LEXINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — Nearly 20 Elvis artists will take over Lexington for the North Carolina Tribute Festival to the King, from Thursday, April 28, to Sunday, May 1.
The state’s first Elvis tribute festival consists of performances and appearances by four renowned Elvis tribute artists, along with contests involving 14 up-and-coming Elvises.
These “Kings-in-waiting” range from age 8 to 48, and they will vie for prize money and the chance to advance to the world championships in Memphis, Tennessee, later this year.
Although Lexington is known far and wide as the Barbecue Capital, the city and Elvis Presley have a history.
The King played a sold-out concert at the YMCA in 1956, and six decades later a touring Broadway-style show, “Elvis ’56,” also sold out in Lexington.
After another successful Elvis tribute concert in 2019, Lexington decided to host a full-fledged festival.
Elvis-themed gatherings are a thriving cottage industry, says Lexington tourism director Morgan Brookshire, who attended her first tribute artist festival a few months ago in Tennessee.
“The more we dive into this project, we’re quickly finding out that Elvis is still very much alive,” Brookshire says. “We talked to folks from all over the East Coast who traveled there. You would think, based on the way they were dancing and getting autographs, that it was Elvis himself at the theater.”
The headliners’ list is topped with a Cherry: Bill Cherry of Illinois has performed since 1989 and won the 2009 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition in Memphis.
Joining him are NC native Travis Powell, 2013 grand champion of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition and 2016 Tribute to the King contest winner, South Carolina’s Austin Irby, a three-time semifinalist in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute and Virginia’s Taylor Rodriguez, one of the world’s Top 5 Elvis artists.
All festival activities take place in the Uptown Lexington area, beginning with a free event Thursday evening, April 28, at Breeden Insurance Amphitheater in the Depot District.
The headliners will perform their favorite songs accompanied by instrumental tracks. They will also accept fan requests.
The festival hits full stride Friday and Saturday with ticketed events at the Edward C. Smith Civic Center on Main Street. The schedule is the same on both days: competitions from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a headliner concert at 7 p.m. All four headliners perform both evenings.
Brookshire says the breaks from 3-7 p.m. allow fans to mingle with performers in Uptown and partake of Lexington-style barbecue at many restaurants in the area.
“That’s been another tool we used to promote this event,” she explains. “When people hear we are a barbecue destination, that makes them even more excited to come.”
After-hours parties for ticket holders take place Friday and Saturday nights at Bull City Ciderworks, where several Elvis tribute artists will meet, greet and perform.
The festival concludes Sunday with headliners performing Elvis’ top gospel songs at 1 p.m. at the civic center, followed by a wrap-up party at Goose and the Monkey Brewhouse.
“This is North Carolina’s first and only tribute festival to the King, and all eras of Elvis will be covered from his early ‘Jailhouse Rock’ days all the way to his 1970s music,” Brookshire says. “We even have an 8-year-old Elvis coming, and he’s a big hit.”