TUPELO • Rain or shine, you’re bound to have a good time.

Friday night at Fairpark has been a longstanding element of the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival. With past acts that include B.B. King, Montgomery Gentry and the North Mississippi All Stars, music has always been played in Presley’s memory in the same spot where he performed in 1956 at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.

Acts for the 21st annual event will include the Memphis Jones Band, Ron Glaser, Reed Turchi and A.C. Freeman taking the stage, but the night’s headliner, Paul Thorn, is no stranger to Tupelo or its former fairgrounds where Elvis played more than six decades ago.

“I might do that thing where Elvis pointed down,” Thorn said. “You know that famous picture? We’ll have to get all the females that were originally in that picture. I want to invite them to come down and we’ll go down memory lane.”

Thorn, a North Mississippi native, spent his youth in the fairgrounds and considers it an honor to get to perform there this weekend.

“Man, I have so many memories at those fairgrounds,” he said. “Our church, when I was a kid, used to have a hot dog and hamburger stand under those bleachers. I would sneak around ... I even snuck my head through the curtain at a burlesque show there once.”

While playing Tupelo is always a favorite stop for the musician, getting to honor Presley’s legacy is an equal delight, Thorn said.

“To get to come in and help celebrate his memory, that’s a huge deal to me,” he said. “We don’t want to forget that the theme of the whole thing is honoring the memory of Elvis. He might be the most famous person that’s ever lived. He was a great talent and we should be proud that he’s from our town.”

Thorn said he’s always known exactly what Elvis and his music meant to people.

“I remember I was at a babysitter’s house when I heard the news that (Elvis) passed away,” Thorn said. “I can just see that woman that was babysitting me sobbing immediately. And that was about someone that she didn’t even know.

“That was the power that Elvis had. People felt like they were part of his family. He had that charisma and attitude. People felt like they had a relationship with him so when he passed, they shed genuine tears of sorrow.”

Growing up, Presley’s gospel music had the greatest impact on Thorn and still does to this day.

“Even more so than his secular,” he said. “To me, there is no better gospel recordings than Elvis’. He had the power and the clout to get the best of the best quartets and singers of the day and take them on tour and record and sing on his albums. His gospel albums were fantastic.”

But will Thorn try on one of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s classics Friday?

“If I could do one of his songs, I would. But it doesn’t sound right when I sing it,” he said.

Friday night at Fairpark is free and begins at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, visit tupeloelvisfestival.com.

derek.russell@journalinc.com Twitter: @wderekrussell

Features, arts and entertainment reporter for Daily Journal.

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