If I can dream…the concept
Parkes Elvis Festival may now be world renowned, but just over a quarter of a century ago it was only part of an animated dinner conversation. The famous ‘ten Cate family party’ has now become part of local legend, where good food, good company and no doubt some good wine, led to the mighty idea of a celebration to honour Elvis Presley.
Bob Steel and his wife Anne (the more devoted Elvis fan of the two!) were at that dinner, and decided to run with the idea of hosting an Elvis party at their Gracelands Restaurant in Parkes. Ever enthusiastic Bob wanted to have this party as soon as possible, but his lovely, yet practical wife persuaded him that they needed more time. The notoriously quiet time of January would be ideal as locals either worked off their Christmas debts or left town on the country-person’s annual pilgrimage to the seaside. Parkes needed a reason to stay in town and party. So it was decided, the first Elvis party would be held in January on the nearest weekend to Elvis’ birthday (8 January).
Bob then attended a get together of the local hotel and moteliers and mentioned the idea hoping to tempt more people to join in. The Parkes Shire Tourism Manager (Michael Greenwood OAM) at that time called a public meeting at the cinema in the Services Club – The Parkes Elvis Revival was born. From this small group of people, the first Elvis Festival dream came to life.
Anne set about planning the first Elvis-themed menu and feature event. In her planning, Anne did not account for the two broken arms she would get from falling off a ladder just before the inaugural Parkes Elvis Revival! Being resilient and determined Anne didn’t give up, instead recruiting some help in the kitchen in the form of teenage ‘mini Steel’ sous chefs. She looked a sight cooking in her large purple gloves over both plaster-casts. ‘My kids then learnt to cook and help out very fast,’ Anne said recalling the evening ‘They helped my staff cook for the night; I did the salads and the fish, and quickly taught them how to do the rest.’
The first Festival in 1993
The inaugural Parkes Elvis Revival started on Friday 8 January 1993 with official proceedings, dancing and competitions at Gracelands followed on the Saturday morning with a flea market and memorabilia display contributed by the Elvis fans of Parkes. Quite a few shops in the town dressed their windows, contributing to that Elvis spirit. At 11am, there was the very first street parade (quite a small affair) but it was enthusiastically received and set the scene for future years. Other events included an Elvis Greyhound meeting and double feature Elvis Movie at The Golden West Cinema. The evening hosted the famous first Elvis dinner at Gracelands with an ldolz in Concert featuring Eddie Youngblood. Supper dances followed at various venues until the early hours of the morning.
Sunday morning awoke with a Revival Breakfast organised by the Parkes Apex Club followed by a coach tour of surrounding towns, complete with non-stop Elvis movies for entertainment. The coach stopped for morning tea at the Fat Lamb Hotel, Eugowra and visited Michael Hanley’s Funeral Parlour in Forbes that is stylistically inspired by the original Graceland, Memphis USA.
The Festival of 1993 was only small by today’s standards but size didn’t matter as Bob and Anne said, ‘we sure had a lot of fun’. That fun has been kept alive for 29 years!
The Festival’s incredible growth
A couple of hundred people attended the first one-night only Festival in 1993. Over the next 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. Then with the vision and efforts of new committee members, the Festival experienced a surge in popularity in 2004 and 2005, with word quickly spreading across Australia about this fun and quirky event.
9,500 attended the Festival in 2009. In 2020 more than 24,500 visitors attended this major event. The Festival now enjoys a worldwide media audience of 400 million+ with fans around the globe.
The 2021 Parkes Elvis Festival has been cancelled due to Covid-19. The next event will be held from Wednesday 5 January to Sunday 9 January 2022. The theme is from Elvis’ 1968 movie Speedway.