Whether you think Elvis is long gone or still shakin’, his music and rock ’n’ roll attitude will be alive and well at the Big E Festival this Friday and Saturday at the Loudermilk Boarding House Museum in Cornelia.
This is the ninth year for the festival, where fans can watch as Elvis “tribute artists” do their best to summon the spirit of the King with performances and attire, compete in the Elvis Tribute Competition. Kids can also get in on all the Elvis fun with activities like face painting and a blow-up Army tank jumping toy.
Joni Mabe, owner of the boarding house, began the festival in 1999.
“The Loudermilk Boarding House was my great-grandparents’ home, and they ran it as a boarding house,” Mabe said. “I decided to restore the house and get it on the National Register of Historic Places.”
This year marks the 100th birthday of the boarding house. After the restoration, Mabe, a passionate Elvis fan since college, dedicated the third floor to an “Everything Elvis” museum and gift shop, and decided to begin the Big E Festival.
Mabe said she “became obsessed” with Elvis after he died on Aug. 16, 1977. A fine arts student at the University of Georgia, she began creating art inspired by Elvis, and ended up basing her senior exhibition and thesis on the singer.
“He was so unique and a lot of times a contradiction,” Mabe said. “He was the American dream, the ‘rags-to-riches’ story.”
Mabe shares her passion each year with the more than 800 Elvis fans who attend the Big E Festival. She said some fans come from as far as New Zealand and Russia.
And it’s not only black-haired, blue-eyed men that get a chance to compete as “Elvis tribute artists.” Young ladies like Kambrie Gaddis, last year’s winner in the youth category, also can compete. Gaddis will perform on Friday night.
“The past two years have been little girls who’ve won (in the youth division),” Mabe said.
Other winners from previous years set to perform on Friday are 2007 Big E Winner Rick Wade, Demi Downing and Matthew Spalding.
The adult division of the Elvis Tribute Competition is a regional contest in which the winner can move on to the Images of the King Competition in Memphis, Tenn. Cash prizes also are available for the first through fifth place winners.
Food at the festival will include funnel cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers and Southern fare like moon pies, barbecue, cajun fries and Elvis’ favorite — peanut butter and banana sandwiches.