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Elvis tribute festival to launch in Lynchburg
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Elvis tribute festival to launch in Lynchburg

The king of rock and roll is getting a festival in Lynchburg this fall, offering attendees a chance to enjoy and celebrate Elvis Presley in the Central Virginia region.

The four-day rock and roll concert-style event from Sept. 9 to 12 will feature eight professional Elvis tribute artists, plus a nine-piece band. Each night will feature a different show dedicated to various Elvis eras, including the flamboyant “jumpsuit era” of the singer’s tour years and Elvis’s gospel music. Full weekend packages or individual night tickets are available.

“A lot of people… when they hear Elvis, sometimes they think, like, a cheesy Elvis walking down the sidewalk in Las Vegas. This is not that type of event,” said Taylor Rodriguez, festival organizer, professional Elvis tribute artist and owner of TMJR Productions. “All the entertainers are well-known tribute artists in the Elvis world, and Graceland as well. A lot of them are endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, so they have their seal of approval.”

Bedford County native Rodriguez became enamored with Elvis at a young age. Frequently babysat by his aunt as a child, he grew up around the music since she was a fan and listened to Elvis often.

“I think the first song I ever heard Elvis perform was ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ I remember asking my aunt, ‘Who was this? Who is this singing?’ That’s when she told me, it’s Elvis Presley,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez dressed up as the legendary musician for Halloween as a 6-year-old and has not stopped since. In fact, he has built a career out of it as a professional Elvis tribute artist.

As a teen, Rodriguez began entering Elvis tribute competitions and was booked for events. In 2019, he found himself the winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition in Memphis, Tennessee. What Rodriguez called the highest achievement an Elvis tribute artist can reach, the win included endorsement from Elvis Presley Enterprises.

“I was like, ‘All right, what else can I do? I’ve reached that milestone in my career. What is something else that I can do to kind of expand upon the win?’” he said.

The next step turned out to be launching his own company, TMJR Productions. The company name represents his initials, Rodriguez explained: Taylor Morgan Jesús Rodriguez.

Although Elvis festivals occur in other states and cities in the nation, Rodriguez had never heard of one in Virginia — at least not the Central Virginia region. He decided to bring his passion and career skills to the forefront in his hometown with the organization of a top-quality Elvis festival. After two postponements due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the third time might be a charm.

Rodriguez hopes the festival will help boost small businesses and the local economy as the community emerges from a global pandemic.

“Since COVID, we realize that a lot of businesses and stuff are hurting right now, so by doing this event, we feel that it’s going to bring in a significant amount of business to the downtown area, which was one of our goals,” he said.

TMJR Productions partnered with The Virginian Hotel and the Craddock Terry Hotel to provide accommodations for festival attendees coming from out of town.

The City of Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and Tourism partnered with Rodriguez in supporting the Elvis tribute festival, helping facilitate networking between Rodriguez and local businesses in an investment expected to drive city revenues and help bolster local businesses coming out of a global pandemic, said Anna Bentson, assistant director of the department.

“Both from an economic development and tourism perspective, our goal is to drive revenue and drive spending in the city. Drawing business to local attractions, restaurants, retail, lodging, that in turn drives tax revenues to the city of Lynchburg,” Bentson said. “It enables us to continue to invest in the community and provide services.”

Bentson and the economic development and tourism department saw a promising investment in the new event. As Bentson observed, “Elvis sells.” The event is made extra unique in its duration, booking hotel rooms for a four-day stretch instead of a more typical one or two-night block.

Based on a conservative pre-event economic impact calculation, Bentson said the four-day event is projected to bring about $75,000 into the local economy. After the event, another calculation will be done to determine actual economic impact.

“Taylor is an amazing partner. Not only is he an amazing performer, but he’s organizing this festival on his own. It’s a wonderful thing, and it’s certainly something that we want to support, and grow, and be an annual event in the city,” Bentson said.

Mary Hull of Roanoke has been Rodriguez’s faithful volunteer and supporter as he grows his business, wearing many hats for him on top of her full-time airport TSA job. After starting off as Rodriguez’s fan club president, Hull has taken on a public relations role.

Hull is an Elvis admirer herself, and years ago — when Elvis tribute artists were more commonly called Elvis impersonators — she said she felt those “impersonators” were almost making fun of the legendary artist.

“I wasn’t a complete Elvis worshiper, but I didn’t want you to make fun of the man, because I did appreciate him,” Hull said.

Her mind was changed, however, when she attended her first Elvis tribute show in Chicago in 2018. There, she said she realized professional Elvis tribute artists cared about Elvis and preserving his legacy with integrity. She also met Rodriguez, who was one of the performers. The two bonded over their shared home of Virginia, and Hull volunteered herself to helping Rodriguez in his career.

“These festivals are just unbelievable. I just think the talent is great,” Hull said. “This is just going to be one of the better festivals that’s out there. I’m an Elvis fan, but now I’m also an Elvis tribute artist fan.”

Rodriguez said he looks forward to continuing to introduce Elvis to new generations through the festival.

He used singer Bruno Mars as an example of a contemporary musician who was influenced, in part, by Elvis. Mars was an Elvis tribute artist himself for a while, Rodriguez said.

“That’s kind of our main goal, too, is to really teach the younger generation that, ‘Hey, this guy [Elvis] paved the way for so many musicians. If you like so and so, this is probably another artist you’re going to like.’”

Rodriguez’s aunt died in 2011 and did not get to see how her nephew’s career has grown. While a tribute artist to Elvis, Rodriguez said he also does this in tribute to the woman who introduced him to the king of rock and roll.

Rodriguez hopes to see the Elvis tribute festival become an annual event in Lynchburg.

“I think people are going to be blown away,” he said.

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