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A Hunk, A Hunk of  Burning Love: Rick Anthony Brings Elvis to the Portuguese Festival

by Steve Desroches

On Spirit Day when Rick Anthony was in the eighth grade in his hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts, he entered a lip-synching contest in which the students were told to pick someone from the 1950s or 1960s to impersonate. Anthony chose Elvis and borrowed a Halloween costume from a relative and a wig from a local dinner theater he performed in to complete the look. He took first place and was hooked not only on performing, but with his love for Elvis Presley. The thrill of victory led young Anthony to do a deep dive into all things Elvis, as prior to the concert he was vaguely aware of the King of Rock and Roll who had died over 20 years before Anthony’s own star-making turn at the school talent show. From then on he studied Elvis’ every move as well as every note he sang, watching old recordings of Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, his 1968 comeback special, Elvis at Madison Square Garden, and Presley’s groundbreaking television event Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite. And while his friends in the early 2000s watched more contemporary fare Anthony was viewing films like Jailhouse Rock, Blue Hawaii, and Viva Las Vegas. To support their son’s anachronistic interests they organized a family trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to visit Graceland.

“That was awesome,” says Anthony. “It was amazing to make what really felt like a pilgrimage.”

From then on Anthony decided that Elvis was going to be a major part of his life as he committed himself to becoming an Elvis tribute artist, and he’ll be showing off his work this weekend at the Provincetown Portuguese Festival. Elvis impersonators are almost as big a part of American cultural life as the King himself. From county fairs to festivals to cabarets, Elvis impersonators have entertained hundreds of thousands. They’ve also woven themselves into mass media with appearances in films like Honeymoon in Vegas, which features a skydiving team of Elvis impersonators and in an episode of the Golden Girls where Rose mixes up the guest list for Sophia’s wedding with the list of prospective entertainment for the next meeting of the “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Fan Club.” They’ve also worked their way into theater, literature, video games, and art. An Elvis impersonator ran, unsuccessfully, for the Arkansas state senate. They’ve also found themselves the subject of academic research, including one mathematician who comedically gave an example of mathematical extrapolation by saying that if Elvis impersonators continued to grow at the rate they did since 1977, by 2043 all humans on earth would be Elvis impersonators. They may have been onto something as there are chapters of the Association of Professional Elvis Presley Tribute Artists, of which Anthony is a member, all around the globe. But while the layperson may see no distinction, there is a difference between an Elvis impersonator and a tribute artist, of which Anthony is the latter.

“Tribute artists are of a higher caliber, in my opinion,” says Anthony. “A lot more goes into being a tribute artist. I’m always going to try to be as authentic as possible. What I wear are exact replicas. I use the same brand of microphone that he used in concerts. I think it adds to the authenticity. It’s more like Austin Butler did [in the film Elvis]. He wasn’t impersonating Elvis, he created the character. Impersonators often are just wearing Halloween costumes and doing their own thing.”

While many exaggerate Elvis’ snarl and hip gyrations as well as the deep-throated quip “Thank you. Thank you very much,” Anthony focuses on accuracy, leaving out the camp, or at least embracing the same level of campiness that Elvis himself did. And over the past 20 years Anthony has perfected his craft, including singing live and capturing the syncopation and cadence with which Presley sang. He’s nailed the choreography, too. He had to search high and low for a copy of Elvis’ appearance on The Milton Berle Show, as it’s the only early television footage that includes a full body shot rather than only showing him from the chest up, censoring what were then scandalous moves.  Anthony even studied a bit of karate, as Elvis loved the martial arts form.

While a welcome addition to the Provincetown Portuguese Festival, it might beg the question as to why an Elvis tribute artist is coming for the event, as Presley was not of Portuguese descent. But Anthony is, with ancestors from Faial Island in the Azores. In fact, he recently played a gig on the Azorean island of São Jorge as a featured entertainer for the Holy Ghost Festival. It’s testament to the international reach of Elvis himself as well as his enduring legacy earning new generations of fans.

“It’s more than just his music,” says Anthony. “He embodied the American Dream. He came from extreme poverty in Mississippi and became a superstar. He’s one of the very first rock stars ever. From 1954 to his death in 1977 he worked and did so much. He made 33 movies and recorded over 700 songs. And then there’s the merchandising. He was and is everywhere. How could we forget him? It’s more than just good music. He embodies so much more.”

Elvis tribute artist Rick Anthony performs on Friday, June 23 at 6 p.m. in Portuguese Square on Ryder St. and at 9 – 10 p.m. he’ll be the DJ at the Disco Dance Party in the same location as part of the Provincetown Portuguese Festival. For more information on Anthony visit and for more information on the Provincetown Portuguese Festival visit .

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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