Long live The King: Happy birthday Elvis
THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Elvis tribute artist, Chris Ayotte of Canton, wearing ’70s Elvis Las Vegas-style jumpsuit.
Chris Ayotte was only 8 when Elvis Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977. Paul, his brother, who was four years older, bought a copy of Elvis’s “Golden Records” album shortly after, and they played it over and over again.
They both gained an appreciation for Elvis’s miraculous voice and eventually started impersonating him, for which they had a knack.
Flash forward many years later and Chris Ayotte, 41, from Canton, a University of Michigan grad, found himself performing in an Elvis tribute artist contest on a dare from his father-in-law. He won first place, which eventually led him to start his career performing as The King.
Elvis Presley was born on Jan. 8, 1935. For fans like Ayotte, Elvis’s birthday is an important one. Fans from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Graceland, the famed home of Elvis located in Memphis, Tenn., for his birthday. Graceland has over 600,000 visitors a year, according to Elvis.com.
“Whether or not you are a big fan, it is important to acknowledge Elvis and his contribution to music,” said Ayotte, a man who loves his work while trying not to take himself too seriously. His goal as a performer is simply to make people feel good and put a smile on their faces.
“It is amazing to me the age range of the audiences that love Elvis” said Ayotte. “There are people from 8 to 80 who attend shows. My two children, Emma and Danny, enjoy the shows — and not just because I put them up to it.” Emma is 6 and Danny is 10.
There are many Elvises to choose from to honor The King as a tribute artist. There is the young, hip-swinging, “Jail House Rock” Elvis from the ’50s, or the comeback Elvis who was decked out in black leather. Then there was Elvis’s Hawaiian Movie phase.
The Elvis that seems to fire up the crowds the most, the one who makes the ladies scream, is the larger-than-life Elvis of the ’70s Las Vegas era. The ’70s Elvis tribute artist comes equipped with superhero capes, rhinestoned and embroidered jumpsuits, silk scarves to throw to his screaming fans, huge mutton chop sideburns and the trademark gold-framed and red-tinted sunglasses.
“Costumes can be found on eBay,” said Ayotte. “The jumpsuits can run a few thousand dollars, but they hold up well if you take care of them. Audiences really appreciate tribute artists performing in authentic customs.”
Fans of Michigan Elvisfest, which has been held in Riverside Park each summer in Depot Town since 2000, might have seen Ayotte perform. He has been coming to Elvisfest since 2004. He has also performed and competed representing the Midwest in The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest held during Elvis Week, a weeklong event held at Graceland.
The ultimate compliment for any tribute artist is to recreate an experience for a fan who had seen Elvis live in concert. Ayotte recounted one such compliment from a fan after a show.
“As someone who went to Vegas (to see Elvis) twice a year from 1970 through the end and saw too many shows to count,” the fan said, “you have recreated every movement, every word, every inflection. You brought back many happy memories.”
Fans who cannot make it to Graceland can still honor The King by listening to his music, attending a performance by a local tribute artist or — and this one should come with a health warning — by enjoying the Elvis Sandwich.
This is a pan-grilled, peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, which is sometimes served with bacon. Elvis gained a lot of weight late in his life, and his love of this sandwich was thought to be the cause.
“I love the coveted peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich,” said Ayotte. “It is a popular item with vendors at many Elvis events.”
And so is he. Which begs the question: Does Ayotte have screaming fans and groupies throwing themselves at him when he performs as The King?
“I get asked that a lot,” he said with a smile. “Women have come up to me after a performance and handed me their number with hopes of being with The King. But my wife Julie quickly puts a stop to that by telling them, ‘I am his wife, and that’s not going to happen.’”
Ayotte is schedule to perform at Michigan Elvisfest this summer.
And as Elvis would say, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
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