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CONCERT DATE: September 4 1976 (2:30 pm). Lakeland FL.

"E" for Elvis, Exciting!
by Jim DeGennaro
Lakeland Ledger

Sitting in a jammed auditorium knowing that Elvis Presley has just stepped from his limousine and is approaching the stage can only be likened to sitting on a beach somewhere just before a thunderous tidal wave crashes down. That kind of anxious anticipation followed by an inevitable sea of screams greeted the "The King" 20 years ago when he was in the process of proving he was just not a passing fad in tight blue jeans and it happened all over again Saturday at the Lakeland Civic Center Arena where Elvis, his appeal no longer mystifying, sang for more than 16000 fans during two sold-out shows.

The pandemonium which welled-up just before Presley's 2.30PM performance (and again at the 8.30PM show) actually began quite softly as women of all ages hurriedly reached for their cosmetic cases and hair brushes for some last-second primping before the arrival of their darling Elvis. Then the house lights dimmed and the orchestra played the theme song from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." At that instant, everyone in the Civic Center (and for all the screaming, probably folks sitting at the ABC Lounge on South Florida Avenue a mile away) knew Elvis was among them at last.

The drummer, Ronnie Tutt, started pounding an insistent rhythm, a spotlight focused on the rear of the stage, and Elvis slowly climbed the steps surrounded by his bodyguards and stepped out with that copyrighted dreamy look in his eyes to the shrieks and shouts of the ecstatic crowd. His wild entrance scene was in stark contrast to the world Presley and his back-up performers had just left at the Lakeland-Hilton Hotel at Interstate 4 and US 98 where they had been staying since late Wednesday.

Lt. Chuck Keeney, who headed an off-duty sheriff's department security force stationed at the hotel, calmly roamed the corridors between floors looking for persons intent on crashing Elvis' fourth-floor suite just before show time. Keeney found no trouble, only road show entertainers walking leisurely to their rooms to dry off and dress after a dip in the hotel's pool. "We've had no problems containing fans this year," the veteran detective said. "People have been very cooperative and the entire Presley group is very well-mannered and polite - they're not like some rock groups that like to tear up the place."

Indeed it was quiet. Even Stamps Quartet leader J.D. Sumner, who was born and reared in Lakeland, didn't have to turn away fans as he dried his hair and slipped into his black show suit. "You know, I was born in a quiet little house Missouri Avenue near where we're playing, and it seems so strange to return there and find thousands of people waiting to see us perform," the 51-year-old Sumner said. "My home is now in Nashville, but I like to come back to Lakeland because I still have folks living here - like my mother."

Sumner, who claims to have the lowest bass voice in the world, left Lakeland when he was 19 and began his 30-year gospel singing career with the Sunny Side Quartet in Tampa. Since then he's done well with his eighth grade education. Sumner sang in numerous gospel groups, including the famous Blackwood Brothers of Memphis, before he teamed his Stamps Quartet with the Elvis road show five years ago. And the deep-voiced entertainer enjoys a personal relationship with Elvis that goes a lot further than their on-stage comradeship.

"I sang at the funeral for Elvis' mother and I used to sneak him into Blackwood Brother concerts because at the time he didn't have much money," Sumner said. "Elvis is a real decent human being." Elvis has repaid Sumner many times over for his early days of generosity. All four of [...] diamond rings he wears on his fingers were presents from his friend, "The Big E."

It seemed befitting then, that for his homecoming, Sumner and Stamps Quartet should lead off both the matinee and the evening show. The other members of his group, Ed Enoch, Larry Strickland, Ed Hill and Pat Brown belted upbeat renditions of the popular gospel songs My First Day in Heaven, Operator and Gone at Last before Sumner joined them for a rousing remake of When the Saints Go Marching In.

Next came comedian Jackie Kahane, who had a caricature of Mickey Mouse stitched on his jeans and who drew numerous bursts of laughter from the audience for his parodies on Elvis, the concert-goers, teenagers and marriage.

Fast stepping music filled the auditorium again when a trio of soul sisters called The Sweet Inspirations too the stage after Kahane. Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia sang and gyrated to popular tunes which included Silly Love Songs, Sophisticated Lady and their hit Sweet Inspiration. The lights went up, and a 20-minute intermission that seemed to last a lifetime passed before the swivel-hipped King of Rock 'n' Roll made his grand entrance. The lead groups were back on the stage when Presley appeared, grinning like a 20-year-old filled with mischief.

Slinging a guitar around him like he had just stepped out on the stage of the Ed Sullivan show many years ago, Elvis reached deep inside his 41-year-old and perfectly good looking body (ask any lady admirer) and let loose into rocker C.C. Ryder. He immediately began rotating his world famous hips, much to the delight of screaming women who poured into the aisles and rushed the stage for the first of their many charges. Shedding the guitar after his stirring I've Got a Woman, Elvis began taking scarves from his assistant, Charlie, wearing them for a few moments, maybe wiping his brow, before tossing them to some lucky woman. Every once-in-a-while, "The Pelvis" would lean down and kiss a fan, an act that brought more screaming females to the edge of the stage, hoping for some of the same.

Presley, who was decked out in a powder-blue jumpsuit with [...] in a peacock design for the first show, [...] with a thumb hooked in a front pants pocket and watch the security personnel try to clear the stage area. The guards had a rough time of it, but when they did manage to push the crowd of women away from the stage, they were awarded with applause from patrons who had remained in their seats and who were glad to see the wall of wailers out of their line of sight.

About the time Elvis began singing Don't Be Cruel, young girls sitting in back of the stage began throwing roses and panties onto the stage. Elvis smirked and tossed a few scarves their way, which only increased their fervor. Elvis, who looked healthy and enthused, settled down a bit after that by letting his still rich and full voice take control of Love Me Tender and America the Beautiful. To them he added Jailhouse Rock and Polk Salad Annie to remind the audience of his roots imbedded deep in Southern blues and rock 'n' roll.

His lead guitar player, James Burke, stole the stage for a few minutes as he placed his guitar behind his head and picked through the rock standard Johnny B. Goode. Elvis also sang Love Letters, I'm Sorry and probably the most popular of his many hits, Hound Dog, before he slipped into the goose bump maker I Can't Help Falling in Love with You.

He sang the song tenderly and lovingly, and most of the audience knew that this would be his final number. One last charge on the stage was made by open-mouthed women and a bra was tossed on stage. Elvis placed the bra to his eyes before walking off to thunderous applause and his antics helped relieve some of the obvious sorrow seen in some of his prettier fans. They simply did not want their idol "The King" to leave. He did, though, after a two-hour show that left the people in the auditorium thoroughly entertained. About the only ruffled person around was Capt. L.J. Wood of the Civic Center's security force. it seems that a young woman, in her mad drive to reach Elvis, bit his decorative captain's bar off his shoulder. "I was afraid she was going to swallow the darn thing," Capt. Wood said. "I've seen all kinds of crowds, but this probably takes the cake - it was worse than a rock concert trying to keep these people off the stage."

Outside the Civic Center groups of women gathered to discuss the show they had just seen, and no one seemed to be disappointed in the entertainer who has been singing and swinging for two decades. "It was lovely. It was wonderful, just lovely," said Lakeland housewife Jean Bridges. "Elvis looked better than last year - he looks younger every time I see him." "Elvis gets better with age," said Jessie O'Kane, another life-long Elvis fan.

About the only person found who didn't run a string of appreciative adjectives together about Elvis was Glenda Woods of Lake Wales. The 35-year old supermarket cashier was too busy crying tears of joy. "He's everything I dreamed he would be and more," she sobbed. "There's nobody quite like Elvis."

Courtesy of Scott Hayward