For the first time in 28 years running, the Elvis Parkes Festival, which is celebrated in Parkes, Australia, each year on the weekend closest to January 8 – in honor of Elvis Presley’s birthday – has been canceled in a bid to keep the more than 26,000 people who attend each year safe and sound as Australia continues its struggle against Covid19.
“We have spent several months on emergency planning, monitoring health advice, government restrictions and border closings,” said Cathy Treasure, Festival Director of Elvis Parkes, in video announcements released on September 24. “The health and safety of all our stakeholders, including our local community, fans, artists, contractors and staff has always been at the top of our list and with the current situation, we cannot safely proceed with confidence for 2021.”
In the video, Parkes Shire Council Mayor Ken Keith – dressed in his best Elvis outfit – explains how social distancing and limiting attendance will lead to a different type of experience, one that doesn’t embody the true spirit of the festival.
“The Elvis Parkes Festival is made up of thousands of fans, people come to celebrate the King, sing along to his hits, dance and socialize in all of Australia’s friendliest city, Parkes,” said Keith. “My message to all who listen, in the true spirit of Elvis Presley: be good, walk a mile in all things that will have an impact and let’s stay together through these difficult times.”
The Elvis Parkes Festival is expected to return January 5–9, 2022, with the theme “Speedway,” after the 1968 film of the same name.
What started in 1993 as a simple event created by Bob and Anne Steel to honor Presley’s life and help attract tourists to Parkes, has grown into an annual celebration attended by more than 26,000 people from around the world. In January 2019, I am proud to say that I am one of them.
Towards the end of my Australian Working Holiday Visa year, I booked a cheap flight from Melbourne to Sydney and took a not so cheap train from Sydney to Parkes so I could experience the festival firsthand. At the time I didn’t realize how quickly accommodation filled up at Parkes during the festival – rooms often sold out as soon as next year’s date was announced – and found myself scrambling to find a place to stay at the last minute. Luckily for me, a pub in the nearby town of Peak Hill, about 30 minutes’ drive from Parkes, rents out rooms and there is a shuttle I can take to and from the festival every day.
Having grown up hearing all about Elvis, Motown, and The Beatles, I was thrilled to experience this unique festival in a part of New South Wales that I had never been to. Getting to Parkes takes about five hours by car or seven hours by train from Sydney, so I thought, what better way to experience one of the biggest Elvis festivals in the world than to hop there (and back) on the Lachlan Valley Railway “Blue Suede Express,” which is more expensive than the two “Elvis Express” trains, at the spectacular seven-hour Elvis Singalong show with a group of people dressed in their best Elvis clothes and 50s clothes?
Best of all, the package I purchased gave us access to free snacks, drinks and in-flight entertainment provided by some of the best Elvis tribute artists in Australia and New Zealand. I soon found myself chatting with those around me, meeting some who had been coming over the years, others who were going out for the first time and taking photos with as many people as possible in Elvis costumes.
What a wonderful experience, spending a long hot weekend in this charming Australian city – there was a heat wave when I was there and temperatures hovering around 110 degrees Fahrenheit – surrounded by families, men and women of all ages and cultural backgrounds who come together to celebrate the life and music of one of the greatest musicians of all time. I’m sure this festival will come back and be better than ever. I just hope Americans will be allowed into the country in January 2022 so that we can celebrate with them.