EXIT 196

Dozens of travelers leave I-40 at Exit 196 everyday, some to visit friends and family, others for fuel and or refreshment. They all have a story to tell and every week we will share a tale or two that we heard at Exit 196.

Every summer in mid- August, thousands of fans from around the world gather in Memphis to remember and celebrate the life and music of Elvis Presley during the city’s annual event, Elvis Week.

Last week after making their pilgrimage to Memphis, many homeward bound fans heading east on I-40 took advantage of the fuel stations, facilities and restaurants available to weary road travelers at Exit 196.

Elvis Week 2009 (August 8-16) included concerts, dances, sporting events and various charitable fund-raisers. This year to mark the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ return to the Las Vegas stage , Elvis Week also featured a concert that reunited cast members from Elvis’ 1969 Las Vegas shows. Another special event this year, “Conversations on Elvis – The King’s Friends Share Their Stories” gave fans the opportunity to hear first hand accounts from some of the talented musicians and pickers who played on the 1969 American Studio hit making session that produced ,some of Elvis’ most memorable tunes( such as, “In The Ghetto,” Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain ) Members of the studio band known as the Memphis Boys shared their memories of working with Elvis during his landmark recording session.

However, it was Graceland’s annual Candlelight Vigil, that provided the week’s most touching and memorable moments. On August 15th thousands of fans waited all day to enter Graceland. The vigil that started at dusk lasted throughout the night. All the attendees at the memorial service were given the opportunity to pay their respects to Elvis and to visit his grave. Torch bearing fans, carrying candles lit from the eternal flame that burns at his grave created a vast sea of light, that according to one torch bearer “illuminated the Memphis night all the way to heaven.”

After departing Memphis, a group that included four generations of Elvis fans stopped at Exit 196 Tuesday afternoon. Catherine, a “fifty-something” physical education teacher from Portland Maine said her mother introduced her to the music of Elvis when she was a very young girl, “My mom is from the Elvis generation, she really loved him from the beginning, she took me to see all of his movies, he was so cute and handsome, how could you not love him? I listened to my Elvis records with my daughter before she even started school and now her second grader knows most of his songs by heart. Ellie, is six and this year she sang “Hound Dog” at the Karaoke Sock-Hop. She was wearing a poodle skirt, she is a true Elvis fan. Our family belongs to the global Elvis family and we try to come to Memphis every year, for Elvis Week, like other people go to their family reunions.”

All of us at Exit 196 enjoyed our short visit with this family from Maine and we hope that when they return to Memphis next year, they will take time to stop and see us again so we can swap some more stories about Elvis.

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