For some 50 weeks of the year, Parkes has a quite healthy relationship with Elvis Presley, whose presence there is just a bit stronger than in most places, but apparently not glaringly so.
For the rest of the year — about two weeks centred on the five-day Parkes Elvis Festival during the second week January and coinciding with the King’s birthday — the central-western NSW town simply oozes the legendary American performer.
To say that Parkes goes nuts about Elvis during this time certainly wouldn’t the overstating reality.
What started in 1992 as essentially a one-night celebration of Elvis’s birthday for friends of Bob and Anne Steel, a couple of fans who owned the appropriately named Graceland restaurant, has grown into one of the genuine jewels in Destination NSW’s array of regional events.
It’s estimated that the just-finished 2018 event attracted about 25,000 people. That’s not bad when you consider that the population of Parkes is about 11,500 and the total number of conventional tourist beds in the shire is about 1800.
It goes without saying that they’re booked out long in advance for the duration of the festival, as are many motels and camping grounds in nearby towns such as Forbes and Peak Hill. One of the great things about the festival is how the community has supported it through things such as the highly successful home-hosting program.
It seemed that most of those 25,000 visitors lined a couple of blocks of Clarinda Street on the Saturday morning for the festival’s street parade, which took an hour or so to wend its way.
Elvis featured prominently, of course, and there was big black hair, sideburns and decorated jumpsuits aplenty. Others got their share of attention, too, with Priscilla Presley and Marilyn Monroe being particularly well represented. And, of course, there was a plethora of the petrol-guzzling yank-tanks, relics of America in the King’s day.
Key pay-admission events, such as the finals of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition, held in the huge auditorium of the Parkes Leagues Club, were booked out days in advance.
It was won, incidentally, by Anthony Petrucci, a Melbourne performer on his first visit to the festival. He put up a very polished performance indeed and wowed the judging panel which included rock guru Glenn A Baker.
My money would have been on second-placed Brody Finlay, who simply exuded sex and danger while performing rocky Elvis classics such as Blue Suede Shoes.
‘Non-Elvis’ performers did okay on various stages around town, too. Beatnix, a highly regarded, long-serving Beatles tribute band were there. So, too, were whizz guitarist Phil Emmanuel with his show Guitars of the Era and the Blues Brothers, performing their usual irreverent material.
Not that visitors had to spend any of their hard-earned to have a thoroughly great time.
As well as the parade and buskers, there was almost continuous free entertainment in the town’s Cooke Park, which was set up as a huge marketplace for the festival’s duration and also featured a main stage with plenty of seating.
This year the NSW Governor, The Honourable David Hurley, unveiled a lifesize bronze of Elvis in Cooke Park, the work of sculptor Terrence Plowright, who also did the fine statue of Sir Henry Parkes a couple of blocks up Clarinda Street.
Look, I’ll admit I was never the greatest of Elvis fans. The Rolling Stones were more my scene, but I was mightily impressed by the way an otherwise average town has grabbed onto Elvis and run with an idea that must have seemed implausible a mere quarter of a century ago.
And for those who want to start and finish their Elvis overdose on a really high note, they can always arrive in Parkes and depart on one of two trains running out of Sydney’s Central Station — the Elvis Express and the newer Blue Suede Express.
The 2019 Parkes Elvis Festival will be held January 9-13 next year, with the theme ‘All Shook Up’.
For festival details, visit www.parkeselvisfestival.com.au
John Rozentals attended the Parkes Elvis Festival as a guest of Destination NSW.