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 none of their adventures was as much fun as the Tupelo Elvis Festival. Turns out Tupelo, Mississippi is one of the best places on earth.
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.
Just show up at the Tupelo Elvis Festival in Presley’s birthplace of Tupelo to meet thousands of Elvis impersonators and diehard fans from around the world. The festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary June 7-11, 2023.
Doing the Tupelo Elvis Festival en route to Graceland
Head to Tupelo for the annual event, always held the first weekend of June. It attracts as many fans and aging groupies as it does professional and amateur impersonators. Hundreds register to 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. Winning a preliminary round is a prerequisite and they are judged in venues around the world. For example, 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, however, carries the most emotional significance.
Shimmy forward to The Ultimate ETA in August. This international competition is held at Graceland in Memphis, during Elvis Week. 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.
With 65,000 Facebook fans of the Tupelo contest, who’s to argue who is The King?
Tupelo, Mississippi is a Fun Town for All Ages
Back in Elvis’ hometown of Tupelo, you’ll find lots of barbecue and Southern cooking to eat. One of the most popular new places is Jobos, from Chef Mitch McCamey, inside Hotel Tupelo. He serves some of Mississippi Gulf Coast’s freshest seafood and craft cocktails. Fans of mead, that liquor made from honey, should visit Queen’s Reward Meadery for a tasting of the local honey made into sweet or dry drinks; ages 21+ only.
Allow some time for shopping since stores jammed with souvenirs and windows full of glittery bellbottoms are just irresistable. 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. Check out the small carnival midway with rides as well, as it’s more fun for children who don’t remember his music… or his wiggling hips.
After the Tupelo Elvis Festival, More Elvis Attractions
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.
An efficient way to keep school-age kids involved in the sights and cover a lot of territory is by taking the city’s self-guided Elvis Guitar Trail. Rent bikes or drive around to 14 places, including many significant to Elvis’ formative years. Stops include the Lee County Courthouse; Lee County Library (go inside and see Elvis’ first library card); Lyric Theatre; Tupelo Hardware Company where he purchased his first guitar and more.
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. The iconic and sacred Indian Mounds along this route remain a mystery to scholars.
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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