I recently overheard two guys who’d scaled Kilimanjaro, run Class VI rapids on the New River, and rested their heads on the most expensive pillows in Paris agree that, of all their travel journalism adventures, none was as much fun as the Tupelo Elvis Festival in Mississippi. Turns out Tupelo is one of the best places on earth.
From my research, Elvis Presley fans who have been to the Heartbreak Hotel, Sun Studios or to Graceland (The King’s private mansion) among the many attractions in Memphis, Tennessee, ain’t seen nothing yet. You just have to show up at the Elvis Festival in Presley’s birthplace of Tupelo in and meet thousands of Elvis impersonators and diehard fans from around the world. The festival is celebrating its 21st anniversary in 2019.
Who’s Doing What at the Elvis Festival in Tupelo?
The annual event in Tupelo is always held the first weekend of June. It attracts as many fans and aging groupies as it does professional and amateur impersonators (about 300 registered as we go to press), who compete to perform in the nightly Elvis Tribute Artist concerts. On Sunday morning, there’s a popular Gospel Music concert.
The biggest competition is the preliminary round for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, a.k.a. The Ultimate ETA in Tupelo. Although preliminary rounds of Elvis Presley impersonators are judged in venues around the world (there are preliminary rounds in Branson, the U.K. and several other fan sites) for months leading up to the “Ultimate,” the preliminary round held in Tupelo carries the most emotional significance.
Shimmy forward to The Ultimate ETA. This international competition is held at Graceland in Memphis, during Elvis Week each August. Judges pick the impersonator or tribute artist who’s best at Elvis’ 3 S’s: style, stage wear and stage presence. Contestants who have won the preliminaries around the world vie for the $20,000 Grand Prize and glory of adoring fans. In 2012, a gentleman from England actually won.
With 62,000 Facebook fans of the Tupelo contest, who’s to argue who is The King?
Elvis was Beloved by All Ages
Back in his hometown of Tupelo, you’ll find lots to eat, a huge variety of souvenirs, and vendors touting Elvis merchandise, glittery bellbottoms and suave wigs. Young audiences come primarily for the country music acts which perform at Fairpark over the weekend in Tupelo. Check the Tupelo Elvis Festival schedule because some events are free.
Other events during the Tupelo festival, such as the Miss Elvis Festival Pageant, an Elvis Look-A-Like Pet Parade, a Fling with the King Disc Golf Tournament and even a small carnival midway with rides, are more fun for children who don’t remember his music… or his wiggling hips.
Other Elvis Attractions in Tupelo
No matter what time of year you get to Tupelo, don’t miss the chance to see Elvis’ Birthplace, a Mississippi-designated historic landmark within a 15-acre park, and the Elvis Presley Museum. Additionally, fans will want to visit sites from his childhood such as the schools and the church he attended, plus the Elvis Homecoming Statue and other local landmarks.
A bit farther afield, Tupelo is home to the National Park Service’s Natchez Trace Parkway, used by Native Americans over 8,000 years ago along the 444 miles between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee.
Planning your Elvis Festival Weekend Getaway
Our only caveat is that since the festival was selected as one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events, crowds have increased, making it harder to find a hotel room in Tupelo and neighboring Mississippi.
If you’re too late in planning but can get a room in Memphis during Elvis Week, they organize driving daytrips to Tupelo to see the original Elvis family homestead and related sites.
Just don’t forget to wear your blue suede shoes.
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