Rock ‘n’ roll in the city of Elvis Presley’s birth this month.
It’s true, most people visit Tupelo, Mississippi for Elvis. He was born January 8 in a two-room house on what is now deemed Elvis Presley Drive. He grew up in Tupelo, was exposed to gospel music at the Assembly of God Church, heard blues in the Shake Rag community there and had his first public performance at age 10 standing on a chair in a youth talent contest at the Tupelo Fairgrounds.
For Elvis lovers, a pilgrimage to Tupelo is a must and there’s no better time than to mark what would have been his 80th birthday. For those who appreciate Elvis and may want to learn more about his life, Tupelo can offer that too, along with great restaurants, live music and a preserved downtown that will take you back to Elvis’s childhood.
A trip to Tupelo should start at the Elvis Presley Birthplace, where you can walk through that two-room wood house, experience an interactive service in Elvis’s childhood church and tour a museum with artifacts and memorabilia from his life. The attraction is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. On January 8, Elvis’s Birthday Celebration starts at 9 a.m. with cookies and drinks; his birthday cake will be cut at 1 p.m. On January 9, the birthplace will present Davis Lee as Elvis and special guest Tara Kay as Reba at 8 p.m.
The city of Tupelo is also holding its own three-day celebration of Elvis’s birthday with a movie singalong at The Link Center on Thursday, a special exhibit with official Graceland artist Betty Harper at the Gum Tree Museum of Art, a concert with country star Eric Church at the BanCorp South Arena and Elvis music and a special dessert during the food truck roundup on Friday. Saturday night the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra brings the music of Elvis to life with the help of fan and Grammy Award-winner Richard Marx at the BanCorp Arena, and Tupelo Community Theatre will be performing “Graceland” all weekend.
No tour of Tupelo is complete without a stop at Tupelo Hardware to see the spot where Elvis got his first guitar. Walk right in and an employee will greet you asking if you want to hear the Elvis guitar story. The answer is “yes” of course, and you’ll learn that his mother, Gladys Presley, brought her son to the hardware store in January of 1945 to buy him a birthday present. According to Mr. Bobo who worked there at the time and documented the memory in a 1979 letter, Elvis wanted a rifle but his mother talked him into a guitar instead. Elvis strummed the instrument first before his mother paid $7.75 for a gift that would make musical history. Be sure to take your photo in the exact spot Elvis stood, marked with an “X” on the worn wood floor by the front counter.
Where to Sleep
The brand-new Holiday Inn & Suites on North Gloster Street is centrally located with avante garde decor, free wifi and an impressive cocktail bar installation that rises several stories high. Take advantage of the hotel’s special Elvis Extravaganza Package, which includes two adult Grand Tour Tickets to see Elvis’ Birthplace, his Childhood Church and the Elvis Presley Museum, plus breakfast for two and an upgrade to a suite.
Where to Eat
Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen downtown specializes in burgers, salads, wraps and tacos named after musicians from Howlin Wolf to Britney Spears. Elvis fans will want to order the Elvis Aaron burger with ground brisket, pickled onions, quick pickles, cilantro, feta cheese and ponzeyella sauce, but we recommend the R.L. Burnside tacos with salmon, basil, Romaine lettuce, chow chow, feta cheese and lemon sour cream. For a more upscale dining experience, visit South Restaurant just down the street from the Holiday Inn. Soul, Creole and lowcountry cooking are served up in a former Waffle House that’s been redone with beautiful upholstered decor in a nod to the city’s furniture market.
Where to Shop
Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore downtown is a must-stop for Southern lit fans (the store also has an Elvis section), along with Reed’s Department Store and The Caron Gallery for local art. You can also take home your own guitar from Tupelo Hardware for the ultimate Elvis pilgrimage souvenir.
All photos by Deep South, expect for Holiday Inn Bar from hotel website.
Thanks to Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau and Jennie Bradford Curlee for hosting Editor Erin Z. Bass along with UK writer Cerith Mathias in August 2014. We spent a wonderful night in Tupelo at the Holiday Inn & Suites and certainly gained a new appreciation for Elvis.