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A 'holy' trinity unite to rescue Collingwood Elvis fest, bring it to York Region

The resurrection of a world-class fest begins Sunday with a celebration of the King's birthday in Newmarket

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s 85th birthday celebration packages may be sold out at Graceland, but you can get your blue suede shoes on and head down to the Newmarket Legion Sunday for a party that promises to be fit for a king.

The legendary cultural icon Elvis Presley died more than four decades ago, but his music and timeless talent live on locally through Newmarket Anglican Archbishop Dorian Baxter, who is known by the moniker “Elvis Priestley” for his rousing tributes to the rock star on the pulpit and off.

In honour of the King’s birthday and 17th anniversary of the founding of Baxter’s Independent Anglican Church of Canada parish, Christ the King, Graceland, the community is invited to attend a service and celebration that begins at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 5 at the Royal Canadian Legion, Milton Wesley Branch #426, 707 Srigley St., Newmarket.

A band, other musical guests and tribute artists round out the event, which includes a free buffet lunch hosted by the parish’s Anglican Church Women group.

“After the service, I take off my robes and jump on the stage and turn into Elvis,” Baxter said with enthusiasm about performing his all-time favourite Elvis gospel song, How Great Thou Art. “It’s like Bob Barker, the price is right, it’s free.”

Baxter delivered his first sermon at the legion on Jan. 5, 2003, the closest Sunday to Elvis’s Jan. 8 birthday. And this Sunday he will present his long-lived Elvis tribute concert, a show that Baxter has performed every August during Elvis Week for nearly 20 years in Memphis, Tennessee.

So beloved is Baxter’s tribute artistry acumen that Memphis’s Beale Street Merchants Association consecrated him the “Archbishop of Beale Street” in 2002. 

“It’s amazing how popular Elvis is after all these years,” Baxter said. “I have found that Elvis transcends racial and age barriers, he is absolutely an icon.” 

“You wouldn’t believe it, but there’s literally thousands of fans and young tribute artists now. Last August when I was performing in Memphis, there were at least nine three-year-olds in jumpsuits and they had every move. That means Elvis is never going to die,” he said.

This Sunday’s event may get local Elvis fans particularly all shook up.

That’s because Baxter, together with the founder of the 25-year-long Collingwood Elvis Festival, Billy Cann, and the creator of the award-winning Vegas production, Legends in Concert, John Stuart, known as the father of the worldwide tribute artist movement, have joined forces to revive the world’s largest Collingwood fest after that town council voted unanimously last year to end its support.

The Collingwood Elvis fest is expected to continue under private management as the town received three expressions of interest for the 2020 event, according to reporting by CollingwoodToday, NewmarketToday’s sister paper.

Cann, who gained international acclaim as an Elvis tribute artist for the 25 years preceding his retirement in 1994, founded the Collingwood Elvis Festival in 1995 when he was living there. The event went on to become one of the world’s largest celebrations of Elvis and his music.

The trio have expanded the Collingwood festival concept to include a multitude of tribute artists and celebrity look-a-likes, with Elvises remaining as the headliner, and will launch the 2020 World Tribute Artists Convention and Championships in York Region in July.

The new event will be held July 22 to 26 at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel at highways 404 and 7 in Markham.

“Billy Cann rescued the Collingwood event and we’re bringing it to York Region,” Baxter said. “We’re moving forward. There’s enough Elvis fans to sustain Collingwood if they want to resuscitate it, and for this new one that we’re doing, it’s actually a world tribute artist convention and championship. The good thing about ours is that Elvis is headlining, but we’ve opened it up. We’ve got people coming from Europe, Australia, and all over the U.S.”

“You wouldn’t believe how thankful the Elvis fans are that Billy has stepped back in,” he said. “There’s enough Elvis fans for everybody. I’ve got 5,000 followers on Facebook and most of them are Elvis tribute artists or fans. There’s a lot of them who’ve been faithful to Collingwood, but it’s a long journey, and they are absolutely thrilled about this because they live here in York Region.”

Cann and Stuart will be in attendance at the legion event this Sunday.

For more information about the 2020 World Tribute Artists Convention and Championships, visit here.