In the following recap of the Flaming Star Elvis Festival weekend I provide information about the venue for the benefit of ETAs and fans who have not yet attended the annual October event. When they hear all the positives, perhaps they will be encouraged to come next year to this fun-filled festival. Celebrating its 5th anniversary, this year’s sold-out event attracted ETAs from as far away as Switzerland, Germany, Oklahoma, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
For those who attended the festival, I hope my retelling of tales from the weekend will remind you of all the fun you had at the festival; and for others who did not have the pleasure of attending, I hope you find the stories entertaining. A heartfelt thank you to Pam and Sue and the amazing others who made 2018’s Flaming Star Elvis Festival such a big success. Happy 5th anniversary!
A Week-end to Remember
Flaming Star, 2017, was the first Elvis festival and competition that I attended as editor of SIDEBURNS Magazine and I was honoured to return this year to cover the 5th Anniversary of Flaming Star.
Sue Harris and Pam Pettit’s individual backgrounds, joint experiences, and combined knowledge in running this very successful and popular festival are apparent in every detail. With close proximity to the Toronto airport for international ETAs, and easy driving distance for ETAs and fans travelling by car, the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Mississauga is an ideal location. Once settled, everything that guests require is available in this well-appointed hotel—free shuttle from the airport, a pool, free WiFi, a fitness room and restaurant. And if, for a change of pace, you wish to have a meal away from the hotel, there are several restaurants within walking distance or a short drive.
For ETAs, fans, or other hotel guests who might feel too revved up to sleep or have their sleep disturbed (as was the case with ETA Oliver Steinhoff when his 3 1/2 year old son wanted to talk to his daddy in the middle of the night from Germany…lol), a complimentary sleep kit that includes lavender spray for your pillow, a sleeping mask, foot massage cream, and a CD that will ease you into a relaxing sleep, is available. Help is just a phone call away. Customer service at the Crowne Plaza is splendid, and every attempt is made to ensure patrons enjoy their stay.
A big advantage of holding the Flaming Star Festival at the Crowne Plaza Hotel is that ETAs have the convenience of using their hotel room as a private dressing room. Not having to leave the building eliminates an ETA’s fear of having their coiffured Elvis hair blown out of place in gusty winds or having white jumpsuit bell bottoms splattered with rain bouncing off the pavement minutes before competition…real possibilities with unpredictable October weather in Ontario. As bonus for fans: Staying in the same hotel as the ETAs, makes for some very pleasant, and up-close and personal, chance meetings with ETAs on elevators and in hallways during your stay ;)
When dressed and ready, a quick ride on the elevator takes visitors to the reception area where meet and greets are held and vendors and ETAs have tables set up (in addition to those in the grand hall) with merchandise to sell. And for this special occasion, Pam and Sue added posters displaying photos from the first four years of Flaming Star, as well as life-size placards of Elvis Presley. It is a great area to talk to ETAs, fans, and friends, and the perfect area for informal photos. This roomy area with an intimate feel also has a bar. The first person that I had the pleasuring of chatting with, and taking a photo, was ETA competition judge Darrell Lacasse.
At the sign-in and information tables, Lisa Lesage from the Tweed Elvis Festival, Bob Bassa, guitarist with the Casino Brothers band, Roulette singer, Katie Hicks, and Angela Cross greeted guests. Of special interest, Angela’s husband, ETA Frank Cross, was asked to act as a judge for the competition. I met Frank a few months ago at ETA James Gibb’s Flamboro show, and frankly, I did not recognize him at Flaming Star. Frank has made some changes since our first meeting.
Frank, and fellow ETA, Sylvain Leduc, who was also a first-time judge, had some interesting observations about their experiences. Both agreed that, while it was a great experience, being an ETA judge was not an easy role to fill. When asked about his feelings on judging, Sylvain had the following to say:
“I was a little nervous in the beginning because, in life, I don’t judge people. Judging ETAs is hard because everyone competing has a passion for Elvis. The best part of judging is being able to see each performance from beginning to end which doesn’t happen when I am competing as an ETA.”
It must have been a tough job for the judges. Every ETA performed like a winner; but in the end, only one ETA would be declared the top award winner in each of the division categories. And, yes, if deserving, an ETA can win in more than one category. At the Flaming Star Festival, 2018, ETA Oliver Steinhoff, won for his stellar performances in Pro and Gospel, and also took home the People’s Choice award.
ETA Dustin Bricker won the Non-Pro prize for his stage shattering performance--quite literally “stage shattering”. At the end of his excellent performance, Dustin jumped up and when he landed, his heel went through the stage which lead to some very funny moments and comments from comedian Victor J Hanson and Frank Cross who left his judge’s chair to act as stage carpenter.
I have seen Victor J Hanson a few times this past year, and I wonder if there is ever an unforeseen incident that he cannot handle with his razor wit and humour which he delivers so brilliantly without seeming to ever offend anyone. Victor’s first suggestion was to have Dustin stand with his heel in the hole so others wouldn’t fall through the stage. Victor went on to remind everyone that Pam and Sue’s aim was not to kill any ETAs. Frank Cross had helped with assembling the stage setting, so it seemed agreeable that he would look after the repair. As far as I know, having a judge leave his chair to repair a hole in a stage has to be a first in ETA competition history. As Frank diligently worked on the repair, Victor, wearing his yellow slicker and hat, came up with jest after jest, adding at one point that Frank must have missed the tutorial on stage maintenance.
Calling the board that Frank used“Stompin’ Tom’s” (for those who may not get the reference, Stompin’ Tom Connors was the quintessential Canadian singer/song writer who sang songs that reflect the Canadian experience: “Bud the Spud from the Big Red Mud”, “Hockey Song”, “Sudbury Saturday Night”. During his performances, Tom would stomp the daylights out a board with his hard-heeled cowboy boots keeping time with the music—ergo, the nickname “Stompin’ Tom”). Victor suggested that the tools that Frank was using actually belonged to ETA Sylvain Leduc. Calling them “industrial tools”, but then recanting, saying that he believed they were “battery operated”, Victor made a impish, but funny inference. In an impromptu skit, Victor, assuming the roles of Sylvain and Frank, created a scene that had Frank knocking on Sylvain’s door asking to borrow his tools. Sylvain announces to Frank that he isn’t dressed, but adds that Frank should “Come in anyhow,” painting a naughty picture that had the audience roaring with laughter.
The Casino Brothers band members also got into the act, with Victor calling Bob Bassa the “supervisor” as he inspected Frank’s work and Len leaving his keyboard to write something seemingly important on the board. The repairs, and Len’s “watch your stomp” reminder seemed to work as the rest of the competition proceeded without a glitch. I wish to thank Joanne Cancilla, seen in the photo on the left holding her Marcus Wells raffle win, for sending me the following amusing photos for a slide show that tells “The Hole Story”…
Switzerland’s ETA, Mike Fitzner, described the Flaming Star Festival as a ‘family type festival’, which is an apt description. Flaming Star is a friendly event, and with the raffles, draws, and 50/50 prizes, it certainly has a party atmosphere. And like all great parties, there was cake—a huge cake—to celebrate Flaming Star’s 5th Anniversary. It was a wonderful weekend where fans, friends, family, and ETAs all came together. Each person to whom I spoke seemed to have a connection to someone else. For example, not only are Oliver Steinhoff and Mike Fitzner fellow ETAs, Oliver sang at Mike and Marika’s wedding. Marika was a fan of Oliver’s before they all became friends. And both Oliver and Mike know ETA Tommy King, whose bio is already posted on my site, and ETA Rami Aslan, whose interview will be posted in the weeks to come. It certainly is a small world, made smaller by the ETA connections.
Marika Fitzner, who is a photographer in her homeland of Switzerland, took many wonderful photos at Flaming Star, and kindly sent me her great photo of Victor J with “Little E” that you see below. For those who were not at Flaming Star, “Little E” (Little Elvis, aka Baby Elvis), is a beautifully hand-crafted doll by Renee Mackintosh, ETA Marnie Mackintosh’s sister, and was offered as a prize for one of the many raffles.* So life-like was “Little E”, many people wondered, “Whose baby is sitting on the table?” Lucky winner, Linda Wyborn, is obviously enjoying showing off the latest addition to her family in recent outings as indicated in her comments on her Facebook page:
“Well today was a big day for "Baby E". My two granddaughters were down (visiting), so we took him to his first craft sale in Lansdowne. He went with me to a tea party at Gerdy's house with Annette and Kathryn and then for dinner at Rapid Valley. Everywhere we took him, everyone wanted to hold him and get their picture taken with him and they had to take a second look--they thought he was real. At Rapid Valley (a restaurant) was a large table of about 5 women and 5 men, whom I have never seen before and they all wanted to see him. Even the waitresses and the owner came out to see him. Renee Mackintosh, he sure was on display today! People were asking who made him and I was surprised that many women would start talking about how it is an art and what perfect art skills you used to create him. Oh he is so much loved! The little girls were kissing him and they even had him in my daughter's real baby stroller. It was so much fun for all of us. Even my friend’s 90 year old husband had his picture taken with him.” L.W.
I know for sure that comedian Victor J Hanson had a great time on stage using Little E in his ventriloquist act, as his sidekick, and as a source for his one-liners: "OK, I smell something. Take him back!" and "He comes with 6 months supplies of diapers." Victor J really is a Canadian treasure.
*More to follow on Renee Mackintosh’s fabulous dolls—and other interesting stories, in the continuation of “A Week-end to Remember”…coming soon. C.M.
(Unless otherwise noted, all photos used are credit to C. MacArthur, SIDEBURNS Magazine).