Elvis Week 2015 is on in Memphis. Thousands of fans, wannabes, tourists and curiosity-seekers have made the pilgrimage to the King's hometown to participate in an array of events, culminating at 8:30 on Saturday evening with the Candlelight Vigil. It was on August 16, 1977 that he died at home and on this day every year since those who appreciate him, his music and his celebrity have come together to pay homage. The Graceland Web site encapsulates the affair:
After an opening ceremony at the gates of Graceland, fans are invited to walk up the driveway to Elvis' gravesite and back down carrying a candle in quiet remembrance. Free admission. No tickets or reservations. Gates remain open until all who wish to participate in the procession have done so, which typically takes until the early morning hours of August 16...
Fifteen years ago, during Elvis Week 2000, I was interviewing with a Texas-based PR firm. Discussions were going well and I knew that if I were to accept an offer I would be headed to Dallas. Unsure if there would ever be another time for me to attend a Candlelight Vigil, I talked my friend and fellow Memphis CVB employee, John, into trekking over to Elvis Presley Blvd.
That night I learned the Candlelight Vigil, like the man himself, is largely misunderstood. It's not a mass gathering of impersonators/weirdos. It's not a worship service. Nor is it a party. I wouldn't even refer to it as spectacle.
My view of the only Candlelight Vigil I attended: it was a quiet, almost muted celebration of life. Granted, his was a spectacular and extraordinary life, but the over-the-top vibe naturally associated with Elvis was cast aside on this evening. As everyone patiently waited their turn to walk past his grave, there were conversations about favorite movies, concerts, songs, and other memories. A few tears were shed, but I've seen more crying in the stands after a gut wrenching defeat on the SEC gridiron. I also noticed that it was a reunion for many and those who had been to dozens and dozens, if not all, of the Candlelight Vigils were proud of this fact.
Of course, change is inevitable and I doubt my experience exactly replicates the present day vigil. But I bet it's close. And if you have no appreciation for Elvis, his voice and/or his lasting impression on pop culture, the Candlelight Vigil won't make much sense to you. Honestly, had I not worked in the tourism industry in Memphis and spent so many hours at Graceland, I doubt I would have taken the time to gain further insight into the life and times of Elvis. That's, sadly, the case for many who call Memphis home. They may take out-of-town guests to Graceland for an obligatory tour, crack a joke about the Jungle Room and buy a pair of sunglasses to give as a gag gift around the holidays, but don't stop to consider the history he forged and the inspiration he provided for so many others.
Happy Elvis Week ya'll. I won't be in Memphis Saturday night, but if you are I encourage you to go and learn a little more about the greatest entertainer who ever lived and the place he was lucky enough to call home.