Eli Williams is still all shook up about performing in Elvis Presley’s home state.
The Newton resident is currently living in Pigeon Forge, a mountain town and vacation area in eastern Tennessee, where he’s the featured act in a show called “Elvis and Friends” at Memories Theatre.
This isn’t just any Elvis tribute show, it’s one of the longest continually running such productions in North America and where Charlie Hodge – The King’s ol’ right-hand man on stage – performed for more than 15 years following Presley’s death.
Williams says he’s thrilled to be part of a show that has a following among Elvis fans.
He hits the stage four times a week as a headliner among tributes to Michael Jackson, Willie Nelson, Marilyn Monroe and other music legends.
“Basically, I come on at the end of the second half of the show. Most of the other performers do about five songs, and I do about 15,” Williams said on the phone from Pigeon Forge.
“It’s a show theatre where they run four different shows, and it’s probably 450 or 500 seats, somewhere in there. It looks like a Bell Performing Arts Centre, that kind of theatre, but smaller.”
Williams, nicknamed “Tigerman,” has been honing his award-winning Elvis tribute act for close to a decade, mostly at pubs, birthday parties, casinos and special events in the Vancouver area. Last spring, he was a featured performer at Surrey Night Market at Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
In August of 2014, Williams sang “Polk Salad Annie” at the Ultimate Elvis Contest in Memphis, Tennessee.
Late last year, Memories Theatre was sold, and one of the new owners happens to be Williams’ agent. A new cast for the Elvis show was found, and Williams became the featured performer starting in March.
It wasn’t an easy decision for him to leave his girlfriend behind and move three time zones away. Also, to pursue a dream of his, he quit a “day job” as a graphic artist at a sign shop in Surrey.
“Initially I was only supposed to be here until June, for an audition period, but back in April they said they wanted to keep me for the entire year,” Williams explained. “Being apart from my girlfriend was tough, so now that my contact’s been extended, we’re both going to move down here, at least until the end of the year. Who knows what will happen after that.”
For his part of the tribute show, Williams starts with four or five songs from Presley’s early years. He then changes into a black leather outfit for the “comeback” era before another change into a Vegas-era white jumpsuit.
“It’s really cool being here and doing this show, and a lot of it is just enjoying the performing and not holding down multiple jobs like I was before, and also being in a place so culturally different from Vancouver,” Williams noted.
“It’s a little hard to grasp sometimes, but it’s been really good so far,” he continued. “It’s comfortable financially, but I think it’s lucrative in terms of having the opportunity to perform full-time and in more of a marquee area.”
In the Vancouver area, he’s done shows at the Starlight and Hard Rock casinos, but more often than not he’d be booked to do a birthday party or another event that needed some King-ly entertainment.
“Those are fun, and I love doing them, but this is more, like, people are paying to see me now, rather than it just happens to be Elvis night at whatever venue,” Williams explained. “People are now buying tickets to see me perform, and they have a vested interest. And of course, Elvis was from here so it’s a lot more, I don’t know – it rings closer to home.”
Williams’ website is at elitigerman.weebly.com.