How Elvis lives on, in Madison and beyond

One of the more colorful, late-life anecdotes about Elvis Presley in Wisconsin has the music icon leaving his limo, while stopped at a red light in Madison, so he could break up a fight.

“The King” – likely weighing over 300 pounds at the time – assumed a karate stance and declared his intent to take on two brawlers who were ganging up on the son of a gas station owner. He didn’t need to throw a punch or karate chop because the youths quickly recognized their celebrity challenger and shaped up.

The altercation stopped, everybody shook hands and Elvis returned to the limo, which resumed its journey to a Madison hotel.

A small, tombstone-like memorial marks the spot of the exchange at East Washington Avenue, near Stoughton Road and a car dealership parking lot. The incident happened around 1 a.m. June 24, 1977, Elvis performed at Dane County Coliseum that night and within two months he was dead of a heart attack.

I am thinking about this lesser-known tale today because Elvis would have been 85 this month (on Jan. 8). Fans still leave flowers, flags and other tokens of respect at his gravesite, outside of his frozen-in-time Graceland estate in Memphis. He is buried between his grandmother and father.

Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Casino, Milwaukee, for around 15 years hosted a “Tribute to the King” competition in January that attracted Elvis impersonators from as far as Australia. The annual winner got $25,001 until the event came to an end two or three years ago.

One of the original contest winners, Pennsylvania native Ryan Pelton, still does a run of shows annually and typically brings other tribute artists to perform. That may happen in summer.

Need a little “Hound Dog” fix before then? Coronado Performing Arts Center, Rockford, Ill., hosts a tribute to Elvis at 8 p.m. Jan. 17, and Pelton is one of the performers. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.

The show presents the music of Elvis from one era of his life to the next: rock-a-billy and military years to black leather and Vegas stage shows. The other Elvis impersonators are Shawn Klush (named world’s greatest Elvis by the BBC) and Cody Ray Slaughter (whose on-stage credits include “The Million Dollar Quartet”).

Also on the docket is the Blackwood Quartet, an eight-time Grammy Award winner and in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

What else?

Elvis Fest in Milwaukee celebrates its 10th anniversary March 27-28 at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel. Tickets are $20 to $90, depending on seat location and how much you attend.

The first night is the “Aloha from Hawaii” concert featuring Garry Wesley, who throws his cape and belt to the audience.

The range of music grows March 28, for “Elvis Fest Rocks the Legends,” starring Riley Jenkins and Cote Deonath. Others add tributes to Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Frankie Valli.

Shows start at 7 p.m. and doors open at 6 p.m.

Dale’s Weston Lanes, Weston, hosts the 17th annual Elvis Birthday Bash with four tribute artists and shows at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 11. Music covers a full range of his career.

Other tributes at 8 p.m. Jan. 10 are in honor of Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Elton John, Ricky Nelson and Roy Orbison. A ticket to both shows starts at $40. For one show, prices start at $25.

Tony Rocker of Milwaukee brings his Elvis show to Moxie’s Supper Club in Casco on Feb. 8 and Pete’s Inn in Evansville on Feb. 22. Join his fan club for $20.

Verona Area Community Theater presents “Four Weddings and an Elvis,” a romantic comedy about Las Vegas wedding chapel ceremonies, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13- 22 (plus 2 p.m. shows Feb. 15 and 22). Tickets are $16.

Alan Graveen has regular gigs as Elvis in the Milwaukee area, including the Chick-fil-a at Brookfield Square at 10 a.m. March 7. He’ll sing Elvis tunes between Bingo games, then head to Brookfield Public Library for a 2 p.m. show.

Dakota Pongrantz and Colin Dexter begin their Elvis tribute at 7 p.m. April 11 at Bakerville Bar, Marshfield.

In the Northwoods: The third annual Eagle River Elvis Tribute Contest is at Eagle River Inn and Resort on July 24-25. A 10 a.m. July 25 Elvis Gospel Show is in addition to nightly competitions.

The annual Elvis Explosion at the La Crosse Center is Sept. 11-13. At least 30 Elvis tribute artists will compete for $10,000 in cash and prizes. Expect evening shows, a matinee and gospel show before the final round of competition. Tickets start at $28.