TUPELO • COVID-19 may have shut down the live version of the Tupelo Elvis Festival, but an online lineup of tribute artists and guests will carry on the King’s music and legacy.
This year’s festival will be a virtual experience. Performances and special events are scheduled from Wednesday through Sunday on the Tupelo Elvis Festival Facebook page.
Additional information about festival activities will be posted on the event website, tupeloelvisfestival.com.
Festival host Tom Brown said even with the online format, it’s still celebrating the hometown King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“Everybody is so open to the virtual experience now because we’re seeing it in late-night television and on newscasts. It’s going to be OK,” he said. “Tupelo wants to keep the music going. And you know what? It’s not going to stop Elvis. He’s still rocking.”
Not long after the pandemic began, festival organizers began planning for a virtual event just in case the annual festival in downtown Tupelo couldn’t go on as scheduled.
“We have been working on it since the end of March,” said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and the Elvis festival. “We have been gradually pulling all the pieces together and what it would take. We wanted to put our spin on it and make it special.”
The lineup includes several artists who’ve won the coveted title of Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist during Elvis Week in Memphis. Three of the winners – Bill Cherry, Cody Ray Slaughter and Taylor Rodriguez – qualified for the UETA finals by winning the Tupelo festival ETA competition. Taylor was the UETA winner last year.
The three past winners from Tupelo will be featured in “Tupelo to Memphis,” a festival segment starting at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Tupelo will not have an ETA contest this year, Brangenberg said, choosing instead to focus on the virtual festival.
Most of the festival can be viewed for free, but the following are limited to private Facebook groups: A VIP-only gathering of Elvis tribute artist meet-and-greets on Saturday afternoon, and “Through The Years! Jeff Lewis & Friends After Party” broadcasts on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. A “Through the Years” broadcast will be available for free Friday night.
Another popular festival event, the Dilworth Animal Hospital pet parade, will be online as well. The virtual pet parade starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Facebook Live.
Brown, who’s hosting his 11th Tupelo Elvis Festival, believes Elvis fans will like the online production and encourage them to see it in person next year. The 2021 Tupelo Elvis Festival will be June 9-13.
“With this virtual experience, we want people to say, ‘Yeah, I still feel it. I want to go next year.’ It’s a great week,” he said.