This month, members of The Stowe 20th Century Crooners Appreciation Society is pleased to present the return of the annual Lamoille County Elvis Presley Appreciation Festival with performances staged in area restaurants, musical venues and houses of worship as well as spontaneous street appearances.
The festival, growing in its second year, serves to entertain as well as educate using the well-known and documented career of American singer and cultural icon Elvis Presley as a vessel in navigating the stark change in direction his rapid rise created in mid-20th-century popular American music.
Set around the date of his demise at age 42 in 1977, this festival, now in its second year, begins on Aug. 15 at Junior’s Italian restaurant in Stowe as part of its continuing Wednesday night dinner music series. Longtime local guitarist Shane Brody — a veteran of Vermont’s musical scene as a performer and educator known for his commitment to upholding American/Anglo-Irish and Scottish folk music traditions — is donning his dusted rock ’n’ roll attire with at least one tip of his metaphorical fedora to Elvis’s many forays into cross-cultural music, with Presley favorites sure to include the reworking of “O Sole Mio,” Americanized as “It’s Now or Never,” along with singer John Wilson.
Wilson, a jazz singer who often performs solo and unaccompanied as the AccaFella, is scheduled to do just that sometime during the breakfast hours on Stowe’s Main Street at Cafe on Main on the next day — the anniversary of Presley’s death, Aug. 16.
The AccaFella has been performing at the popular sandwich shop for years now, singing seasonal songs for sandwiches with renditions of “Les Fuielles Mort” (‘The Autumn Leaves”), “Moonlight in Vermont,” “My Funny Valentine,” Sinatra, Elvis and other known works befitting differing dates and occasions to delighted and sometimes admittedly confused patrons, both local and visiting, who see and hear him arrive, perform and then quickly depart in the manner of 20th-century singing telegrams, returning later for his sandwiches and fresh baked treat for what the singer claims — on a cash value per minute basis — is the state’s most lucrative gig.
At noontime Aug. 16, The AccaFella returns for his second year to Stowe’s Main Street Community Church with an hourlong program of Elvis Gospel, the late singer’s professed preferred form of music, presented not only unaccompanied but unplugged as well, with Wilson free-singing to the room, hopefully joined by other voices in attendance in the tradition of this uniquely American musical form.
That night he’s back with old friends and more rock ’n’ roll grit right next door to the big white church on Main Street at Tap 25 with Shane coming back, and Wilson’s closest and longest-running musical companion, the jazz and blues chromatic harmonica player John LaRouche of Calais.
Additional appearances are awaiting confirmation. August will be devoted to the diverse and door-opening music associated with Elvis Presley, a celebration of his career stretching from his early blues- and classic-country-influenced recordings that helped form what came to be called rock ’n’ roll, the gospel he loved from his youth, through the big-voiced ballads and classic recordings from his comeback period of the 1970s; driving anthems like “Suspicious Minds,” “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water,” the strong social commentaries on turbulent times like “An American Trilogy” and “In the Ghetto” and “Kentucky Rain” before an untimely death stunted one of the most remarkable recorded musical careers of the 20th century.
The Stowe 20th Century Crooners Appreciation Society exists to remind everyone that it was the most vibrant and by far most productive century for recorded music ever, and done so with no hyperbole. The festival currently has no sponsors, which its founder, Wilson, admits would have been handy.
— John Wilson