Well, since my baby left me I found a new place to dwell It’s down at the end of Hurontario Street…
by Emily Bednarz
It’s the largest Elvis Festival not in Canada, not in North America, but in the world. Having hosted Elvis tribute artists and impersonators from all over Canada (as well as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Japan, and Germany), the Collingwood Elvis Festival is internationally-recognized, award-winning, and ever-evolving.
When the festival was first held, it attracted about 30 tribute artists and 1000 attendees. The latest numbers for the festival put the attendance count at nearly 30,000. Rosemarie O’Brien, general manager of the Collingwood Elvis Festival, attributes the festival’s success to their fan experience. “Fans felt so energized and felt so close to Elvis by coming here. We were delivering something that they weren’t getting anywhere else; this is the closest experience you’re going to ever have to seeing Elvis, short of seeing one of his live concerts.”
It’s also due to the revered reputation the festival has garnered from Elvis tribute artists and performers. “Back in the day, we had to source the tribute artists, but now they come to us. Some of them have said to me that there’s a message out there in the industry: you’re nothing until you’ve won Collingwood.” She adds, “I don’t know if I actually believe that, because we have lots of incredible talent. But just the fact that that’s how they view Collingwood is pretty special to us.”
The festival has also gone to great lengths to support local talent. The Canadian Star Challenge is sponsored by OLG and offers a career-based prize. Ideal for burgeoning Canadian Elvis tribute artists, the prize package is worth over $5,000 and includes recording time, promo pictures with makeup sessions, CD covers and copies, and a gift certificate that goes towards a snazzy, professional Elvis jumpsuit. The Live & Original Music Series is a spin-off festival competition, the “catalyst being that Elvis was an unknown truck driver when he was trying to break into the business,” says O’Brien. The Music Series hosts over 80 Ontario-based musicians and represents the Festival’s efforts to showcase and support the province’s amazing local talent.
The popularity of Elvis’ music, persona, and performances holds an appeal for all age groups, according to O’Brien. “The youngest Elvis tribute artist we’ve had was 3-years old: Elvis’ ability to transcend generations is amazing.”
But reaching the younger demographic has been a challenge for the festival organizers. “I decided to go and talk with college students in tourism and hospitality courses about Elvis. And of course, when the students hear ‘Elvis,’ you see all their faces go down. I love that because it’s a challenge. Usually, the first thing I say to them is to forget the fact that Elvis was a superstar your Mom or your Grandma listened to. Look at what he brought to music history that you now benefit from.”
O’Brien places Elvis in a contemporary context to appeal to the younger demographic. “I usually bring up Bruno Mars—Bruno Mars was an Elvis tribute artist at 8-years-old. If Elvis hadn’t taken the hit for moving like he did on-stage and the way he energized his music, you wouldn’t have Bruno Mars, you wouldn’t have Madonna being able to move the way Madonna did. It started with Elvis, and I want them to realize that that’s what makes him special.” She adds, “If you take yourself out of your preconceptions and come and see the festival, you will see how we have tried to take the focus off Elvis, the entertainer, and onto the experience of being here.”
So did the students show up? “A group of those college students actually did come. And they made a point of paging me to tell me in person that they had an awesome time. So, if you give it a chance and put it in its right perspective, anyone can have a really good time here.”
The 2017 Collingwood Elvis Festival runs from Friday, July 28th to Sunday, July 30th. The outdoor street party on Hurontario Street in Collingwood is free to attend, but tickets are required for independent venue shows. Tickets are available online for the regular festival competitions as well as for other exciting showcases.
Collingwood Elvis Festival