Headlined by Cody Ray Slaughter and Shawn Klush as Elvis, both the earlier and later versions of the King had the official stamp of approval of Graceland. The Million Dollar Quartet had nothing on this ensemble, which included Elvis’ original drummer D.J. Fontana, and Estelle Brown of the original Sweet Inspirations. Estelle and Portia Griffin offered vocal backing fit for a king, while D.J. Fontana laid down a steady back-beat to anchor his throne. Brown is the veteran of over 1,000 concerts performances alongside Presley, while Fontana drummed with him long before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan.
The crowd was filled with the Presley faithful, and electricity filled the air as D.J. Fontana first sat down to hold court as his drums. Legend is a word dropped easily like a mustard stained napkin, but Fontana is not embellishing his credentials. Cody Ray Slaughter greeted the folks with Don’t Be Cruel, and the mystery train had officially roared into the station. There was vacancy for the female admirers to check into Heartbreak Hotel, which was followed by Treat Me Like A Fool. The warden through a party at Westbury, as D.J. Slapped the skins as if he was breaking rocks in the hot sun. Spider Murphy may have played the saxophone, but Cody ripped it up as he invited the crowd to do the Jailhouse Rock with him.
Long Island’s Steve Mitchell took the mike, and ran up into the crowd for a three song set. Big Boss Man was a new entree for the shows, which was followed by the lovely ballad Love Me Tender. Mitchell worked the crowd from the stands among the crowd, and kissed just about everyone in the arena. If Steve had worn Maybelline, the company’s stock would have risen. The crowd loved it, as many chased after him as he warbled a rollicking Kissin’ Cousins’. Mitchell’s vintage red Speedway jacket was as nifty and outfit as any jumpsuit and cape.
Cody Ray Slaughter emerged in Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special outfit, tight leather. Elvis never would look any better, and Cody had the women fawning at stage side. The horn section called forth Trouble, and Cody found his groove. The set featured a second version of Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, and it Hurts Me. Cody moved his feet and worked the crowd into a froth, leading the show towards intermission with the Carl Perkins Number Blue Suede Shoes. Two show stoppers had to be offered before the break, The Power of My Love, and Kentucky Rain. The highest sentiment Elvis ever offered socially is encapsulated in the MLK inspired anthem, If I Can Dream, which led to intermission.
After a break, the audience went back to their seats, and were treated to The Sweet Inspirations taking the lead for their namesake tune. Then Also Sprach Zarathustra played as if it was summoning the King back to his faithful followers. Shawn Klush heard the call, and the audience emitted an air of confidence that a most rare wine had emerged and been opened for them to drink. The perception in the audience was that things were just taken up a notch. Shawn Klush emerged on his game, and was hungry to claim the victory over the challenge set before him. See See Ryder, Burning Love, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, and Polk Salad Annie were offered rapid fire. The songs were full of bursting confidence stemming from the assurance Klush had in his abilities. Klush’s performance is easily identifiable by fans as the classiest and closest that they will find honoring Elvis as a tribute artist. They expressed this sentiment collectively all evening. The overwhelming buzz among the crowd is in Klush, with D.J. and the Sweet Inspirations the audience was certain to be witnessing the most original and moving tribute to Elvis.
Festivities moved along with a fine bluesy rendition of Steamroller Blues, a rollicking Johnny B. Goode, Suspicious Minds, An American Trilogy, and closed out with the signature goodnight of Elvis, Can’t Help Falling in Love. The crowd held a collective yearning to witness images from their lives that are pressed between the pages of their minds. The Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular is about just that; Allowing people to go back in time and see before them their fondest memories. Tonight that mission was accomplished with class, consideration, and and more talent that Elvis could have shaken a scepter at.
The Sweet Inspirations have agreed to an appearance on Bob Wilson’s Antennae Radio. The date is to soon be determined. The link to the show can be found on the Bob Wilson Antennae Radio page, located on Facebook. Shawn Klush and D.J. Fontana may be on board to join them.
[Cover Photo by Kacper Jarecki]