If Riley Jenkins was nervous, it didn’t show as he approached the microphone. Calmly, he ran his fingers through his hair before addressing a packed house at the Ritz Theater.
“How’s everybody doing today?,” he asked, using his best Elvis Presley baritone.
From there, the 14-year-old Tennessee native jumped into “Got a Lotta Livin’ to Do,” complete with fancy footwork and an ensemble resembling Presley’s costume from 1957’s “Loving You.” That film may have been released 46 years before he was born but it was clear the teenager had reviewed it more than once. Every gesture and movement was on point — and the crowd certainly appreciated that. His performance was met with uproarious applause accompanied by a standing ovation at the close.
Riley, all smiles, joined other Elvis Tribute Artists in the audience. The upbeat energy continued throughout the day as performers, both amateurs and professionals, took to the stage vying for top honors in the annual Georgia Elvis Festival. All told, 21 competitors performed for the judges, who scrutinized each based on authenticity of sound, appearance and movement.
Competitors were drawn from all across the country as well as international locations including Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
For Paul Larcombe, making the trip from the United Kingdom to Brunswick was truly worth the effort. A professional Elvis Tribute Artist, he had not performed in a contest since 2007 — until now.
“I haven’t done a contest in 10 years and I just fancied doing something different,” he said backstage after his performance. “And I love Ray Charles so I figured what better place than Georgia.”
Like Larcombe, Sergio Queiroz also logged a lot of mileage en route to Brunswick. A native of Brazil, he makes his living as a tribute artist, representing the King three to four times a week in his country.
“I do resorts, weddings, parties,” he said in his thick accent. “But when I’m not doing that ... I’m just Sergio. I love Elvis but I’m Sergio too.”
Queiroz was the final performer in Friday’s contest, pulling off a flawless Elvis tone in each song he sang. The contest will continue rolling, with cuts being made daily until the official king is crowned Sunday afternoon. From there, the winner will go on to compete in the Ultimate Elvis Competition in Memphis later this year.
While many of the audience members were pulling for a specific tribute artist, the general vibe was one of support for all. Jeanie Potter, from Tampa, consistently travels to see the artists perform. Her devotion to Presley was sparked many years back when she actually met the legend on a plane.
“I met him on a flight in 1975. We were going to Tampa Bay and he was doing a show there. He gave us all tickets and we went to see him that night,” she recalled standing outside of the Ritz. “That’s when it all started.”
And she feels that it’s not about winning, rather it’s about keeping the spirit of the King of Rock and Roll alive.
“I’m in the Tampa Bay Elvis Club and we go all over to see them. They are really great. We just went on a cruise. We’ve been to Las Vegas and I’ve been to Brunswick every year,” she said. “I’m in nursing which is very stressful and this is just so relaxing. It is a lot of fun.”
Competition continues at 11 a.m. Saturday. Elvis Tribute Artists will also perform in the pocket parks along Newcastle Street, weather permitting, around the area beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Events will continue throughout the weekend with related events being held throughout downtown.