An Englishman is the Ultimate Elvis? The King would have turned over in his grave!
Surely only a southern boy with the grime of the delta and the rhythms of gospel ingrained in his soul could possibly be the definitive Elvis?
But the winner at Tweed’s Tribute to Elvis Festival 2013 was 42-year-old Gordon Hendricks from Stoke-on-Trent in England, who looks a lot better than Elvis did at the same age. From the moment he steps on the stage, he is transformed into the youthful version of The King.
Gone is the Midlands accent, replaced with the distinctive Southern slur (every Elvis fan can do the “thank ya, thank ya vera much”). And every movement brings Elvis back to life.
In fact, there have been Ultimate Elvis winners from both England and Australia in the past. And such is the devotion to The King, that Elvis Tribute Artists (ETAs) have been many different nationalities from many different parts of the world, have been every size and shape, and at Tweed, one was even a woman!
Being Elvis is a family affair for the Acklands. Norm Ackland Sr. has been an ETA for 40 years. A huge fan of The King, he saw him live twice and owns a scarf that once belonged to Elvis. He placed third in the Vegas competition in 2011. His son, Norm Jr. is newer to the circuit but having lived with his father’s dedication, it was inevitable that he too, would enter the fray. At Tweed, his nine-year-old son, Jax, came second in the junior division. “I think we’re the only triple generation family on the competition circuit,” says Norm Sr. with pride.
There are some astoundingly good performers here but the audience in this small Ontario town is mesmerized by Hendricks, and rises to its feet, cheering, as he finishes. Not surprisingly, he wins their vote – as well as the judges’ – for Ultimate ETA.
However, lest you think a small Ontario town is hardly a recommendation, Tweed is an officially sanctioned venue and the fans here are serious in their devotion to the King. Torontonian Diane Sharpe and her husband have travelled to many competitions and been to Graceland more than once. Now blind, Bob Sharpe says doggedly, “I can still hear.” He’s settled in his chair, listening to the competitors strut their stuff while Diane grabs him a burger.
Tweed is an official sighting location for Elvis. Apparently, not long after his death, Elvis appeared on one of the floats in the 1979 Santa Claus Parade. A local radio station joked about it and the story spread. This led to their registration on the sanctioned sighting list.
The town boasts an Elvis Lane, and at its entrance, one of Tweed’s signature hand-painted fire hydrants features – who else? – Elvis!
Indeed, Tweed’s fire hydrants are worth checking out. Painted by local artists, no two are alike. One of my favourites, right on the main drag, is a fire-breathing dragon. And near the town’s arena is a hockey player.
But Tweed is also one of the province’s prettiest little towns. Straddling the Moira River, there are two bridges which unite the town’s East and West sides. Indeed, water is a theme because at the edge of town sits Lake Stoco, a famous spot for sport fishing. Apparently, this is the best place to catch muskie, those particularly elusive members of the pike family. And it’s a great spot for canoeing, boating and swimming as well.
The town also claims to have North America’s smallest jail house.
During the Elvis Festival, this sports a marquee where several of the ETAs perform throughout the day, much to the delight of passersby. A favourite song at this site? Jailhouse Rock, of course!
Just a half hour from Belleville, Tweed is one of those once ubiquitous, traditional Ontario towns. There are few enough left, so take the time to visit this one. And let us know if you happen to spot someone in a jewel-studded jumpsuit on the main street. It could be The King himself. After all, he does like to remain incognito.
Here’s an update on Gordon Hendricks. In 2017, the Englishman went on to win at the prestigious Collingwood Elvis Festival twice as well as the Ultimate Elvis competition at Graceland, Elvis’ own home.