Co.
After we enjoyed some milkshakes, we headed over to the Tupelo Hardware Co. where the same family still owns and runs the store since 1925. This was not just your typical hardware store, it was also where Gladys took Elvis to pick out a gift for his birthday. Elvis had his heart set on a rifle but Gladys, as any protective mother would do, decided not to let him have a rifle.
A salesman saw Elvis visibly upset and brought out a guitar to see if it was something that he was interested in. It turns out that Elvis loved it and that was what he left with that day and never looked back.
It was a true honor to be able to attend a reenactment of this amazing story and we even got to hear a couple songs with “little Elvis” and with the tribute artists.
Where to Stay
Before experiencing the full festivities of the weekend, we checked into our hotel which was situated in the perfect location to not only enjoy the festival but also the heart and soul of downtown Tupelo.
The Hilton Garden Inn Tupelo is definitely a hotel that we can recommend staying in if you are planning on attending next year’s Tupelo Elvis Festival (or just passing through and want to experience a night in the town where it all started for the King).
One of the main benefits of staying here during the Elvis Festival is that this is where all the Elvis tribute artists are staying and you can enjoy late night parties in the hotel lobby/restaurant area.
If you prefer to stay elsewhere, check out some other alternatives below.
Tupelo Elvis Festival
We were able to have a meet and greet with the artists and other locals that actually knew Elvis. It was a blast meeting everyone and spending time with a group of individuals that was so passionate about continuing Elvis’ legacy.
I interviewed a few of the artists and a few questions I asked was what inspired them down this path and all of them answered with having a personal connection with the passion and the drive of Elvis.
Whether it was “My dad always played Elvis and told me stories about the man he was…” or “My family always watch his movies and listened to his music while I was growing up..”. We ended the night with those thoughts and comments, which we can all relate to having that type of inspiration in our lives.
Elvis Pet Parade
The annual pet parade was something I was excited to see and had no idea how this was going to happen. Although a pet parade may not necessarily be something you associate with Elvis, it offered an opportunity for all the family to enjoy yet another tribute, this time in a fun and artistic way.
As the party was getting started, we noticed that all 14 contestants were dressed, as well as their pets and 4 judges were on hand to select the winners. I didn’t realize just how creative some of these Tupelo locals would be but I have to admit that some of these were adorable.
And some were… creative…
But our winner was.. a Hound dog!
Congratulations to Bennie Bear and Family for winning the Tupelo Elvis Festival Pet Parade.
Memphis Jones was the master of ceremonies for the pet parade and his unique sense of humor was definitely a crowd pleaser and provided the perfect accompaniment to the stars of the show…the pets!
Conversations with Tom Brown
Tupelo’s very own Tom Brown hosted a couple of interviews from people with connections to Elvis and a few of the winners from previous Tupelo Elvis Festivals. The person that I loved listening to was Marlyn Mason.
Being able to listen to the stories of her and Elvis and all the movies they collaborated together on.
The best part was the famous “hair story”. One of her producers told her to mess up Elvis’s hair because it was too perfect. Marlyn and the producer went back and forth because no one could handle telling Elvis Presley to mess up his hair.
She finally walked up to Elvis and said “You know you would look amazing if you just moved a few strands” and Elvis quickly messed it up completely and Marlyn gave a wink to the producers. That is one of many stories we heard from this talented woman.
Elvis Tribute Artist Contest
These guys go through all kinds of research and preparation for this event. Having to study the mannerisms of Elvis to get to this on stage takes so much dedication. Watching the finalists compete was a real treat, as with so many personalities it was refreshing to see these people show their respect in that way.
I wasn’t around during the Elvis era while he was alive but I am so glad that my family carried on the memories for me to learn from. I mean seriously, I know why the girls loved Elvis and guys wanted to be him. (those hips) Did I mention he is from Arkansas?
But the person who really stole the show in all areas was Cote Deonath. The judging was based on who came out and demonstrated talent, charisma and always staying true to Elvis. Maybe a little bit on those jumps.
It was such an honor to be able to celebrate with some new friends and the Tupelo Elvis Festival Winner! Congratulations Cote!! One thing we have in common is that we have to return, we are all part of the Tupelo Family.
The Tupelo Elvis Festival is a weekend to celebrate the life and legacy of Elvis. I always thought that impersonating someone was something that was done just for fun. How wrong was I? These guys are not impersonating anyone…they are the ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists, and they make sure that we keep Elvis’ name alive and celebrate the wonderful soul he had.
What a great experience to have and what a wonderful way to spend the weekend. If you want to become part of the Tupelo Elvis family too, you need to purchase tickets and come join in on the fun! Tickets go on sale mid-January, see you guys there next year!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Tupelo, Mississippi for providing us with tickets to experience the Tupelo Elvis Festival in exchange for consideration of a blog post review. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.
AFFILIATE – This post contains affiliate links. Should you choose to make a purchase via one of our links, we may receive a small commission. This income helps A Brit & A Southerner continue to explore and share inspiring stories. Although we have not personally stayed at all of the hotels included in this post, we used the recommendations of friends and family as well as detailed research to bring you the very best options possible.