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A tribute fit for a king
Elvis tribute artists gather for annual Big E Festival
Johnny Elvis, Damon Hendrix and Bobby Dean Scott perform during Cornelia’s Big E Festival. Hendrix won top honors last year.
Big E Festival and Final Hoe Down
What: Elvis tribute artist performances and contests
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Loudermilk Boarding House Museum, 271 Foreacre St., Cornelia
How much: $10 Friday; $15 Saturday includes tour of museum; children age 5 and younger free
More info: 706-778-2001

Elvis is serious business in Cornelia. Such serious business that the festival honoring The King is bursting at the seams in its current venue there.

Joni Mabe the Elvis Babe will be host of the Big E Festival one more time at her Loudermilk Boarding House Museum. Next year, she’ll have to find somewhere bigger and better to accommodate the crowds and many Elvises.

But that won’t dampen the spirit of Elvis at this weekend’s festival.

Elvis tribute artists from all over the South will gather to compete. And it’s one serious competition.

“Each one will do three songs, and I have three judges all from out of town ... because I want to be as fair as I can,” Mabe said.

Artists are judged in five categories — vocals, stage presence and professionalism, appearance, authentic movements and connection with the audience.

“To me, I think that the voice is the most important thing,” said judge Mary Stanley, an Atlanta resident who judged the competition for the first time last year.

Dance moves and costumes also ranked high on her list of what makes a great Elvis. But audience engagement is what creates great entertainment, she said.

“It was so entertaining. The people that came there to watch the thing, the interaction between the audience and the performers, all of that was just fascinating,” Stanley said. “It was just fun.”

Stanley said she loves Elvis, his dancing ability and his uniqueness as a performer. But she doesn’t live Elvis like some of the fans who come to the festival.

“These women go up and stand in front of the stage and get a scarf from Elvis,” she said. “And he puts it around their neck and draws them close and kisses them, and it is the cutest, funniest thing you’ve ever seen in your whole damn life. I mean, it’s great.”

Previous competition winners will perform Friday night, including last year’s winner Damon Hendrix as the headliner. Competitions will be Saturday beginning with the youth division. Then 12 artists will compete in the adult division.

Previous winners must wait three years before competing again, but they will perform a few numbers on Saturday during judging breaks, as well as sign autographs. And in honor of the 10th anniversary of the festival, program books will be sold with a silver pen to help you get those autographs from all of the Elvis tribute artists.

And if the competing adult Elvises, junior Elvises and previous Elvis winners isn’t enough Elvis for you, there’s also the Elvis museum that you can tour, plus Elvis merchandise for sale, plus an inflatable Army tank for the kids in honor of Elvis’ time in the Army. Plus, of course, Elvis-themed food.

“I thought (the festival) was amazing,” said Stanley, who attended for the first time last year when she judged. “It was so professionally done. And so much more elaborate than I had any idea.”