Upcoming Dance

Thanks to events like that which I attended last night, the music of Elvis Presley will live on forever – and that’s important, as the King of Rock and Roll is more relevant than ever. In a most fitting way to celebrate the legendary entertainer’s birthday, Northshore Center for the Performing Arts played host to the annual Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular “Birthday Edition” during its tour of several dates around the Midwest. Unlike many Elvis tributes, we are not only treated to talented impersonators, but we are also met with history itself, that being musicians that actually performed with Presley at various junctures in his career. 

It’s no secret that Elvis was a huge gospel fan. After all he has recorded some of the most sensational gospel songs of all time. As history states, one of Elvis’ biggest gospel influences was the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, an outfit that has been around since 1934. Today, 81 years and generations of singers later, the now simpler named Blackwood Quartet are still touring the world spreading their inspirational music led by Blackwood royalty himself, Mark Blackwood. What better way to begin an Elvis tribute than with a handful of Blackwood Quartet songs of encouragement including a very inspired rendition of “He Touched Me”. The foursome then remained onstage to deliver backing vocals to many Elvis songs as only they could. 

Cody Ray Slaughter was the first of three Elvis tribute artists to take the stage and did so with a bang decked out in that ever so famous gold jacket to the tune of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. Slaughter, the youngest performer to be awarded “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” by Elvis Presley Enterprises” had Elvis’ stage moves down pat, inducing screams, oohs and aahs, with just the simplest gyration or dance step. Mostly taking on Elvis earlier hits, he was not only able to harness the charm and subtle humor of The King, Slaughter was also able to deliver a vocal performance with uncanny likeness to Presley himself. Slaughter continued to wow the crowd with hits like “Don’t Be Cruel” (with amazing backups by the Blackwood’s), “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Return to Sender” humorously introduced as “Return My Blender”. At one point Slaughter called on the Blackwood Quartet to join him around the microphone center stage for a lovely version of “Peace in the Valley”, the moving gospel Hymn that Elvis performed for his mother on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, despite the reluctance of the network.   

                                                                Tribute Artists Shawn Klush, Ryan Pelton and Cody Ray Slaughter

Let me take a breather here to acknowledge to band – the rock solid Fabulous Ambassadors who were accompanied by a good part of the set by original Elis Presley drummer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, D.J. Fontana. Fontana, now 84 years old, played with Elvis for fourteen years, playing with him on over 460 cuts. This was an incredible thrill for the Elvis fans throughout the theatre, of which I should add were of ages ranging both younger and older. It was actually refreshing to see so many younger fans thoroughly enjoying the music of Elvis Presley. And why shouldn’t they? His music is timeless.      

Next up was Ryan Pelton who boldly conquered the stage within moments of making his grand entrance donned in the now-very-famously-known black leather jumpsuit that Elvis wore in the 1968 Comeback Special. For the most part the show stuck to an accurate chronological timeline barring a few exceptions. Pelton did a nice job in recreating some of the 1968 Comeback special, getting his biggest cheers for his performance of “Fever” thanks to his sultry vocals accompanied with a handful of strategic leg thrusts. After a number of memorable Elvis hits, Pelton ended on a high note with “Teddy Bear” where he joked with the crowd and tossed stuffed teddy bears to adorning fans. Slaughter then reclaimed the stage for a very emotional rendition of “If I Can Dream” one of Elvis’ most important songs of his time, a song of peace and understanding dedicated to the late Martin Luther King. 

Just after a twenty or so minute long intermission, The Sweet Inspirations took center stage from their position off to the side where they had been providing additional backing vocals and performed a bluesy song named after their group “Sweet Inspiration” – and they sounded terrific! Sweet Inspiration original Estelle Brown sang with Elvis from 1969 until his death in 1977 witnessing the peak of the rock legend to his unfortunate decline. Brown did offer a story to the crowd, one of her favorite memories of Elvis, where he had found out one of the Sweet Inspirations had just been diagnosed with cancer. Heartbroken, he knelt beside her, put his hand on her stomach and prayed with her. A few days later no traces of cancer could be found. And whether you believe that the power of prayer healed her or not, one can’t help be moved by Elvis’s concern and intent. 

We’ve now gone through the early career of Elvis, to the movie years, to the ’68 Comeback Special. It was now time for Shawn Klush to take over to recreate the Vegas years – personally, one of my favorite eras. Spotlights raced around the audience as the band went into 2001: A Space Odyssey and right on cue Klush entered the stage in his white peacock jumpsuit to get things rolling with “CC Rider”. Klush’s spot on vocals paved the way as he powered through the set with live favorites “My Way”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Always on My Mind” (a new edition to the set beautifully done) and “Polk Salad Annie” among others. It was already a set to remember before Klush ended strongly with a powerful version of “American Trilogy” and of course the song that Elvis ended his concerts with “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

In all, the Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular is just that – spectacular. If you are already an Elvis fan you will love it, if you are new to Elvis it will win you over. Basically, the show is like several concerts in one creating three hours of Elvis bliss. Following the show fans are able to meet the performers who are all too happy to share their memories of The King. Brilliantly musically directed by James Johnson, The Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular has become a great tradition surrounding the birthday of Elvis and is something that can be enjoyed over and over again. For show updates and tour dates visit http://www.elvisbirthdaytribute.com/index.html. 

Thanks to shows like this and the other wonderful Elvis tributes that are being performed in Chicago, nationally and internationally, new generations will discover what we already know to be true – Elvis is the greatest entertainer of all time and his music is forever relevant. 


Published in In Concert

Northshore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie was host to yet another spectacular Elvis Presley birthday celebration, The Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular. This time celebrating birthday number 80, there was even a more special air around the theater. Fans filled the seats to capacity and sat back for a nostalgic trip to yesteryear when Elvis was king. Going through Elvis’ history in chronological order, we were able to experience a career first hand had by no other.

After warming up the crowd with a few numbers by The Blackwood Quartet, one of Elvis’ favorite gospel groups, Cody Ray Slaughter and Ryan Pelton took turns performing as Elvis from the mid-1950s through the movie years that spanned through 1968. Not only did the young Slaughter have all the early Elvis moves down to a science – arms swaying rhythmically about and feet immersed in fancy footwork to the beat, but his voice and subtle mannerisms were so dead on it made the illusion highly believable the moment you let your guard down.

It was nice to also hear so many songs that were not from the popular hits catalogue. With a nice selection from the movie King Creole (title track, “Hard Headed Woman”, “Trouble”, “Crawfish”), Viva Las Vegas (What’d I Say”, “C’mon Everybody”), G.I. Blues and a few other fave Presley films, we were met with a well-rounded Elvis spectacular that the truest of fans certainly enjoyed. We were also treated with the hits that made Elvis…well, Elvis. From “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Teddy Bear”, it was a true Elvis musical feast.

Not only was each performer backed by a full band complete with a horn section, but original Elvis drummer D.J. Fontana took to the stage to play along on the first few songs. And though the 83-year old legend may have lost a step or two, he sure hasn’t lost the beat. Also, performing backup vocals besides The Redwood Quartet were the Sweet Inspirations including the great Estelle Brown who sang with Elvis from 1969 through his untimely death in 1977. The absolute thrill to witness the performance of two Elvis bandmates was simply breathtaking.

After a brief intermission the show recreated an early 1970s Elvis concert. Here we hear the later Presley classics like “In the Ghetto”, “The Wonder of You” and opening number “See See Rider” brilliantly performed by Shawn Klush decked out in a white, high-collared jump suit. Almost like a second show in its own right, the hour-plus set was an energized one as Klush also gave an animated performance of “Suspicious Minds” before ending the show with the appropriate “American Trilogy” to the lowering of a giant American flag behind the performers.  

The Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular was an amazing show despite a near tragedy when a stack of amplifiers fell onto the drummer’s leg (not D.J Fontana). After a few minute timeout, he was helped off stage while one of the guitarists filled in on the drums, but later returned after the intermission.  

This is a highly recommended show – a show that Elvis himself would be proud of.


Published in In Concert



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