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The King still draws a crowd at Michigan Elvisfest, one of largest in North America

Matt King performs onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest in Belleville, Mich., on Saturday, July 9. King has been performing as Elvis for 30 years; his first performance was when he was 14.
Niki Williams for NPR
Matt King performs onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest in Belleville, Mich., on Saturday, July 9. King has been performing as Elvis for 30 years; his first performance was when he was 14.

Just a hunk, a hunk of burnin' love ... Forty-five years since his passing, The King can still draw a crowd. Last weekend, thousands converged at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Belleville, Michigan, to celebrate the life and work of Elvis Presley.

A woman reacts to Chris Ayotte onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
A woman reacts to Chris Ayotte onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.

Founded in 1999, The Michigan Elvisfest is one of the largest Elvis tribute festivals in North America. "This event is different from most Elvis festivals in that it is not a contest," said Mary Decker, who has organized the event for more than 17 years. "These artists are all here to honor the life and spirit of Elvis through their performances."

Steve Michaels of Milton, Ontario, Canada, performs at Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
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Niki Williams for NPR
Steve Michaels of Milton, Ontario, Canada, performs at Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.

Contrary to popular belief, Elvis impersonators have existed since the mid-1950s, when Presley was just beginning his career. To make their performances as close as possible to "the King of Rock and Roll," later generations of impersonators purchased rhinestone-covered jumpsuits from Presley's own costume designer, Nudie Cohn.

Left: Robert Washington poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Washington has performed as Elvis since 1983. Right: Chris Ayotte after his performance Friday.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Left: Robert Washington poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Washington has performed as Elvis since 1983. Right: Chris Ayotte after his performance Friday.

Presley, aware of his many impersonators, supposedly said that the comedian Andy Kaufman, who performed as Elvis on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1977, was his favorite.

Andy Kaufman as Elvis Presley during "The Andy Kaufman Special," which aired on ABC on Aug. 28, 1979.
ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
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Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
Andy Kaufman as Elvis Presley during "The Andy Kaufman Special," which aired on ABC on Aug. 28, 1979.

The Michigan festival was canceled two years in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making fans extra excited to see their favorite tribute artists back onstage.

Cindy Resovsky of Taylor, Mich., cheers for Matt King as he takes the stage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
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Niki Williams for NPR
Cindy Resovsky of Taylor, Mich., cheers for Matt King as he takes the stage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
Two women react to a performance at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Two women react to a performance at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.

Sandra Maciejewski flew from Fruitland, Florida, to see Cote Doenath, whose career she's followed for 19 years and whose face she wore on her T-shirt. Doenath, who performed as "Hawaiian Elvis" and "G.I. Elvis," is also from Florida and won the Elvis World Title in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2018.

Left: Rhonda Price of Ida, Mich., poses at the Michigan ElvisFest on Saturday, July 9. Right: Sandra Maciejewski of Fruitland Park, Fla., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday. Maciejewski flew to Michigan just for the festival and to see her favorite performer, Cote Deonath, who is printed on her shirt.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Left: Rhonda Price of Ida, Mich., poses at the Michigan ElvisFest on Saturday, July 9. Right: Sandra Maciejewski of Fruitland Park, Fla., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday. Maciejewski flew to Michigan just for the festival and to see her favorite performer, Cote Deonath, who is printed on her shirt.

Many Elvis tribute artists began cultivating their performances early in life. Bryson Vines, a 6-foot-tall 14-year-old from Howell, Michigan, is the youngest performer to ever take the stage at the festival. Vines began working on his act at the age of seven.

Bryson Vines waits in a trailer before performing at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
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Niki Williams for NPR
Bryson Vines waits in a trailer before performing at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.

As he prepared in his trailer, he shared how he got his start.

"My mom got me hooked," he said. "When I was seven, she put on some dusty Elvis 45s, and I immediately wanted to be like him — I wanted to have his charm and charisma. Elvis was the best entertainer of all time, and I like to honor that."

Bryson Vines, 14, of Howell, Mich., performs during "gospel hour" at the Michigan ElvisFest. Bryson is the youngest Elvis tribute artist to have ever performed at the festival — he first began performing when he was just 7 years old.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Bryson Vines, 14, of Howell, Mich., performs during "gospel hour" at the Michigan ElvisFest. Bryson is the youngest Elvis tribute artist to have ever performed at the festival — he first began performing when he was just 7 years old.

With his deep baritone and in his pink blazer, Vines bore an uncanny resemblance to a teenage Elvis as he sang gospel songs and struck classic "King" poses. A crowd of mostly seniors cheered for him and sang along.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jean Bobst of Circleville, Mich., shows her Elvis chain at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Jean Bobst of Circleville, Mich., shows her Elvis chain at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
Joseph Hall performs as G.I. Elvis at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Hall has been paying tribute to Elvis' legacy for 16 years.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Joseph Hall performs as G.I. Elvis at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Hall has been paying tribute to Elvis' legacy for 16 years.
Two women wait out the rain at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
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Niki Williams for NPR
Two women wait out the rain at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
Left: Joyce Fitchett of Hale, Mich., shows off her homemade dress at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Right: Stephanie Layne of Southgate, Mich., shows off her Elvis Presley signature tattoo at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Left: Joyce Fitchett of Hale, Mich., shows off her homemade dress at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Right: Stephanie Layne of Southgate, Mich., shows off her Elvis Presley signature tattoo at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
David Allen of Dallas, Texas, performs at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
David Allen of Dallas, Texas, performs at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
A couple waits between performances at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
A couple waits between performances at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
Left: Brenton Downs of Waterford, Mich., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9. Right: Bill Dyde strikes a pose at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Left: Brenton Downs of Waterford, Mich., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9. Right: Bill Dyde strikes a pose at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday.
Robert Washington poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Washington has performed as Elvis since 1983.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Robert Washington poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8. Washington has performed as Elvis since 1983.
Tim Jones and his son Jeremiah Johnson of Defiance, Ohio, pose at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Tim Jones and his son Jeremiah Johnson of Defiance, Ohio, pose at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
Tom Byrd of Dundee, Mich., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Tom Byrd of Dundee, Mich., poses at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
Gary Trudgen and Karen Wrist of St. Claire Shores, Mich., share a kiss at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Gary Trudgen and Karen Wrist of St. Claire Shores, Mich., share a kiss at the Michigan Elvisfest on Saturday, July 9.
Chris Ayote onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
Chris Ayote onstage at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
An Elvis sign glows at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.
/ Niki Williams for NPR
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Niki Williams for NPR
An Elvis sign glows at the Michigan Elvisfest on Friday, July 8.

Niki Williams
Vanessa Leroy
Vanessa Leroy is a photo editing intern at NPR and a freelance photographer and photo editor, based in Boston, Massachusetts. She holds a BFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She remains on the hunt for new ways of seeing, remembering and altering the world through photography. She is drawn to image-making because of the power it holds to create nuanced representation for marginalized people and uplift their stories. She sees photography as a tool for social justice, and with it, she hopes to create worlds that people feel as though they can enter and draw from, as well as provide a look into an experience that they may not personally recognize.