A crowd favorite, Joe Banuelos, rocks the crowd with "Jailhouse Rock" during the Creme de la King Karaoke contest at the OC Market Place at last year's event. (FILE PHOTO, Daily Pilot / August 22, 2010)

Elvis may have left the building in August 1977, but as millions of devotees and tens of thousands of Elvis impersonators will tell you, his spirit endures through his music and the tight-knit fan community formed in his name.

Thousands of such fans will converge Sunday for the wildly popular Elvis Festival at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa.

"It kind of reminds me of a small-town carnival," said Kirk Wall, the festival's host since its inception. "They have things like watermelon eating contests and a huge turnout. A lot of different Elvises perform and compete, but it never gets ugly; it's always really light."

"It's great fun, and so well-produced," festival performer Danny Jacobson said. "It's a complete, daylong celebration of the King with impersonators, dancers, vintage cars, Elvis fan clubs and more. I am very honored to have been invited to perform this year."

The 12th annual tribute to the King, held in conjunction with the Market Place's popular swap meet, includes seven impersonators — and many more karaoke singers vying to step into "Blue Suede Shoes"; more memorabilia than the "Heartbreak Hotel" could ever fit into its rooms; and more Elvis-inspired food truck items than any "Hound Dog" could ever wolf down, including the King's favorite grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

PPW Toys and Elvis Presley Enterprises will hold an Elvis Trivia Bee and will be offering a collectible '68 Comeback Special Edition Mr. Potato Head Elvis for sale; Mr. Potato Head will be rakishly clad in a leather jacket and holding a mic. The company introduced a jumpsuit-clad Mr. Potato Head last year.

Keep an eye out for a 9-foot, 6-inch tall stilt-walking Elvis and Priscilla Presley; magician Abbit the Average Elvis; and a classic car display, including a cotton candy pink 1961 Cadillac Sedan DeVille with pink leopard interior and wide whitewall tires.

One of the world's top official fan clubs, the Jailhouse Rockers of California, will be on hand as well.


'Burning Love'

Wall brings a long history of Elvis fandom to his Sunday performances of movie song medleys; he'll be accompanied by the Halau Hula Lani Ola dance troupe during his "Blue Hawaii" and "Rock a Hula" numbers.

"I became an Elvis fan when I was a child," Wall said. "He was my favorite singer; still is."

Wall recalled trying to emulate the King's signature moves using badminton rackets with his brother, and coming up with Elvis-inspired personalities for performances of "Grease" on the musical theater circuit. He also had a memorable job performing singing telegrams under the persona of "Pelvis Esley."

Wall wore glue-on sideburns because he also worked as an actor. But when he started getting a rash from the glue, and when his Elvis gigs became more numerous to ignore, he became the King full-time. Wall, who leads a bluegrass band at the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland, still keeps a divide between being the King and being just Kirk; the non-stop Elvis memorabilia gifts all are corralled in one room of his home.

Fellow impersonator and Sunday performer Danny Jacobson owns about 600 Elvis song recordings, including the original '50s movie soundtrack albums of "Loving You" and "King Creole."

His love of Elvis also is nearly lifelong.

"I've been doing my impression of Elvis since the age of 7," he said. "I'm actually not so much an impersonator but a singing impressionist in the style of the late Vegas entertainer Danny Gans, with over 50 legendary singers in my repertoire."

Although Jacobson performs impressions of everyone from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash in his show, he always closes his shows with a tribute to Elvis, he said.

A relative newcomer to the performance circuit, he began entertaining professionally five years ago.

Jacobson said the hardest part of his job is memorizing all of the song lyrics, but added that he has a good memory for melodies.