Belfast Has Pride … and Elvis

By Dagney C. Ernest | Jun 07, 2017
The inaugural Belfast Has Pride parade hits the downtown intersection on its way to the waterfront.

Belfast — Hundreds of people showed up for the city’s inaugural Pride festival last year, the first in Midcoast Maine. Belfast Has Pride is back — “Has” because Northern Ireland’s capital lays claim to Belfast Pride — Saturday, June 10. The LGBT-positive day begins with a colorful parade from the high school to the waterfront … and rocks towards conclusion with a blast from the past.

Jessi Mallory’s Elvis Presley tribute act has been making the rounds in Waldo County of late; last month, she brought The King to the Country Fest in Brooks. The 30-something Mallory, who lives in Milford, has recently seen her onetime “hobby gig” become a full-time calling. It’s been a long time coming.

“When I was about 4, my mom gave me my first Elvis record, and I was hooked, just looking at the picture on the cover,” she said a week before the Belfast fest.

The contents of that record enchanted the young Mallory, too. She said she has been training her voice to the Presley sound ever since and has been performing professionally as Elvis for the last 10 to 15 years.

“I was a huge fan and it all kind of happened by accident,” she said. “I dressed up as Elvis one Halloween and I spray-dyed my hair black and people went, whoa, that’s crazy!”

It’s no accident that Mallory is a success as a musician. Before the recent Elvis takeover, she “did a lot of my own stuff,” writing songs and performing as a singer/songwriter.

“I went around and did shows all through the state and into Boston and all over the place,” she said. “That went pretty well for me.”

But her Elvis act always got a different kind of notice. She said she realized that people were more willing to pay for a novelty act than for original music.

“So I kind of had to follow the money trail on that one. But I really do enjoy it. I’ve always entertained,” she said.

And Mallory is seriously devoted to Presley and his music. She specializes in “1950s Elvis,” and has the gold jacket to prove it. She plays guitar live to quite a few songs, and has professional backing tracks from Nashville and Memphis studios for others.

“They tried to recreate the sound from the actual recording studios that Elvis recorded in, to give that feel, so it’s a big sound and a full band — it’s just on a laptop,” she said.

The look of early Elvis is evoked by costumes she researches and then acquires in a variety of ways. A few she has had custom-made; others come from online sources that serve the tribute artist community.

“My mom has made a few of my outfits,” said Mallory. “But I like to just hunt around thrift shops and stuff to get the real deal!”

And the real deal is what Mallory delivers in her performances, despite the “luck of the draw” that makes her one of the few women among the many Elvis tribute artists.

“I thought, you know, what a pretty looking man, I wonder if I could pull that off,” she said of that first tribute artist inkling. “Being a girl, I’ve had my share of fighting to get to where I am.”

And she’s gotten pretty far; not long ago, she placed in the Top 6 of an Elvis tribute competition in Toronto, “which was pretty good … and surprising!”

She said her mostly fellow Elvis tribute artists have almost never treated her anything but well. When it comes to competitions, most don’t see her as a threat. When it comes to performing in competition, however, the audiences don’t know she’s a woman ahead of time.

“Once I’m on stage, it’s Elvis’ personality and look — right down to the sideburns. So when they find out afterwards, they’re pretty surprised,” she said.

And people who do know are also surprised, and have come up to her after the show to tell her so.

“I’ve had people come to my show and say, 'Look, I wasn’t going to come here. My friend told me that you were a female and I was on the fence about it, but I’m so glad that I came,'” she said. “The whole gender thing, they forget about it and fall in love with it!”

Mallory’s love for Elvis Presley and his music runs deep. When she books a performance date, she often does research online and in her collection of references to see if Elvis performed on that date and if so, what was the set list and what he wore. Last month’s Country Fest was a tribute to TV’s “Louisiana Hayride,” and Mallory’s set reflected that. The next event in the Brooks Concert Series, Saturday, June 17, is fashioned after Woodstock and Mallory will be back, in ‘70s Elvis mode.

“If you’re going to do a tribute to Elvis, you gotta dress up like Elvis,” she said. “Primarily, I do ‘50s Elvis, but if it’s requested or like in Brooks, at the Woodstock festival, I’ll be doing ‘70s Elvis,” she said.

And it wasn’t just The King who was a bit heavier in the 1970s. His performance outfits were weightier, too.

“The belt itself is a good eight pounds! And then you get the cape on and you have to keep from falling backwards,” Mallory said. “It’s quite the balancing act!”

 

Mitzi Lichtman Scholarship

A new scholarship will be given to a Waldo County LGBTQ+ youth age 13 to 19 with demonstrated financial need.

Belfast Has Pride organizers said they intentionally made the parameters inclusive of a wider age range because LGBTQ+ youth are exponentially more likely to experience homelessness and/or be more independent in their living situation; LGBTQ+ youth may need help with living expenses; and “we didn't want to create a scholarship for students specifically going to college because that narrative isn't for all students.”

The scholarship is named after Mitzi Lichtman, who died in January; she had led local and statewide LGBTQ+ grassroots efforts.

“She was dearly loved by many, which is even more real as we receive donations to the scholarship fund in her honor,” said Makayla Reed. “This year we will be giving away $500 to a graduating senior at Belfast Area High School.”

For Belfast Has Pride, Mallory will be sticking with the ‘50s Elvis. Her set will have all the staples, she said, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Jail House Rock” and “all the ones he’s really, really well known for.”

“It’s funny how many songs you can fit into 30 minutes! In those days, your average song was like two minutes and 30 seconds, so I can get 20, 25 songs into one show,” she said.

The performance will begin with Melissa Marlowe, a Lewiston-based performer who has opened some half a dozen recent shows for Mallory.

“When she opens for my show, she sings like Patsy Cline and Connie Francis, kind of the same 1950s, ‘60s-era music,” said Mallory. “She’s got a great voice and she fits right in, but she can also do more modern stuff.”

Mallory has taken her Elvis tribute to Windsor, Ontario; Toronto; Boston and Providence, and she said she’d like to be able to get out of state a little more and play some bigger venues.

“Traveling Maine is great, because there are so many Elvis fans here! I’d like to venture out and do some bigger stuff, but for right now, the state’s keeping me pretty busy,” she said.

To keep tabs on which buildings Elvis will enter next, visit jessimallory.com and her jessimallory page on Facebook.

Belfast Has Pride 2017 schedule

Those interested in being in the Belfast Has Pride parade should gather at Belfast Area High School by the 8:30 a.m. lineup. At 9 a.m., the parade will depart for its march downtown and down to the waterfront. Around 10 a.m., after everyone arrives at Steamboat Landing Park, Front Street at the foot of Commercial, there will be a few speeches, recognition of the parade marshals and awarding of the Belfast Has Pride scholarship (see sidebar), followed by a full day of family-friendly fun, including free haircuts, face-painting, a bounce house, photo booth, volleyball, soccer and other activities.

Providing a soundtrack for the Belfast Has Pride Festival will be DJ Denis from 10 a.m. to noon; the Maine Gay Men’s Chorus from noon to 1 p.m.; electronic ambient music by Quantum from 1 to 2 p.m.; Mallory’s show, opened by Marlowe, from 2 to 3 p.m.; and Karaoke with Marissa from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

After a supper break, the fest will end with an all-ages dance party from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Belfast Dance Studio, 109 High St. The dance is free to the public, but donations will be accepted to support Pride planning efforts in 2018. Water will be available to purchase; non-water beverages and snacks are not permitted on the dance floor.

For more information on Belfast Has Pride, visit its Facebook page or email belfasthaspride@gmail.com.

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