Record crowd expected for Elvis Week
'It's about his life'
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The convertible top on Jean Abel's new Chrysler Sebring is blue, for "Blue Suede Shoes." The body is silver, as in silver anniversary.
And then there's the license plate: EP-25TH.
Abel is a devotee of all things Elvis, and next week she'll be among thousands of Elvis fanatics trekking to Memphis for the 25th anniversary of Presley's death on August 16.
"Just knowing that my husband and I will be in the presence of a huge number of Elvis fans from all over the world, and his friends and band members and whoever was associated with him, just overwhelms me," says Abel, who saw Presley perform in 1956.
Fans make the pilgrimage to the Presley mansion every year for what's known as Elvis Week, but this year's nine-day event is expected to shatter records.
"This is the biggest Elvis Week we've ever had, and I think the most attention it has ever had," said Todd Morgan, director of media and creative development at Graceland.
Morgan expects 50,000 to 70,000 visitors for Elvis Week, which usually draws about 35,000.
Morgan attributes the increase not only to the silver anniversary, but to renewed interest in Elvis stemming from Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" film and the surprise success of "A Little Less Conversation," a remixed 1968 single that topped the U.K. charts earlier this year.
Among the featured events is the traditional candlelight memorial and a 25th anniversary concert at The Pyramid arena featuring Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley and a large cast of singers and musicians who worked with Elvis over the years.
They will perform with King himself, or at least what's being touted as a "state of the art, video-projected Elvis."
"It's going to be the most elaborate production we've ever done," Morgan said.
As usual, Elvis Week won't be a mournful affair, he predicts.
"It's not about his death. It's about his life," he said. "It's a celebration of his life and his work, and a celebration of this worldwide camaraderie that Elvis fans have."
Fans suggest the gathering -- which also includes a fashion show and a seminar, "Is Elvis History?: 2002 and Beyond" -- is a hybrid of a convention and a family reunion.
"I've been to at least 10 of these things, and I never met anybody I didn't like," said John Dawson, president a Dallas-Fort Worth fan club and author of the new book, "The Ways of Elvis: Lessons from His Life."
"The people are very nice. They're friendly. It's like you don't meet a stranger at these events because you've got Elvis as your common ground."
A way off Lonely Street
If you're just now thinking of checking out Elvis Week, you'd better look quickly for a place to stay, as most of the area's 27,000 hotel rooms are already booked.
But even if you can't get into Graceland's Heartbreak Hotel, which sold out about a year ago, tourism officials say you still should be able to find a room. You just might have to drive a little farther to Graceland or downtown Memphis.
"You need to be realistic with your expectations. You're not going to be at the Peabody," said Denise DuBois Taylor, vice president of communications and public relations for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Tours of the Graceland mansion may also be sold out on a few of the days during Elvis Week, but Morgan says chances are good anyone who's in town for a few days will manage to set foot in the Presley palace.
Although Memphis has plenty to offer beyond Elvis -- including the blues-related action on Beale Street -- there's no question that enthusiasts of the King account for a big portion of the 8 million tourists who visit the region each year.
"Elvis put Memphis on the map," Taylor said. "Whether you like Elvis' music or not, Elvis is what made Memphis most famous."
Elvis, Elvis Presley and Graceland are registered trademarks with the USPTO.
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