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John Lamb, Published March 17 2013

Long live The King: Four Elvis tribute artists to play Fargodome

FARGO – The King is dead. Long live The King.

Thirty-five years after he died at the age of 42, Elvis Presley is still shaking people up.

The proof will be in the crowd Tuesday night when not one but four Elvises play the Gate City Bank Theatre at the Fargodome.

The “Elvis Lives!” show features Elvis tribute artists (ETAs) representing different stages of The King’s career: Young Elvis of the 1950s, Hollywood Elvis of the ’60s, Elvis in black leather from the “’68 Comeback special” and the white jumpsuit-and-cape-wearing Elvis from the early ’70s.

“That’s always been my favorite,” says Bill Cherry, who plays the latter-day crooner.

“I just liked his style. I liked the way he looked, the way he sang,” Cherry says from a tour stop in Virginia. “He was the coolest. He was a trendsetter – not only musically. He set standards for the way people wore their hair, the way they dressed. Elvis was like the originator of glam rock, all the flash, the sparkle.”

Cherry says Elvis’ sartorial style influenced disco fashion and his jeweled accessorizing predated the gold and glitz of rappers.

“Elvis was the king of bling,” he says with a laugh.

‘Love Me Tender’

Cherry grew up in the 1970s watching Elvis movies, TV specials and listening to the records with his mother. Then he’d go to his bedroom and mimic the entertainer’s dance moves and singing.

By the time he was 12, he was putting on shows for his family in the living room, with his dad running the spotlight – a flashlight. Cherry, a blond, would spray his hair black for the performances, though his sweat would make the color smear.

“I had a life-long training for a job I never thought or ever dreamed I’d be doing,” he says.

That’s because for most of his adult life, Cherry was a welder. But when he was laid off from his steel plant job in 2008, he put more time and energy into his Elvis act. It paid off in 2009 when he won the Ultimate Elvis contest, put on by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Since then, being The King has been his only job.

“For an Elvis fan and a tribute artist, it’s unbelievable,” he says of his experiences as a performer. “It blows my mind that I can put on the jumpsuit and walk on the stage and the audience reacts as if I am Elvis.”

Depending on the fan, that reaction can be pretty intense. His Facebook fan page shows him offstage posing with fans young and old, but predominately women. One shot shows him wearing a bra on his head.

“They throw bras. They throw panties. They cry. They laugh. Little kids come up to the stage dressed in jumpsuits, that’s cute. I really like that. It’s such a great thing,” he says. “You have fanatical fans that are way out there and you have normal fans that live in the real world.”

Sometimes the fanatics want him to stay in the Elvis character off-stage. That’s the major difference between an Elvis tribute artist and an Elvis impersonator, he says. A tribute artist may act like The King on stage but doesn’t actually pretend to be him, and would credit the songs to Elvis or even dedicate them to him. An impersonator would say he or she is Elvis and carries the act off stage, never getting out of character.

“We’re not trying to replace or be Elvis,” Cherry says of other tribute artists. “We’re just trying to bring back the memories and relive it for those who never got to see it.”

‘The Wonder of You’

One of those fans who never got to see The King in person is Kari Lugo. Like Cherry, the Fargo woman was also raised by an Elvis-admiring mother, Angela Peda. When she was in her 20s, Lugo’s own Elvis appreciation really kicked in.

Now in her 30s, she recalls initially being thrilled by Elvis tribute artists.

“It was intoxicating for a brief period of time simply because I was never able to see Elvis Presley in concert, so the only thing I could do was imagine it through these tribute artists,” she says.

Over the years, she’s seen a lot and has become less impressed the more she sees.

“I would say there are only a very small handful who take their craft seriously enough to win my respect,” she says. “Ultimately no one will ever come close to what Elvis Presley was, ever. Nonetheless, I do appreciate those that work to continue his legacy in a respectful, professional manner for future generations.”

While she’s visited Graceland about 12 times, attended numerous conventions, has two Elvis-themed tattoos and bins full of collectibles, she doesn’t classify herself as one of what Cherry described as “fanatical fans that are way out there.”

“The main way I show my dedication to Elvis Presley is by being a voice of reason and intelligence when talking about him,” Lugo says. “He deserves that, and I hope to provide more people with a chance to consume the real story of Elvis Presley, not the ‘Vegas’ themed assumptions that are so ridiculously exaggerated.”

She says too many people focus on certain aspects of his life, but don’t know about his deep spirituality or philanthropy, which has inspired her to raise money for an Alzheimer’s association through Elvis-related events.This shows how the late singer resonates with someone who was only a child when he died.

“Elvis Presley descended on American culture in a way that no one was ready for, although it had to come to fruition for us to move to where we are today musically and culturally,” Lugo says. “For an artist to have that kind of world-wide impact on different societies, religions, races and cultures is nothing short of a miracle.”

Cherry has a different theory on why Elvis still matters.

“I think what keeps it going, really, you never saw Elvis on talk shows. You never got to know the real Elvis Presley,” he says. “In my opinion, that mystique leaves it totally open so when people look at a picture of Elvis, he is whoever they want him to be in their mind.

“I think the mystique has become greater than the man or the music anyway. The legend just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And the tribute artists keep it going because people need to feel that touch. They need to see it right before them. It is one thing to see a thing in TV, but it’s another to be there and be part of it. So I think the tribute side has helped the longevity of it. I’m not so sure if without that it would be as big as it is.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: “Elvis Lives”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Gate City Bank Theatre, Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

Info: Tickets are $26.50, $41.50 and $51.50. Go to www.inforumtix.com or call (855) 694-6367