Elvis lives on at Southfork festival

The King sparkles still on a T-shirt at the festival in Southfork.
The King sparkles still on a T-shirt at the festival in Southfork.

Plenty of sideburns, jumpsuits and Elvis T-shirts were on display Saturday at Southfork Ranch for the first-ever Texas Elvis Festival.

The house that J.R. Ewing built became a shrine to another King, Elvis Presley, and fans came from all over the world to hear tribute artists, listen to music and celebrate the icon who died nearly 39 years ago.

“We’re mad for Elvis,” said Maria Barrie, who flew from England with her mother, Helen, for the three-day event. “We love coming to different places and meeting American fans like that. That’s why we’re here.”

Barrie and her mother spent $225 each for a three-day pass to the event, which runs through Sunday. While that may sound like a lot, it’s a full three days of Elvis for a mostly female crowd that said you can’t put a price tag on memories.

Barrie said she was partying with fellow Elvis fans well past midnight Friday, but she was back in the Oil Baron’s Ballroom before noon Saturday to watch 14 tribute artists — don’t call them impersonators — take the stage for the semifinals of the Elvis tribute artist contest. The ultimate prize for them is to still be performing Sunday with the winner nabbing a spot in the August Elvis tribute artist contest at Graceland, of course.

Along with that honor comes $4,500 as well as a $2,000 gift certificate for a new jumpsuit. A panel of four judged the 14 ETAs (that’s how those in the know refer to an Elvis tribute artist) on everything from authentic sound to stage presence to costumes and hip-swiveling.

And the fans were treated to all kinds of Elvises, with all kinds of accents. One ETA came from Hungary, another from Switzerland, one from German and a Scottish version, and the Brazilian Elvis made a very favorable impression with his leather outfit from the ’68 Comeback Special.

The crowd favorites? Probably the ones with the most Texas twang — Victor Trevino Jr. of Fort Worth or Drake Milligan of Mansfield. (Update: Trevino would go on to win the ETA contest Sunday night.)

Trevino, who performed at Bass Hall as part of the Elvis Lives show last month, is glad to have a chance to play for such a large collection of Elvis fans close to home.

“There’s usually nothing like this here in the DFW Metroplex,” said Trevino, 31, who went to high school at Boswell and advanced to Sunday’s finals along with Milligan. “It’s my job to make women my grandma’s age go crazy. I’m able to make a good career out of it, and at the end of the day it’s about making people happy.”

And the people were happy with the performances, which ended Saturday night with a “Rockin Across Texas” concert. Before that, there was lots of music and food that included fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches for $6.

Fans also got to hear from Elvis royalty. Linda Thompson, who flew in from Malibu, Calif., was Presley’s girlfriend for more than four years in the 1970s.

“We kind of knew each other before we knew each other,” said Thompson, who is working on a memoir of her life that started with the title of Miss Tennessee and took off after Elvis shone a flashlight on her at the Memphian movie theater in July 1972. “We were kindred spirits.”

Thompson had lots of company in that Saturday.

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