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A birthday bash suitable for a King.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

Transelvistite - a 6-1, cross-dressing hunk-a-hunk of burning love - will make his/her Eugene debut Saturday at the Elvis birthday celebration, Night of the Living Elvis.

"I look pretty darn much like a chick, but I certainly don't sound like one," Transelvistite said, speaking - in a deep voice - from Las Vegas.

When he's not donning prosthetic breasts and playing the role of a guy playing a gal playing Elvis, Transelvistite goes by the name Eugene Kirk and works as an activities director at an elder-care facility in Vegas.

But put him in a flashy costume like the one he'll wear on Saturday (`It's basically a form-fitting and girly version of Elvis's famous jumpsuit," he says), and Kirk becomes a different person.

"I have two great loves in the world," he says. "One is Elvis and one is cross-dressing. And I figured, `What the hey, let's bring them together and see what happens.' '

Kirk's character is only one element of the Night of the Living Elvis, an event that has been happening off and on in Eugene, Portland and Seattle for 15 years. The show marks the Jan. 8 birthday of Elvis, who would have turned 69 this year.

At Saturday's event, several impersonators will show up to sing like the King, fronting the Elvis-inspired Memphis Mafia band. The bill includes longtime impersonator Dennis Fitzgerald, former Eugene resident Stephen Whitener, Hawaiian Elvis Tom Heinl and first-time Presleys Seth and Zack Sawyer from the rock band the Sawyer Family.

"I'm definitely (going with) the early (Elvis) look," Seth Sawyer says. "I don't think I'll be able to pull off the whole white jumpsuit thing.

`I'm hoping nobody's got (the song) `Hound Dog' yet, 'cause that's the one that I want to do."

Sawyer says his "good hair" qualifies him to play the part of the King. Although he's never done it before, he has played Elvis covers with his band, including the appropriately Northwestern "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine."

Autumn Depoe (aka "Belle-Vis") last year became the first female Elvis to join the Eugene show. She returns with her red cape and black jumpsuit for a set that will include covers of "Rubbernecking" and "Kiss Me Quick."

Along with the band, she'll be accompanied by a quartet of backup singers and a tambourine player.

"I'd always wondered why there were no girls up there," says Depoe, the host of the KWVA radio show "The Grasshopper Unit." "It seemed like a real boys' club, so I decided to crash it."

Night of the Living Elvis veteran Pete Christie will step back into his gold-encrusted black jumpsuit. Christie attended the event when it started in 1989 at Max's Tavern and hasn't missed a year since. He'll sing "Burning Love," "Suspicious Minds" and other Elvis classics.

Each of the featured Elvi will get a shot at performing several Elvis songs with the Memphis Mafia, which features guitarist John Barley, keyboardist Dustin Lanker, bassist Dan Schmid and drummer Dave Fitzgerald.

Although it's not a contest, the event promises to inspire some healthy competition between performers seeking to put their best spin on the King.

The Night of the Living Elvis celebration has spread beyond Eugene and now includes stops in Portland and Seattle, where it has been particularly well- received. Almost always a sellout at Seattle's 500-capacity Crocodile Club (owned by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and his wife, Stephanie Dorgan), last year the event was relocated to the spacious Sky Church inside the Experience Music Project museum.

Barley, the Memphis Mafia guitarist, has been involved in Night of the Living Elvis every year since it started. He says the show has survived for many of the same reasons that Presley has enduring appeal as a cultural icon.

"It's a lot of fun. And I think, mainly, it's just that a lot of people appreciate some aspect or another of Elvis," Barley says. "He's been dead for almost 30 years, and he's still having hit records."

Last year, after several years of not being produced in Eugene, the Night of the Living Elvis returned to town. Although the local event is not quite as big as the bloated spectacle that happens in the big cities to the north, it still draws a crowd.

Along with the usual skinny Elvis and fat Elvis characters, previous impersonators have played punk Elvis, drunk Elvis, chicken-eating Elvis and Irish Elvis.

"There's a lot to like about the guy," Barley says. "He got a little wacky for a while, but he pretty much is the one who invented the whole rock 'n' roll thing. He came up with the music, he had a rock 'n' roll crib, he was the original rock star.

`Plus, he could really sing."

Lewis Taylor can be reached at 338-2512 or ltaylor@guardnet.com.

EVENT PREVIEW

Night of the Living Elvis

What: Elvis impersonators celebrate the birth of the King

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: John Henry's, 77 W. Broadway

How much: $10

Also: The Night of the Living Elvis plays on Sunday at Portland's White Eagle Saloon and today at Seattle's Experience Music Project

CAPTION(S):

Meet the Elvi, clockwise from top left: Pete Christie, Zack Sawyer, Autumn Depoe and Seth Sawyer. Transelvestite, aka Eugene Kirk of Las Vegas, is among the Elvis impersonators who will celebrate all things Presley Saturday night at John Henry's.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Elvis impersonators turn out in grand style to celebrate Presley's 69th birthday
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 9, 2004
Words:900
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