Introducing: The Women behind the Flaming Star Festival

On Sunday, October 15th, 2017, I attended my first ETA competition, and it was a wonderful experience.  I could not have picked a better event than Pam Pettit and Sue Harris’s Flaming Star Festival.  From the moment we signed in, the love that Pam and Sue have for organizing and running a top notch event was evident.  A three day festival of this calibre requires extensive knowledge on the part of the organizers in order for such a large event to run so effortlessly.  I am delighted that Pam and Sue have graciously agreed to share their bios. Through their words, we will get to know the women behind the scenes and how their individual talents came together to make the Flaming Star Festival such a successful annual event.  


Pam Pettit.  Photo by Cathy Montgomery

Pam Pettit. Photo by Cathy Montgomery

First of all, I am a proud mom of a daughter, son and stepdaughter, and have six amazing grandchildren.

I have worked in high schools the majority of my career and will eventually retire from the educational sector. I can honestly say that organizing convocations at Seneca College were my first steps at learning how to put together large events.

For 3 years, I was the Executive Assistant to the Telethon Coordinator at the Easter Seal Society.  Together we produced the annual provincial Easter Telethon on live TV, at that time CBC.  I also participated and helped with many other celebrity events organized by Easter Seals.

I grew up listening to Elvis music, and when my sister became friends with an ETA, I started attending Elvis tribute shows and the Collingwood Elvis Festival.

In 2009, I attended the Toronto Elvis Festival produced by Heather and Nevin Grant and Stage West.  Nevin was the Program Director of OLDIES 1150 CKOC and 820 CHAM, and music director of CKOC.  Nevin is recognized as one of the top music programmers in Canada.  I volunteered as a Judges Assistant, along with various other duties, at their annual Toronto festival.  Upon retiring as producers of this Festival in 2013, the Grants handed me the reigns to take over the festival.  Stage West in 2013 made many structural changes and closed the dining theatre and their involvement in the Elvis festival.

Cynthia Pepper and Gordon Henricks, Flaming Star, 2017. Photo by Louis Young

Cynthia Pepper and Gordon Henricks, Flaming Star, 2017. Photo by Louis Young

I have supported Rockin Ray Michaels, host of 92.9 The Grand radio, with his annual Kings and Classics Festival in Rockton for quite a few years.

I am always ready to lend a hand to ETAs with shows and fundraisers.  For a while I created websites and posters for various ETAs and their shows.

The Flaming Star Festival was established in 2014 to help fill the void of an Elvis Festival in Toronto.  The inaugural festival was welcomed by the ETA world and so began the growth of Flaming Star.

The festival has showcased the following very talented champion headliners:  Doug Church, John Cigan, Connor Russo, Tim E. Hendry, James Gibb, Pete Storm, Benjamin Dalske, Richard Wolfe, Gordon Hendricks, Sylvain Leduc and Matt Cage. Cynthia Pepper, who co-starred with Elvis in Kissin Cousins, has attended each festival and is a cherished member of the Flaming Star Festival family.

The Festival has a welcoming coziness.  The weekend may be filled with Elvis music, but it also a coming together of Elvis Tribute Artists, families and friends to have a great time.  It has been said that the ETA world is the “huggiest” group of people ever.  It takes an hour to say goodbye at the end of a show with all the hugs and kisses.

Flaming Star Festival Poster by James Gibb.

Flaming Star Festival Poster by James Gibb.

In my 'spare time', I say jokingly,  between working full time and the Festival, I also produce tribute shows particularly at the Stone Grille Restaurant/Bar in Innisfil owned by Mark Lovell.  We have showcased tributes to John Denver, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cher, Shania Twain, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Connie Francis, the Deceiving Divas, Whitney Houston etc.   We have a show on November 18 that stars Tom Jones and Neil Diamond tribute artists.

Over the years, I have been a judge at many venues, including the Tweed Tribute to Elvis Festival, a preliminary qualifying contest to the UETAC, King Attractions contests, and Kings and Classics Festival in Rockton and more.  This can be a very difficult task that can only be truly carried out with a background and knowledge of Elvis, his songs, lyrics, moves, presence etc.  It is a position I hope to continue for a long time.                                   

I have been a Backstage Manager at the Windsor SuperStars Festival as well as at other tribute shows, including the first Niagara Falls Elvis Festival this past year, where I have been asked back for 2018 in the same capacity. 

Over the last 4 years, I can’t begin to count all the hours Sue and I have spent together working on the Festival.  During that time we have tried to ensure our passion and love for Elvis is reflected in all we do for the Festival.  Sue and I now have a close friendship thanks to the creation of this Festival.  I can't imagine doing this with anyone else.  Her close friends are now my close friends, and we are family.  I am so grateful to Sue and our ETA family for all they do to help us.  What an incredible amount of Elvis knowledge is contained in this small group. Marcus Wells likes to refer to us as his posse. 

We have a small but solid group of volunteers that fill all the necessary jobs at the Festival.  We are forever indebted to these hard working friends.

Victor Hanson

Victor Hanson

Victor Hanson is a major component of our festival and a forever team member.  He loves to create fun promotional videos. Be sure to ask Victor about his trigger finger the next time you see him. He keeps the festival running smoothly no matter what happens.  Victor's sense of humour keeps the audience entertained all weekend long. He is our "life-saving hero" in times of inevitable technical glitches!  From the business aspect, Victor offers us his professional expertise for which we are very grateful. Cynthia Pepper and Victor co-wrote Pigtails, Presley and Pepper together.  Victor and Cynthia have become very dear friends to Sue and me. 

The motto “Festivals Working Hand In Hand” was created in our inaugural year to bring together a feeling of comaraderie and togetherness with other Elvis festivals.  We are not in this to compete with each other.  We are all trying to honour Elvis and keep his memory alive for generations to come. Let us all help each other do this.

Helen Keller once said “Alone we can do so little.  Together we can do so much”.  Sue and I have proven to be the enduring and unbreakable team bringing Flaming Star to the success it is today.  We look forward to celebrating our 5th Anniversary of the Flaming Star Festival in the fall of 2018.


Sue Harris

Sue Harris

I discovered my love for Elvis when my uncle and godfather took me to see Kissin’ Cousins at the Glendale Theatre.  While very young, the music and fun topped off by two very handsome Elvises resonated with me.

I worked in the Telecommunications industry from my teenage years until my retirement in roles associated with Customer Service and Process Engineering.  My main passion was the Toronto Blue Jays where I was a season ticket holder for over 20 years.  While with Bell Canada, I met a lovely lady who introduced me to the ETA world through a weekend excursion to Collingwood in 1999.  Although a closet fan through most of my teenage years, I firmly was hooked. I started attending concerts and festivals every weekend.  I loved and respected the dedication and passion that each of the ETAs, good or bad, brought to their tributes.

They say when God closes a door, he opens a window. The need to take care of my aging mother and Downs Syndrome brother made it impossible for me to continue to attend Blue Jay games…Door closed.  Enter the Elvis World and the window opened for me into a new passion. I started talking to the various ETAs - totally amazed at the different reasons and ways they entered this new and strange world.  I met caring and unselfish people who believed in helping each other and who were all united by one common goal – to pay tribute to a great entertainer – Elvis Presley.  The more I knew, the more I saw the same generosity of spirit that Elvis was so revered for.  They were like no other people I had ever met, and I was swept into their world.

When the opportunity to join the Flaming Star Festival in its inaugural year - 2014, I leaped at the opportunity to bring the fan perspective into the group as well as the chance to draw on my project management and process skills. I was also inspired to create an automated score sheet for tabulations for the Flaming Star Festival and have had the honour of extending that responsibility to the Niagara Falls Elvis Festival and the Collingwood Elvis Festival.

Before joining the team, I only knew Pam Pettit having met at various events.  As I worked more and more with her, my respect and admiration for her grew.  We started the whole adventure as acquaintances and have grown to be family. Pam is more than just a partner in the Festival, she is my sister.  I feel that through our diverse experiences, we create an unbeatable team that has created a Festival that has grown and gotten better and better over its 4 year span.

All about the Flaming Star Festival

Flaming Star Festival Poster by James Gibb

Flaming Star Festival Poster by James Gibb

In 2014, the first Annual Flaming Star Festival was launched. Our inaugural event was wildly successful from all perspectives and has flourished every year since then. The event is centered around 30 Elvis Tribute Artists from around the world, paying homage to the music and performances of Elvis Presley. This three-day competition is held at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, culminating in the crowning of three champions in a Non-Pro Division, Pro Division and Gospel Division. As these artists strive for authentic representations of The King of Rock and Roll, they are judged in categories such as vocal ability, costume, and performance for an opportunity to claim the Championship title.  The festival garners compliments and praise from contestants, judges, volunteers, VIP guests, and of course, our all-important audience members.  Hotel and venue all under one roof --buy your ticket, book your stay and ride the elevator to all the fun.  No weather to hold us down!

Ticketholders sit back and enjoy not only the competition itself, but a headline show, as well as Meet and Greets, while ending each day with an always fun and entertaining Open Mic. 

The festival is hosted by the comedian extraordinaire Victor J. Hanson.  Cynthia Pepper co-starred with Elvis Presley in the movie "Kissin Cousins" and is a treasured member of the Flaming Star Festival family and will always be on hand to tell her tales of filming with Elvis.

 Thank you, Pam and Sue, for sharing your stories of how your past individual experiences and expertise have come together to create a festival that offers an atmosphere of family in the midst of competition.  It has a pleasure meeting you both, and getting to know you better through your words.  ETAs and their fans, I am sure, are grateful for all you do on their behalf.