LOS FRESNOS — Elvis is alive!
He exploded onto the stage yesterday at the 23rd annual Little Graceland Elvis Presley Festival wearing the guises of 11 impersonators, including Luis Salazar Jr., Eddie Carson and Danny Lee Garza.
“Yes! Yes! Oh, my gosh!” shouted Luis Barrera, 9, as Garza dashed onto the stage in a glittery gold jacket and sang an early Elvis favorite.
“Well, that’s all right, mama, that’s all right for you. That’s all right mama, just anyway you do,” Garza sang, his body gyrating to the song in an eerily close imitation.
Throngs of people of all ages, most of them from the Presley era, had converged on Little Graceland at 701 W. Ocean Blvd. in Los Fresnos. Little Graceland is a museum dedicated to the late King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The museum is owned by Simon Vega, who knew Elvis while serving with him in the U.S. Army in Germany.
He saw Elvis quite often but was apprehensive about introducing himself.
“I was scared to say hi to him,” said Vega, 80. “I was scared he would ignore me.”
However, one day he saw Elvis in the chow line about 10 people ahead of him.
“I went and patted him on the back,” Vega said. “He turned around and I said, ‘Hi, Elvis.’ He said, ‘Hi, Vega.’ I said, ‘Let me be your friend.’ And he said yes.”
They spent a great deal of time together after that, and even remained in touch after the Army. They met up twice, once at Graceland in Memphis and another time in Houston. Vega remained not only a personal friend but also a devoted fan of his music throughout life.
His nephew, Raul Garcia, was already a big Elvis fan before learning about Vega’s connection with the star, who was burning up the stage at the time.
“As soon as I was old enough to know about music, he was my number one entertainer,” said Garcia, 64, who’d driven from Dallas for the show.
He learned in high school about his uncle’s friendship with Elvis and became interested in Vega’s story, how he and Elvis met, how they talked a lot on guard duty. Garcia soon found he had bragging rights to a gem of a story which he still exercises to this day.
The grounds around Little Graceland were filled with people who still love Elvis to this day, although he died in 1977. Many of them felt Garza was one of the better impersonators they’d seen so far.
“I think his voice is good,” said Mike Unger, 75, as Garza twisted about while performing “Hound Dog.”
“He really has got the songs and the voice,” said Unger, a Winter Texan from Minnesota. “The inflections and his body movements are good.”
Meanwhile, Luis, the 9-year-old, was still excited with every song.
“It’s super cool,” he said. “I love his dancing.”
Donna and Gus Kimpling, Winter Texans from Minnesota, had brought several of their friends to see the show.
“I love Elvis,” said Donna Kimpling, 71. “I saw him in concert in Minneapolis-St. Paul.”
Garza had changed into a black uniform. Kimpling said she would like to see him in the white uniform Elvis wore in his later years, which he did wear later in the day.
Garza said he was enjoying the opportunity to play the role of Elvis.
“He’s one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived,” said Garza, 39. “I believe he really did change the world for all of our children. He opened the gateway to rock and roll.”
It would seem that Elvis opened the gateway to rock and roll for many generations. Chris Walters, 28, grew up listening to Elvis with his grandmother, and he’s still listening.
“I like a lot of his early stuff,” said Walters, who’d come to the festival with his wife Belen. He’d recently moved here from Ohio and soon heard about the festival.
“I am enjoying it really well,” he said. “I like a lot of his early stuff in the 50s, Heartbreak Hotel, Burning Love. I like the rhythm, the lyrics, everything.”
His wife has lived in Los Fresnos her whole life and hadn’t been interested in the museum or the festival. She wasn’t too familiar with the music.
“I listen to it here and there,” said Belen Walters, 25.
Elvis has global appeal. Just ask Farid Mezouari, 43, of Morocco. He’s married to Vega’s daughter, Rosie, but he already knew about Elvis long before they met.
“Even in Africa, Elvis is worldwide,” he said. “Everybody knows about him.”