In what might fully qualify as one of those "only in Baltimore moments," an Elvis tribute artist named Jim Parsley — white jumpsuit and red scarf, fabulously coiffed black hair with 1970s sideburns — performed songs of the King on Saturday night on the big stage in Lithuanian Hall, backed up by a blues band and three belly dancers.
Elvis and belly dancers, and the belly dancers trying to keep up with "Suspicious Minds" — a memorable tableau, with a whole lot of shaking going on, and unlikely to be found in any other American city.
But then, the Night of 100 Elvises is a Baltimore creation, and after 20 years, it appears to be as robust as ever and here to stay.
Parsley and other Elvis tribute artists — beefy ones, beer-bellied ones, thin ones, old ones, and at least one actually named Presley — lined up for two consecutive nights of performances on the main stage and two other venues in the old social hall in West Baltimore.
The Elvis tribute artists, or "ETAs," come year after year to the Night of 100 Elvises, a kind of male version of Hon Fest, with lots of sequins, shimmering sport coats, bejeweled jumpsuits, gold-rimmed sunglasses, wigs and, in some cases, real hair styled in the manner of the young Elvis.
Thirty bands performed, rotating from the main stage to a second-floor venue called the Jungle Room to a barroom on the lower level named, for the occasion, the Viva Las Vegas Lounge.
That's where Chris Presley — his real name — started his night of performances, microphone in hand on a wooden dance floor, singing with a karaoke machine the Elvis classics, "Return To Sender," and "Blue Suede Shoes." Presley, who turned 40 in October, has been an ETA for a couple of decades. His black hair is the real thing, razor-sculpted in the iconic 1970s style, with long sideburns and a rooster tail in front that falls nicely across his brow when he shakes.
"I get it cut a lot," Presley says. "Salvatore at 40 West Barbershop in Catonsville does it. I use a lot of gel, too."
Presley has performed with his band — once All The King's Men, now the Real McCoys — for all 20 years of the Night of 100 Elvises, which is a benefit for the Johns Hopkins Children Center. Presley says he gets between 50 and 70 jobs a year as an ETA, and the performances take him often to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Phil Ravita, Presley's bass player, is principal bassist with the Baltimore Philharmonia Orchestra and serves as its board chairman. He has a master's degree in jazz performance from the University of Maryland.
"I play jazz and classical a lot," he says. "But I always clear my calendar for this."
Just then, a guy in a gorilla costume walked through the Viva Las Vegas Lounge as Presley sang "Teddy Bear" for the gathering crowd.
The Night of 100 Elvises is the creation of an energetic woman named Carole Carroll and a few friends. Organizers have staged the event in the Lithuanian Hall every year, and they've developed a smart system of stage management and song selection to keep the bands rotating from venue to venue without repeating any Elvis classics.
"That's an impressive thing," says Ravita, "because, you know, everyone wants to do 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'Hound Dog.'"
But not every ETA performs with belly dancers. That was uniquely Jim "Memories of Elvis" Parsley's offering last night, and we're not likely to see such a spectacle again. Until the 21st Night of 100 Elvises, only in Baltimore.