The year was 1977 and I was vacationing in Florida with my parents before summer‘s end. I was a precocious four-year old who didn’t know the meaning of the phrase “stranger danger”. On this particular August day, however, I was quietly observing everyone around me. I remember women weeping and men trying to console them while being visibly shaken, too. I remember being in a souvenir shop on the boardwalk and seeing a baby blue AM/FM radio perched up high on a shelf. This was the center of attention for everyone and I finally asked my mother what was happening. She quietly explained that Elvis Presley had died, though I don’t know if I really understood what that meant. I just knew that this man must’ve meant a lot to an awful lot of people because everyone was so sad.
Now, thirty fives years later, Elvis is still hailed as “The King”. With the anniversary of his passing once again upon us, Big Mike Geier returned to Atlanta with The Kingsized Orchestra and the Dames Aflame dancers for their bi-annual tribute to the legend at The Variety Playhouse. One thing that can be said for an Elvis Royale show is that Big Mike and his crew draw a wide array of fans. There are the die-hard fans who remember (or in some cases, actually saw!)Elvis when he was alive, the young people who have only recently discovered The King and his songs that fused gospel, blues, and rock, and others who adore Big Mike and know that they’re in for one helluva good time! Before the show, I met a man who had never been to an Elvis Royale event. He was there for a job, ready to snap a few pictures for a free local Atlanta periodical. I smiled when he told me this, knowing he was in for a treat!
The lights dimmed and the crowd roared to life, ready to pay homage to Elvis! Elvis’ customary intro song began and once again, the musicians in The Kingsized Orchestra managed to pack the classic tune with so much contemporary flavor that the crowd was in the group’s hands before anyone could say “peanut butter and banana sandwich”! After Big Mike’s volcanic entrance, he addressed the crowd. He said he didn’t know if Elvis was, in fact, dead (Since many rumors have him living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Perhaps he and Jim Morrison play poker with Tupac?)…but before he could finish his sentiment, a zealous fan screamed, “Elvis is right here tonight!” The crowd erupted in cheers as show goers agreed with the man.
The show began again with fan favorites like King Creole, Burnin’ Love, Suspicious Minds, and Viva Las Vegas coloring the set. There were also lesser known Elvis songs like My Babe, Without Love, Loved On Look, and If I can Dream for fans to enjoy! Big Mike did amazing renditions of Bridge Over Troubled Water, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, and To Love Somebody.
During the intermission, there was an Elvis look-a-like contest, though this time there was a Priscilla thrown into the mix. (she didn’t win, but you go girl!) Several men took the stage in their best Elvis attire and were asked to strike their best Elvis-esque pose. Some were comical while others had the moves down to a T! One contestant was decked out in a gold sequined jacked and aviator glasses and blew the crowd away with his swiveling hips and gyrating dance moves! He won by a landslide!
The night ended with Big Mike serenading hundreds of people with Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends and Cheap Trick’s classic song Surrender. The crowd celebrated life, singing along and letting the spirit of the moment move them. Elvis may have left the building, but he’s still on the premises somewhere.
photos ©2012 Karla Hill