Elvis will be in the building Saturday evening as Presley tribute artist Austin Irby performs to benefit Alzheimer’s Caregiver Time-Out.
Since the age of 10, the 17-year-old Irby has been impersonating the King of Rock for festivals, shows and competitions.
With his “Elvis is in the Building” show, Irby says he will open as the 1950s Elvis, break character briefly to perform a couple of requested Conway Twitty songs then return to perform Presley’s movie songs and the Vegas act.
Irby began performing at the age of 4, singing gospel songs on stage. At the age of 10, he watched the Elvis movie “Jailhouse Rock” with his father, whom Irby describes as a big Elvis fan.
“We watched that movie and I said I like how he does this so I got up and danced around to Elvis,” Irby says.
During the next few weeks, he learned several Elvis songs while practicing Elvis’ voice inflections and moves. Within months, the 10-year-old Irby took the stage as Elvis at a South Carolina festival.
He’s been performing as Elvis ever since, but not just Elvis. With friends, he has developed a Legends-type performance company; together, they re-create a Temptations tribute show. On his own, Irby presents tributes of Buddy Holly, Conway Twitty and, of course, Elvis.
For his first Presley performance seven years ago, Irby wore a Halloween costume. By the age of 12 and 13, he was purchasing replicas of Elvis’ signature Vegas-era jumpsuits.
As he’s aged, Irby has let his sideburns grow. Many Elvis tribute artists wear wigs. For the stage, Irby styles his hair into the Presley pompadour. He recalls one time a kid asked if he wore a wig, a tug of Irby’s hair proved that “the hair is real and so is the voice,” Irby says. “A woman asked if I lyp-synced. I told her no then, I think it was ‘Love Me Tender,’ I had to stop singing for a second, and she said, no, you don’t lip-sync.”
Irby also stresses that he is an Elvis tribute artist not an Elvis impersonator. He distinguishes the two by noting that a tribute artist performs as Presley professionally, while an impersonator performs as Elvis and may even dress as Elvis on occasions other than on stage.
“When you put that jumpsuit on and climb onto the stage and the music gets to going, you feel like you are Elvis,” Irby says. “But when I come off the stage, I’m off. ... We’re like a brotherhood, Elvis tribute artists, and we all say, There was only one Elvis.”
A high school junior, Irby’s parents checked him out of school Thursday afternoon to begin the drive from their South Carolina home to Valdosta for Saturday’s ACTO show. The family regularly travels weekends to perform. With his summer break starting next week, the Irbys will be traveling more often, including a competitive performance in Memphis.
Meanwhile, Irby says he’s made the transition from being the novelty of a young boy performing as Elvis to creating a full show as a young man performing as Elvis. All part of his continuing steps to make his tribute performances his career.
Alzheimer’s Caregiver Time-Out presents Austin Irby in “Elvis is in the Building,” 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1, Mathis City Auditorium, 2300 N. Ashley St. Ticket: $20, call (229) 245-9094; or 563-2435; or 251-4361, or visit Pammy Cakes Bakery. An optional, pre-show meal also available, 4-6 p.m., for an additional $10. Proceeds benefit ACTO.