TUPELO • Tom Brown can't wait to see his “family” again this June.
Brown, the Tupelo radio personality, is referring to his Elvis family — fans of the Tupelo-born King of Rock ’n’ Roll and the tribute artists who model themselves after him. They’ll gather June 9-13 for the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival.
"I feel like it’s a long-time-coming family reunion,” said Brown, the festival’s longtime host. “I’m glad Tupelo’s one of the first live events with everybody in a building together to celebrate Elvis.”
The Elvis Fest, which went virtual last year because of the pandemic, on Thursday announced the schedule of its return to live events. A majority of the activities, including the annual Tupelo Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist (UETA) competition, will take place in BancorpSouth Arena.
Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, said response to the announcement showed that Elvis fans are ready to return.
"It was exciting. We're excited that we can move forward this year," she said. "We're so looking forward to having our Elvis fans back in Tupelo and seeing all of our friends and be together again."
Although the live festival was shut down in 2020, Brangenberg said the virtual experience opened the way for more fans to learn about the event and the city.
"We were able to reach 39 countries, and over a million people watched at some point in time of the online version," she said. "We averaged about 35,000 viewers per show. It really gave us some exposure that we had not had in the past. People that had never been to Tupelo were making comments like, 'If this is what a Tupelo Elvis festival is like, then we want to come.'"
Brangenberg said the festival is taking a safe approach in its return to protect those participating. Tickets for performances inside BancorpSouth Arena are being sold in pods (groups of 1, 2, 4, etc.), and there will be mask and social distancing requirements at each activity.
Package tickets are almost sold out. Individual event tickets go on sale May 3 at the coliseum box office and Ticketmaster.com.
The festival opens Wednesday night, June 9 with a “Together Again” showcase of Elvis tribute artists.
“I feel like we’re kicking everything off again,” Brown said. “We’ve had a year of quiet time and it’s time to bring the big guns out and everybody celebrate rockin’ style.”
The “big guns” returning to Tupelo include seven past Tupelo UETA winners who went on to capture the overall UETA title during Elvis Week in Memphis: Brandon Bennett (2008), Bill Cherry (2009), Cody Ray Slaughter (2011), Jay Dupuis (2014), David Lee (2015), Ben Thompson (2018) and Taylor Rodriguez (2019).
Dean Z, an overall UETA winner from 2013, also joins the lineup along with past Tupelo winners Nick Perkins, Diogo Light and Cote Deonath, and tribute artist Ron Glaser and his band, The Ridin’ Dudes.
“These guys are the best of the best,” Brown said. “Some of them have won Tupelo, a lot of them are Ultimate champions. All these guys make themselves available for Tupelo. That’s the great part of it. These are the best of the best, and to see them all in one festival is something you don’t get at a lot other festivals.”
The Thursday, June 10, schedule opens at 9 a.m. with a youth workshop and competition in the BancorpSouth Conference Center, followed by 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. concerts in the arena starring the ETAs.
The opening round of the Tupelo Ultimate Tribute Artist competition begins at 10 a.m. Friday, June 11. Brown then hosts a 2 p.m. “conversations” event with special guests, followed by a 7:30 p.m. concert.
The Saturday, June 12, activities open at 7 a.m. with the Running With The King 5K footrace at Veterans Park. The Elvis Pet Parade sponsored by Dilworth Small Animal Hospital starts at 9 a.m. and the UETA semifinals take place at 10:30 a.m.
Saturday’s festivities switches to Downtown for meet-and-greets with the tribute artists and Tupelo Elvis Fan Club activities between 1-3 p.m. The UETA finals begin at 6 p.m., followed by the “Tupelo to Memphis” concert.
The festival closes Sunday, June 13 with brunch at noon and the Sunday gospel concert at 1 p.m.
Visit www.tupeloelvisfestival.com for more information.