As the train chugs from Sydney to the rural town of Parkes, Elvis tribute artist Stuey V is crooning that he “always lived a very quiet life”.
Probably before he owned the shimmering 1950s-style gold lame jacket he’s wearing, one assumes.
The express train is packed with Elvis fans, wannabes and lookalikes on a seven-hour journey to pay tribute to the boy from Mississippi.
Stuey V is singing a hit from the `68 Comeback Special, the TV appearance that revived the king of rock n roll’s career 50 years ago.
He shakes a man’s hand before planting a kiss on his wife’s cheek, then sits on the lap of another woman and shakes.
“Were you shy?” I ask. “No”, she replies. “It was hilarious, it was the performance.”
Things get racier as Stuey V jumps onto the train seat, one leg planted in each aisle and a woman reaches up to touch his buttocks.
“I want to kiss every lady in this carriage,” the Gold Coast crooner declares.
He is true to his word. For, like a river flows surely to the sea, there is no room for shyness in the world of an Elvis impersonator.
We are aboard the Blue Suede Express, a luxury heritage passenger train that has transformed into an Elvis party as it travels to the annual Parkes Elvis Festival, dubbed the world’s biggest.
Red jumpsuit clad impersonator John Collins, from Berry, NSW, welcomes travellers to the first performance in the dining carriage.
“Some of you will be pleased to know you’re all virgins again,” he says, to squeals.
The train ride is a taste of what’s to come as Elvis tribute artists move from carriage to carriage singing his hits to commuters, who are showing nothing but sweet devotion.
On the second weekend every January, Parkes marks the icon’s life and music with a vibrant five-day festival to coincide with his January 8 birthday.
The festival, endorsed by the late singer’s estate, has just celebrated its 25th year and shows no sign of slowing.
This year, more than 25,000 revellers were expected to packed the outback Aussie town, 365km west of Sydney, to see international and local Elvis tribute artists honour the king.
But don’t forget the money, honey – there’s a forecast $14 million pumped into the local economy.
As the train labours on, Collins does his best to pump up the revellers, but this bunch don’t need much prodding.
“Where y’all from?” he asks one group of passengers, in a southern US drawl.
“It’s a singles group, we all met on Tinder,” responds one of the more senior members of the Elvis commute.
“AA,” jokes another.
With that, Collins jumps into the song Little Sister and they’re on their feet bopping and kicking their legs in the air in quasi-Elvis karate era style.
But when the music stops and a recording of the phrase “Elvis has left the building,” is played, just as it was at the end of the king’s concerts to disperse hopeful fans waiting for an encore, this lively mob is not happy.
“Bor-ing,” sings one woman.
The biggest cheers of all are reserved for the same serious pelvic gyrations that shocked conservative America when Elvis burst onto the scene in the 1950s.
Brody Finlay does it well. At 21, he is the youngest impersonator on board getting these commuters all shook up.
Tall, handsome and lanky, like the young king himself, he shakes like a leaf on a tree as he dances down the train aisle, stealing three kisses as he goes.
“Cheeky bugger,” a woman laughs to her friend.
Clad in a bright candy pink jacket, white open neck shirt and black pants, he twirls around a woman, and implores her to lay off his blue suede shoes.
Her spirits lifted higher like the sweet song of a choir, she duly obeys.
The young Sydney crooner then gets the crowd jumping to Viva Las Vegas, as he shuffles in white lace-up shoes around the cramped carriage.
For hip-swivelling Scotsman Ross Cummins, who donned a white Elvis jumpsuit, gold framed shades and black wig for the ride, “it was all and more than I expected”.
“We loved it,” he gushed.
“I will be on board again next year for sure.”
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Dedicated Elvis train services run from Sydney Central train station to Parkes, 365km west of Sydney. Regional Express (REX) flies directly to Parkes from Sydney several times daily.
STAYING THERE: Accommodation books out quickly. The Astro Dish Motor Inn ( www.astrodish.com.au/) offers modern decor and facilities and is a close walk to Cooke Park, the hub of the festival, featuring the main stage and markets. The Home Hosting Program is also an option for groups and couples while comfortable tent accommodation is available, with sturdy ready-built tents including stretcher beds and mattresses. Other camping, caravan or motorhome sites are also available.
PLAYING THERE: The Parkes Elvis Festival takes place annually on the second weekend in January. For more info, visit www.parkeselvisfestival.com.au
You can also see the rural town’s rich agricultural and mining history in its museums, take a hike through Goobang National Park, enjoy the magnificent vista from the top of Parkes Memorial Hill and check out the world famous Parkes Dish, as the CSIRO radio telescope tunes into the universe. The town has a thriving social calendar, hosting events throughout the year.
The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.
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