Spend Christmas With Elvis

There will only ever be one Elvis Presley.

Arguably one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century, Presley’s music is alive and well thanks in part to the work of Elvis tribute artists such as Stephen Kabakos. Fresh off a string of sellout shows in Southern Ontario, Stephen brings his Wonderful World of Christmas show to the stage of Moncton Wesleyan Church on Wednesday evening.

Speaking from his home in Ontario, Kabakos says that 2012 has been perhaps the most successful run that his Wonderful World of Christmas show has had since its inception.

“The Wonderful World of Christmas show has been in production for the past 14 years. I think that, for the most part, people have been very mindful with where they are spending their money over the past year or more,” Stephen says. “With the holidays right around the corner, I think people are more willing to spend the money on an evening of entertainment. What better to celebrate the Christmas season than to be surrounded by warm, heartfelt music that helps put you into the Christmas spirit?”

Stephen says that for as long as he can remember, the King was always a part of his family’s Christmas gatherings. Likening listening to Presley’s Christmas music as “putting on a warm blanket,” Stephen says that for many, “Blue Christmas” is their introduction to Presley’s holiday music. He says that those who take the time to delve deeper into Presley’s holiday material are often surprised at what lies in wait.

“The fact that the Christmas music that Elvis made still holds up today really is a testament to the music,” Stephen says. “The cool thing is that once people get their fill of ‘Blue Christmas,’ they get to explore all of the other magical holiday works that Elvis performed. They then discover that the formulas that modern vocalists like Michael Bublé and Celine Dion use were originated by Elvis. There are so many of his holiday songs that boast wonderful and magical rhythms and, ofcourse, angelic vocals. Perhaps best of all, none of the Christmas music recorded by Elvis sounds dated when you listen to it today.”

Stephen says that his infatuation with all things Elvis began at a very early age. Joking that Elvis was pretty much a family member at various birthdays, holidays and family reunions,he says that he was hooked from the first time that he saw Elvis on television. Next came Stephen emulating the King, thanks to what he was seeing on TV.

“I started shaking my leg like Elvis and truthfully, I never really stopped. In 1996, I was working at a Jack Astor’s restaurant, which happened to have an Elvis booth. I adopted the Elvis nickname as everything about me was Elvis – the hair, the sideburns. It was during the second year of the Collingwood Elvis Festival that I was asked to represent Jack Astor’s as Elvis and, feeling I had nothing to lose, we entered the contest. A lot of the other contestants were concentrating on jumpsuit Elvis, but we wanted to stand out and so we decided to focus on the era of the ’50s and ’60s and take a tribute to a whole other level. It was that which really instilled the performing bug in me.”

Not long after that fateful performance, Stephen assembled a backing band and before long, found himself mingling with the likes of D.J. Fontana and The Jordonaires, both of whom were a part of Presley’s inner circle. Little by little, Stephen began to draw a larger audience and was given the opportunity to perform all over Canada and the United States. He has also performed in such far-off places as Hong Kong, India and Australia.

Asked whether Elvis is the cultural phenomenon overseas that he is in North America, Stephen says the level of dedication shown to Presley by fans in some of those far-off countries surprised even him.

“Elvis fans in Hong Kong are absolutely crazy about him,” he says. “The citizens of India brought a whole different level to the impact that Elvis has had worldwide. I knew going to India was going to be interesting, but once I was there, I realized that residents there were perhaps some of the most informative Elvis fans ever. The people in India weren’t just about the hits; they were requesting deep catalogue songs of Elvis, not necessarily the mainstream hits that everybody knows. They are perhaps one of the most intuitive crowds that I have ever performed for.”

More than 16 years into performing the music of Elvis Presley, Stephen says that perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of what he does has been watching his audience evolve. He says that in the earliest days of his performances, his audiences would primarily consist of people his parents’ age and older. As time has gone on, however, multiple generations are turning out for shows.

“The crowd has definitely been getting progressively younger as the years have gone on,” Stephen says. “It is now not uncommon to see fans from age six up in the audience. What perhaps surprises me the most is the teens that are in the audience because you just have this assumption that their musical preferences would lie more in the pop music realm than Elvis.

“What else is interesting is how the public’s perception of Elvis has changed over the years. When he first came out, he was very cutting-edge for the time, verging on risqué. I think his music has partially stood the test of time so well because so many people from the baby boomer generation find comfort in his music.

“Elvis came from a time of innocence in many people’s lives and by listening to him, that is something that they are able to revisit.”

Article published in the December 8, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcrtipt