Greetings my Loyal Reader(s), and welcome to the latest edition of the Branson Beat, your home for all the news on the Branson entertainment scene.
As always, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a message via our Branson Tri-Lakes News Facebook page.
Now, let’s get to it.
Pennington takes 2nd place at ‘Ultimate’ in Memphis
It’s officially “Elvis Week,” and that means the 2019 edition of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, an annual event in which Elvis Presley Enterprises, EPE, names the tribute artist who “best representation of the legacy of Elvis Presley,” is in the books.
Saturday night in Memphis, Tennessee, a capacity crowd saw Elvis Tribute Artist Taylor Rodriguez take home the top honor and the grand prize of $20,000. Branson’s own Radney “Little E” Pennington, who punched his ticket to the finals by winning the Branson leg of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest earlier this year, finished second during the finals.
Pennington, a Branson native, has been performing locally for 16 years, first taking the stage at the age of 2 alongside country music star Mickey Gilley. From there, he continued to perform as an ETA and became the youngest person to record at the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Sun Studios in Memphis when he was 5.
As a young performer, Pennington won three straight “Youth Contests” as part of the Branson Elvis Festival, the non-pro division of the “Elvis Explosion” in Lacrosse, Wisconsin in 2015, the 21st annual Midwest Tribute to the King in Springfield, Illinois in 2016, and top honors in the pro division at the 20th annual “Elvis Explosion” contest in Lacrosse, Wisconsin in 2017.
Last year, Pennington was a “swing” performer at the Welk Resort Theatre’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” and earlier this year, he headlined the “Legends in Concert” show in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is also the first year Pennington has been old enough to compete in the “Ultimate.”
I must admit to my Loyal Reader(s), I’m especially proud of Pennington, as are my fellow judges in the Branson Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, Mike Patrick and Ronnie Craig. That kid has come a long way, and will most assuredly be a force for years to come in the Elvis Tribute Artist world.
Even though the 2019 edition of the “Ultimate” just ended, organizers are already looking ahead to next year, especially in Branson. The 14th Annual Branson Elvis Festival, which will feature five days of Elvis fun, will see a return to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater April 1-5, 2020, and again find producers teaming with Up Close Concerts for several special events.
Things get rolling April 1, 2020 with the return of Ronnie McDowell, who will perform his “By Request” show, followed by former DJ, game show host and Elvis Presley friend and aficionado Wink Martindale, along with his wife Sandy, for Wink Martindale and his wife Sandy for “Memories of Elvis” April 2.
April 3, 2020, will see an “Ultimate Elvis Meet and Greet,” followed by the “Legends in Concert” show, then “The Dean Z Show” at 10:45 p.m.
The Branson leg of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest” set for April 4, 2020. The winner of the contest will receive a prize package and travel to Memphis, Tennessee, in August for Elvis Week, where they will compete against other regional winners for the title of Ultimate Elvis Champion.
The 2020 festival will wrap April 5 at 11 a.m. with “Ryan Pelton Presents – You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a tribute to the gospel music that inspired a king.
‘Legends’ hitting folks with their ‘Best Shot’
The folks at “Legends in Concert,” which features look- and sound-alike artists paying tribute to the most iconic artists in music history, have added one of my favorite tribute artists, Stacey Whitton Summers, and her tribute to Pat Benatar for the remainder of the summer lineup.
Benatar’s career includes 10 platinum albums, eight No. 1 singles, and four Grammy awards, thanks to hits such as “We Belong,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Heart Breaker” and more.
Whitton Summers is a singer/songwriter/actress who tackles the biggest and brightest “Legends” of all time. For over a decade she has been recreating icons on stages all over the world, including here in Branson. In addition to Benatar, she also performs tributes to Shania Twain, Marilyn Monroe, Martina McBride, Madonna, Gretchen Wilson and Katy Perry.
She is most assuredly one of the most talented tribute artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, and she makes an already stacked lineup that much better.
In addition to Whitton Summers as Benatar, Ryan “Big Business” Pelton is back as Elvis Presley, along with Clint Nievar and Danny Z as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues, the Blues Brothers, Doug Brewin as Alan Jackson, and Paul Eve as Johnny Cash.
The “fall lineup” debuts Sept. 5, with Whitton Summers’ tribute to Marilyn Monroe will again be featured, along with Nievar and Z’s Blues Brothers, as well as the returning tribute to the Temptations. Also, Pelton is set to perform two different tributes to Presley, one paying homage to the 60s, the other to the 70s.
I don’t know about y’all, but that sounds like a pretty flat-out awesome fall to me. The fall lineup runs from Sept. 5-Oct. 31.
Visit legendsinconcert.com for showtimes and dates at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater.
‘Apocalypse Now Final Cut’ this week
The wait is almost over, and I’m as excited as I can be that Branson’s giant-screen Imax is joining Lionsgate films and a handful of theaters around the country in celebrating the 40th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed, award-winning classic “Apocalypse Now” by giving folks the chance to experience it like never before with a special engagement of “Apocalypse Now Final Cut” Thursday night and Sunday afternoon.
As part of this special event, the folks at the Imax have invited one of the film’s co-producers, Academy Award-winner Gray Frederickson, to intro the film, as well as participate in a Q & A before the Thursday night showing, which is the actual 40th anniversary of the film’s release.
As far as the “Final Cut” of the film, the release states it “has been restored from the original negative for the first time ever and digitally remastered for Imax with crystal clear images and powerful surround sound.”
Showtimes are 7 p.m. Aug. 15, and 2 p.m. Aug. 18. Visit bransonimax.com for tickets.
Remembering ‘The King’ in Branson
While Friday marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, his legacy is still felt all over the world, especially right here in Branson.
Even today, one would be hard pressed to find a music show in Ozark Mountain Country that doesn’t feature at least one Presley tune, gospel or otherwise.
In honor of this event, I wanted to mention a few shows that prominently feature Presley’s music. As I already stated, you’d be hard-pressed to find a show that doesn’t include at least one Elvis Presley song, but those are the productions I know for a fact firmly place the spotlight on him for more than one or two tunes.
Both the “Hot Rods & High Heels” and “#1 Hits of the 60s” feature segments paying tribute to Presley. While both shows boast stellar ensemble casts, and both call the Clay Cooper Theatre home, they’re totally different productions, and are both awesome.
Producer and emcee extraordinaire Mike Patrick, also a huge Elvis fan, always makes sure there is plenty of “Kingley” music at “Grand Jubilee,” and this year is no different. In fact, there’s a great bit that sees the New South Quartet and female vocalist Jackie Brown throw down on some Presley classics.
Also, the “Legends in Concert” show has also heavily featured Presley’s music over the past 30-plus years, and this year is no exception. The current Elvis Tribute Artist at legends,” Ryan “Big Business” Pelton, is an international, award-winning performer who was declared the “World Champion” when he won the Worldwide Images of the King Contest in 2001.
In 2013, Pelton headlined a Hollywood film called “The Identical,” taking the alias of “Blake Rayne” for the film, which also starred Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Seth Green. The film won the audience choice award for best film at the Nashville Film Festival. He was the body double for Elvis as he performed a duet of “If I Can Dream” on “American Idol” with Celine Dion. He also played the role of Elvis in the Dakota Fanning move “Houndog.”
Finally, Jerry Presley, who is a cousin of Elvis Presley, also performs his “Elvis Live” show at the God & Country Theatres. Jerry Presley, along with a full band, performs the “Aloha from Hawaii” set, the “Madison Square Garden Concert” set, as well as select gospel shows on Sundays.
Being a Mississippi native, Presley will always have a special place in my heart, and judging by how popular he remains to this day, I’m not the only one. Like Memphis man Phillip Foley said outside Graceland shortly after his death, “whether you be black or white, redneck or freak, from Memphis or Moscow — to me, Elvis Presley will always be the king of rock-and-roll.
“I love Elvis Presley.”
Truer words, brother. Truer words.