Nearly forty years after his untimely death, the legend of Elvis Presley lives on in the hearts and minds of multiple generations of music lovers. This month, Elvis fans from all over the country will be traveling to the Nashville area for the inaugural Nashville Elvis Festival, which takes place March 30 - April 2 in historic downtown Franklin, Tennessee.
The Nashville Elvis Festival is a premier Elvis event unlike any other, celebrating the music and legacy of The King. The 4-day festival will be filled with celebrity appearances, live music performances and on-stage interviews with Presley’s friends and band members. The festival also includes an Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition with contestants from across the globe.
AXS recently spoke with Elvis’ lifelong friend, the legendary Wink Martindale and festival founder Tom Brown about the Nashville Elvis Festival and more in this new interview.
AXS: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. What goes through your mind when you think of his life and that moment?
Wink Martindale: I feel very blessed to have been able to call Elvis my friend. I was there the night he was discovered and he remained my friend until the day he died. I am the only living person who was in the control room the night Sam Philips walked into WHBQ radio and handed a copy of “That’s All Right” to Dewey Phillips to play on his radio show. I remember he put it on the turntable and played it over and over and the switchboard just lit up. There was so much excitement. I met Elvis that night when Dewey put him on the air and that was the beginning of Presley mania. For Memphis and the mid-South, that night in July of 1954 was when music changed forever.
Tom Brown: The first thing I think about is where I was in life in 1977. I was seventeen-years-old and working at a movie theater in Tupelo, Mississippi where Elvis was born. I remember getting a call that afternoon from someone asking me if I had heard the news. Then afterwards, I remember walking back into the theater and seeing all the people watching the movie and thinking, “Wow! You don’t even know yet.” It was the calm before the storm. It was hard to accept that someone like that could be gone because the world wasn’t ready to let Elvis go.
AXS: What do you think made Elvis so beloved?
TB: For me, it started when I was a kid growing up. My grade schools were the same ones that Elvis had gone through. He felt like a member of the family. Someone who had just gone off up the road to Graceland to make movies and music. I think everyone feels that same way about Elvis and there’s nothing more American than his rags to riches story.
WM: He had a sound that was entirely different. His music and singing was an amalgam that included the music he had grown up with -- gospel, rhythm and blues and pop. It all came together in this sound and style that was Elvis Presley. It was quite special. Dick Clark was the one who said it best: “There will only be one Elvis Presley and there will never be another.”
AXS: Wink, as someone who knew him personally, what’s something most people don’t know about Elvis?
WM: I think the thing that’s been most underplayed about Elvis was the fact that he was such a giver. He gave so much to so many in so many ways. He gave away millions of dollars to charitable organizations. He was such a giving person and was always giving back. When you ask me that question, that’s the one thing that stands out in my mind.
AXS: What can you tell me about the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition?
TB: About ten years ago, Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) decided that the impersonators you see at office parties and on street corners were not going to go away. But they didn’t want Elvis defined by that. So they began a competition where people from all over the world could compete. There’s strict criteria in judging and from what I’ve found, these guys are the ultimate Elvis fans. We’ll have Elvis tribute artists from Australia, Brazil, Canada and all over the U.S. to compete.
AXS: What would you like fans to take away from the inaugural Nashville Elvis Festival?
TB: Even though you may be the oldest person in your family, church or school, when you come to an Elvis event you suddenly realize that you’re not alone, and I think that’s one of the big takeaways. The friendships that you make. The other is getting to see and hear what the real Elvis was like from the people that knew him best and from the tribute artists.
WM: Tom and Brian love what they’re doing and with this being the first in Nashville it should be tremendously successful. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to go back and do it again next year!
The inaugural Nashville Elvis Festival takes place March 30 - April 2 in downtown Franklin, Tennessee. The Franklin Theatre will serve as the host venue with additional events scheduled at Grays on Main and Paragon Studios.
You can visit Wink Martindale on Facebook by clicking here.