"Unless you're a die-hard Elvis fan, you just don't get the whole gist of it," said Mr. Stirling, the manager of a Caterpillar facility at Lieber Correctional Institution in Summerville, S.C., near Charleston, where inmates refurbish tractor transmissions.
"It's not just the music," he said of admiring the late superstar. "It's the bonding of his fans, and 31 years after his death, that bond is just as strong if not stronger."
Mr. Stirling has participated in the annual CSRA Images of the King contest in Augusta, competing against talented Elvis tribute artists (they don't like being called impersonators) from throughout the U.S. He will be back this weekend to compete in the Saturday preliminary round, which starts at 2 p.m., hoping to once again make the final round on Saturday night. He has a great voice and good look, and you can see him on youtube.com by typing "Danny Stirling" in quotes in the search window.
Guest artist Jeff Barnes (who placed second last year) will perform a free concert at noon Saturday, and 11-year-old singing sensation Jaycie Ward of Beech Island will perform three songs before the two preliminary rounds and the final round.
You also can see Mr. Barnes and Jaycie perform on youtube.com.
Mr. Stirling was fortunate enough to see Presley three times before his death in the Graceland bathroom in 1977.
He remembers most about the first time in the Omni arena in Atlanta in 1975 "the excitement of just being there" in spite of his nosebleed-section seats with his first wife. They managed to get reasonably priced tickets on the day of the concert but didn't buy any souvenirs.
"I almost didn't have the money to get there then," he said. "I was in my early 20s and working on the production line at Domino Sugar making bags. I remember Elvis coming out in that white suit and all of the camera flash bulbs going off."
Don Rhodes has written about country music for 37 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KING FOR A DAY
WHAT: 11th annual CSRA Images of The King Elvis Contest with competitors from throughout the U.S. and guest performers Jeff Barnes and Jaycie Ward
WHEN: Preliminary rounds 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday; finals 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: VFW Post 3200, Gun Club Road behind the Pilot gas station on River Watch Parkway at Interstate 20
COST: $8 preliminary rounds; $15 finals
CALL: (803) 593-2580 or (803) 221-3200