They don't make music stars like Elvis anymore. Sure, we can always hope Madonna gets fat, addicted and dies on a toilet, but we all know it's more likely to happen to Kirstie Alley. The King's entire rags-to-riches-to-dissipation saga offers the proper closing to the Horatio Alger story and a lesson worthy of TLC in the astonishing, garish excess possible with a demented designer and an unlimited budget.
By and large, it's in honor of those early, prodigious Sun Records years that the Local 506 and Shorty's Sports Bar are hosting the eighth annual Elvisfest in Chapel Hill. (The festival ostensibly started a year earlier when founder Dave Quick's band Jack Black hosted a record release party on Elvis' birthday, Jan. 8 in New York. When Quick and the band relocated to the Triangle, so did the nebulous festival.)
Over the course of two nights, 20 bands will take the stage at the two venues for 40-minute sets, each set including at least two Elvis tunes. Quick doesn't try to coordinate what songs the bands might play. That can result in embarrassing moments of groupthink, as it did last year.
"It was 'Little Sister' Fest 2005," Quick recalls. "It kinda evens things out. If you're the first band on the bill and you play 'Little Sister,' you're the first band to play it, and the guy sitting there in the last band, he's like 'You just played our song.'"
Quick is also the co-founder (with Mike Martin) of Winston-Salem's Heavy Rebel Weekend, which shares a spirit with Elvisfest. Besides the predilection for rockabilly and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, both events are suffused with a rambunctious camaraderie.
"It's a lot of the same people from Heavy Rebel, and for them it's sort of the winter halftime while waiting for Elvisfest, because they're six months apart," Quick suggests. "They get to see each other, hang out, drink all this PBR and talk about Heavy Rebel. It's like a family reunion for a lot of bands."
The bill is dotted with familiar faces such as Oklahoma's Billy Joe Winghead, whose rockabilly-fueled sound doesn't disguise their lyrical lunacy; one-man band Bloodshot Bill, whose raw country-blues recalls Hasil Atkins and made him a hit at Sleazefest this past summer; and, of course, local tassel-twirling trash-rock enthusiasts Jimmy & The Teasers. Quick's own band, TCB, will play ("Elvisfest is our one solid gig a year") with a full stock of classic and rare Elvis.
But the must-see performance of the weekend may belong to New York's Psychocharger. "At Heavy Rebel, they doused themselves in motor oil and tore open four to five hotel pillows. They got feathers all over everything--basically tarred and feathered themselves and then put on their guitars and began to play. It was really uncomfortable just watching them, imagining how that must feel. But it was a great show," Quick says. "A couple years ago at Elvisfest, they didn't wear anything but saran wrap--essentially as a diaper. A couple hours later I came into the 506 and looked in the back of the room where the stage was, and there were some drunk people picking up these sweaty butt-juice diapers and putting them on their heads and dancing around. I don't think they'd seen the show...."
Elvisfest shakes up Friday and Saturday, Jan. 6 and 7 at Local 506 and Shorty's Sports Bar in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $10 each night.