As Wellesley councillor Herb Neher prepares for Crusin’ with the Stars, his sixth annual festival of tribute artists that takes place June 22, the fact that this local politician is himself an Elvis tribute performer leads to a pertinent question: what is his favourite Elvis movie?
“Mine is probably Blue Hawaii,” said Neher. “I remember as a kid, I saw it, and there was just something about that movie – the colours that were in it, the Hawaii and the scenery, everything. I came from the rough side of Toronto, and this was like a dream world.”There is indeed something otherworldly about Blue Hawaii, just as there is something otherworldly about its star. Neither Elvis, nor Elvis’ cinematic Hawaii, seem quite of this earth. The same might be said of the 35,000 Elvis tribute artists in the world, or the various tribute artists at Cruisin’ with the Stars, who try to resemble their chosen celebrity so closely they enter the uncanny valley.
“Usually the tribute artist wants to be as close as possible – tries to do everything so that when people see him, they see Elvis,” said Neher. “That’s the difference between a tribute artist and karaoke, where a guy in his blue jeans goes up and does an Elvis song. Well, you can’t relate to Elvis in that sense.”
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Cruisin’ with the Stars began life as “Cruisin’ with the King,” and while there will still be three Elvises, the event has evolved to incorporate other acts. This year, audiences will see dead-ringers for such performers as Conway Twitty (David Neitzel), John Denver (Jimmy Gribbon), Rod Stewart (Jamie Hoffman), Neil Diamond (George Anti), and, in a nod to the 21st century, Bruno Mars (Dillon Gribbon).
“These artists, they perform in so many other areas and venues, and they spread the word: ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got a thing in Linwood!’ ‘Oh? Where’s Linwood?’ That type of thing,” he explained.
“And then on Facebook, I get people, all of a sudden, ‘Oh geez, Herb, I understand you’re doin’ a show, you’ve got a show goin’ on. Is there any chance you need someone?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m kinda full this year, but let me give you a call next year.’ It just becomes word of mouth.”
Within the tribute artist community, Neher said Cruisin’ with the Stars presents an opportunity for the performers to simply enjoy themselves.
“I’ve always said there’s a difference between going into a competition, and entertaining,” he said. “In a competition, everybody is serious, everybody is pacing, everybody is tense, that kind of thing. I want nothing to do with that. I want you people to just go with the flow and do whatever you think is the right thing to do, and have a lot of fun. And they seem to want to come back every year.”
The event will also feature performances from the Wellesley Idol finalists, as well as various family activities (pony rides, face painting, plunger toss, bouncy castle, and lunch).
Cruisin’ with the Stars takes place next Saturday at the Linwood Recreation Complex (5279 Ament Line) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Classic car registration is 9-11 a.m. (entry fee is $5), with tribute artists on stage beginning at 11 a.m. Admission is $2 per person, or free for kids under 12.