More than 37 years after his death, Elvis Aron Presley is still known world-wide. The final resting place of the King of Rock ‘n' Roll — who died Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42 — had to be moved from a cemetery in Memphis due to the heavy visitor traffic destroying the graves of others. The singer's former home, Graceland, ranks No. 2 as the most visited residence in the United States — only the White House has more.
So it's no wonder the annual Elvis Festival at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa is alive and well. Dozens of Elvis tribute artists will be performing Sunday at the 15th annual event and we decided to talk to some of those Elvis diehards about who they are and why they do what they do.
Kirk Wall, 57, has been the festival's host since its inception, saying he enjoys doing projects like it because he feels Elvis brings people together. Wall will perform with the Halau Hula Lani Ola Dancers at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Stage and 11:30 a.m. on the Golden Mike Entertainment Stage, singing “Blue Hawaii” and “Rock a Hula Baby.” At 3 p.m. on the Main Stage, Wall and The Hillbillies will honor Presley by doing bluegrass versions of his hits in an act called “Lay Off My Bluegrass Shoes.”
Wall has been a full-time actor and entertainer since college and is a member of Actors Equity. He's had roles in such plays as “Grease” and “Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” and has even been cast as Elvis on TV shows like “The Fall Guy.”
Gary Anderson, a 54-year-old Lake Forest resident, began doing his Elvis impressions in front of the mirror when he was 5, using a tennis racket as a guitar. He has played “The King” in Las Vegas, at previous Elvis Festivals and at many private venues and events. He will be doing songs from the 1973 Aloha Concert at 1:30 p.m. on the Main Stage and 2:30 p.m. on the Golden Mike Stage. Anderson says his enthusiasm is “to give back what the man gave to me and to do my best to keep his music alive.” In real life, he works in the automotive industry.
Martin Anthony usually specializes in late 1950s, early 1960s Elvis. At the festival, the 40-year-old Montebello resident will present “Sun to '68: A Rockin' Road Trip with The King,” at 2 p.m. on the Main Stage. He will also perform a duet number with Rachel Cyprus as Ann-Margret (“Viva Las Vegas”) at 11 a.m. on the Golden Mike Stage.
Martin found his niche by doing karaoke and has been performing as Presley for over 20 years. When asked why he continues to portray Elvis, he remarked that he wants to “share, through the impact of the music, the generosity of Elvis and how his kindness and thoughtfulness, often given anonymously, continue to live on after he has passed.”
When not impersonating “The King,” Anthony is a product trainer for a major international corporation.
One of the youngest impersonators, “Lil” Joe Banuelos will have had his 20th birthday by the time of the festival. He has been performing as Elvis for most of his life, since he was 5 or 6 years old, and began trailing behind performer Kirk Wall. Banuelos focused on a performing arts curriculum and graduated from Highland's Citrus Valley High School in 2013. He is waiting to be inducted into the Army in late fall, though his reason for joining didn't have anything to do with Elvis' military history.
When Joe was a child, his father watched Elvis performances and movies and listened to his music. Joe said he has always admired “how happy Elvis made people” and that he wants to bring some of that same happiness to his audience. He will perform “Elvis Sings the Beatles,” at noon on the Main Stage.
At age 44, Dave Hoover, a full-time contractor, comes each year from Las Vegas for the festival. Dave performs as Elvis (and sometimes as Tim McGraw) in many Vegas venues and does different periods of Elvis music. He has been performing since 1989, when he followed in the footsteps of his step-father, who was an Elvis impersonator during Dave's own childhood. Dave is happy to be part of this festival and feels “it's important to keep Elvis' memory and legacy continuing to touch the generations to come.” He performs at 10 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. on the Golden Mike Stage.