MONROE — Celia Salinas danced Monday afternoon with Elvis, to the tune of “It’s Now or Never.”
Her sister, Rosa Cantu, turning a spry 86, wanted in on the action, but the man in the red silk shirt told her only one partner at a time. This was no ghost — just an illusion.
Danny Vernon, 52, has been performing as Presley at fairs, retirement community clubhouses and casinos for 21 years. He croons the hits — “All Shook Up,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — for the Monday afternoon crowd on the courtyard stage at the Evergreen State Fair. This was one of the rare performances without “Hound Dog,” he said.
The show is not short on antics. There’s Vernon jumping on a picnic table to sing, dance — and tell the woman sitting there she has mustard on her face. There’s Vernon jokingly serenading older fans. There’s Vernon strumming a cane like a guitar. And don’t forget the constant hip gyrations.
That’s all in the course of an hour-long “Illusion of Elvis” show. The second set a few hours later was the older Las Vegas-era Elvis.
He said he’s not Elvis offstage. It is a persona he has built over time.
“I’ve done it for so long now, it’s like I step into Elvis’ shoes,” Vernon said in an interview after the performance. “I can almost imagine what Elvis would’ve said in certain scenarios.”
This interview included such hard-hitting questions as, “Is the hair real?” (It is.)
“How does one become an Elvis impersonator?” (First step, you have to like Elvis.)
Vernon’s father was a big Elvis fan. He would watch his movies and buy the soundtracks. But Vernon only came around to him when he learned how to work a record player. He was first pulled in by his voice, one he constantly emulates even outside of performance. That voice got him into singing.
“He helped me discover that I liked to sing,” Vernon said. “I’d lock myself in my bedroom for four years with Elvis, staying close to the speaker and sing along with him.”
Before that, he never thought singing would be his main job. He worked as a singing waiter and sang songs by just about everybody, before turning to Elvis.
In two decades on stage, Vernon has his share of stories. One time, he threw a teddy bear into a crowd — and left a man bleeding down his face. The bear had hit a lamp in the air, causing it to crash into the man. That “sucked the wind out of the room,” he said.
The man came back for the second half of the show, though.
Vernon had one fan who came to basically every performance for maybe a decade. When she died, she left him a diary of notes from years of concerts.
“I love the fact that Elvis would sing on stage and it felt like a community experience,” Vernon said. “It was like everyone was important that comes to the show. It wasn’t like ‘I’m Elvis Presley, stand back and worship me.’ No, he was wanting to make sure everyone was included.”
The last year was a brutal one for Vernon. Because of the pandemic, he couldn’t be Elvis. So he worked for a moving company, his first “real job” in 20 years. When he could no longer move to the music, he moved pianos.
Now, he’s performing for crowds again, like the fairgoers in Monroe. But with the resurgence of COVID-19, Vernon said he has had a few gigs cancelled recently.
Vernon has upcoming shows in Snohomish County. His website lists a performance in Arlington on Sept. 9, and another in Marysville on Oct. 10.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; email@example.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.