Elvis said “You’ve got to follow that dream, wherever that dream may lead”. It was the dream of Anne and Bob Steel to create a celebration of the music and life of Elvis Presley in Parkes. They followed that dream; many followed with them. 30 years later, Parkes Elvis Festival is the biggest celebration of Elvis outside of Memphis.How it began
Gracelands Restaurant opens in Parkes
Anne and Bob were the owners of Gracelands restaurant in Parkes. The pair had a vision of opening a restaurant so purchased a former student hostel and transformed it into a restaurant and function centre. Gracelands opened its doors in 1981 shortly after they returned from a family holiday to Disneyland in the USA. Anne commented that it was a shame that they didn't get to visit Graceland. Bob's eyes lit up as he said "How would Gracelands be as the name? It sounds so much better than Bob and Anne's".
Restaurant theme updated to rock 'n' roll
In 1992 Anne decided to go full steam ahead and changed the Gracelands restaurant theme to rock 'n' roll. Staff uniforms switched from the traditional black and white attire to rock 'n' roll skirts, bobby socks and Elvis silhouette printed t-shirts. Rock 'n' roll music played on the stereo with Elvis and many other music greats from the era.
A seed is planted...
It was during 1992 that Roel Tencate, the local Editor of the Champion Post Newspaper, was at his mother's birthday party at Gracelands. The family are Elvis fans and they sang and danced to Elvis until the early hours of the morning. It was then that Bob was having a quiet red wine with Roel at the end of the night who planted the idea of having an Elvis week in Parkes. The pair thought that August would be the ideal time until Anne joined the conversation and disagreed. It was January when business was slow. The heat in Parkes drove locals on holidays to the beach and some businesses to close because it was so quiet. It was decided then and there that Elvis's birthday weekend in January 1993 would be the date.
Elvis Revival Inc (ERI) committee formed
A small group of local Elvis fans formed a committee named Elvis Revival Inc (ERI) and they got together to help plan the first Festival. Anne didn't have falling off a ladder and breaking her two wrists in the lead up to the inaugural Festival in her planning! They soldiered on organising the Festival with Anne getting help from her children and staff. They managed to pull it off, broken wrists and all.
Inaugural Parkes Elvis Festival held
The weekend's festivities kicked off with the opening night's dinner at Gracelands on 8 January 1993 with a birthday party for Elvis. Bob ran the bar, Anne organised the event and cooked, daughter Tiffany (now the Festival Director) was MC and ran the competitions and son Andrew checked people in and worked the bar. No one dressed in theme except for Elvis Lennox. Bob had asked Elvis to judge the evenings competitions however when he realised he was the only person in a jumpsuit, he asked to go into the competition instead. To no surprise, Elvis won the look-a-like and John Lovett won the sound-a-like completion.
First Festival event attracts 195 locals
The first festival event attracted 195 people - all locals apart from one lady who travelled from Adelaide. Guests didn't know what you expect. The weekends festivities included a concert by Elvis tribute artist, Eddie Youngblood, street parade, tour of the region and markets.
"Clambake" Parkes Elvis Festival theme
The committee decided that each Festival would have a theme. The 1994 Festival theme was Clambake. Gracelands was themed inside and out. Ken MGrath delivered sand and a beach was created in the staff carpark. Staff dressed in sarongs and fans were dressed like going to the beach.
The early years
As the years progressed more people came however the Festival wasn't taking off as the committee had hoped. Roel regularly published articles about the Festival and helped to get the word out locally. For years the Festival didn't make enough to pay for the feature concert artist and certainly didn't have any funds to market.
Elvis Wall of Fame built by ERI
Festival markets moved to showground
Inaugural Elvis Gospel Service
The Elvis Gospel Service commences in the Uniting Church.
First Elvis Express train commences
Tent City and Home Hosting commence
The markets and free entertainment are moved to Kelly Reserve. Stage on the back of a truck.
Elvis Central opens
Destination NSW grant awarded
Over the first 10 years more events were added to the program and the Festival became a two-day event. But still only a few hundred people attended. Parkes Shire Council's Tourism Manager, Kelly Hendry, caught the vision of the committee and applied for a grant with Destination NSW. It was this grant, Kelly's efforts and Council's support in 2004 that was the turning point for the Festival. With the vision and efforts of new ERI members, the Festival experienced a surge in popularity in 2004 and 2005, with word quickly spreading across Australia about this fun and quirky event. By 2006 it was clear that a dedicated Festival Manager was needed. Tiffany Steel stepped in and coordinated the 2007 Festival while recruitment began.
Festival grows with new locations added
The Elvis Gospel Service moves to the BigW carpark. Markets and free entertainment moved to Cooke Park. The stage was a platform with no cover.
Inaugural Renewal of Vows
First Festival Manager hired
The first Festival Manager was hired in 2007 in a joint effort between Council and ERI. ERI committee members continued to manage events and various components of the Festival.
Festival events grow
Miss Priscilla Dinner, Elvis Golf Day, Elvis Poets' Breakfast launched and volunteer program formalised. First big main stage in Cooke Park.
Full time Festival Coordinator employed
Souvenir program launched. First full time Festival Coordinator was employed.
Festival attracts 9,500 visitors
By 2009 the Festival attracted around 9,500 visitors.
Parkes Shire Council takes the reins
Parkes Elvis Festival officially handed over to Parkes Shire Council to run.
Festival attracts 20,000 visitors
Visitor number increase each year to 20,000 in 2015.
Festival Director appointed
In 2017, Cathy Treasure landed the job as Festival Director and took the event to the next level. Cathy was the longest serving Festival Director having delivered 5 Festivals before becoming the Parkes Shire Council Major Economy and Events Specialist in late 2021.
Life-size bronze Elvis Presley statue unveiled in Cooke Park
Tiffany Steel appointed Festival Director
After volunteering since the Festival's inception, Bob and Anne's daughter, Tiffany Steel, returned to Parkes as the Festival's Sponsorship & Marketing Officer in 2019 and was appointed as the Festival Director in December 2021. Both powerhouse women continue to develop and grow the Festival with the support of their team, Council staff across the organisation and the very dedicated group of portfolio holders.
Festival cancelled due to COVID-19
The 2021 Festival was cancelled due to Covid-19 and the 2022 Festival was moved to April.
Festival attracts 24,000 visitors
The 2022 Festival attracted more than 24,000 visitors with a worldwide media audience of 599 million fans around the globe.