Elvis hits the road, entertaining aboard Strip show bus

Elvis shakes his hips, winding up for the big finish, and the top of the double-decker bus sways.

Diners on the patio at Mon Ami Gabi raise their cellphones in unison to capture visual proof of this only-in-Vegas sight: Elvis Presley performing atop an old, red London-stye double-decker bus as it travels the Strip.

Elvis, aka Steve Connolly, croons in perfect pitch to the packed house, so captivating the women that some reach out and grab his tush. The men seem equally enthralled. Connolly is cool and funny in his pristine white jumpsuit, red scarf and dazzling jewelry. His smile gleams so brightly, one can almost hear the sound of a Crest Whitestrip being peeled from his teeth.

And though he looks more like a cross between Jay Leno and Ray Romano than Elvis, Connolly’s got the moves and the sound of the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

"This guy is really good," says a passenger. "What’s he doing on a bus?"

Good question. To some, it may seem as though the Elvis tribute artist is clinging to the remnants of a once-successful Las Vegas career. According to Connolly, he’s controlling his own destiny.

Connolly moved from Boston to Las Vegas in 1996 to pursue a career as an Elvis tribute artist. A mimic since childhood, Connolly had already logged several years paying tribute to a variety of musical artists in Boston. Elvis was by far his best impersonation, and when he landed in Vegas, he quickly burned a path straight into headlining a showroom, first at Bally’s "Jubilee!" Theatre and then downtown at Fitzgeralds.

It was the typical story of the rise of a Las Vegas performing career: start out in bars, play the lounges, do some private gigs, get a showroom. By Vegas standards, at least for tribute artists, Connolly had reached the pinnacle.

Now, he is back to the grind. The extent of his Strip performances are conventions, private events and the Show Bus of the Stars.

What happened? How does a guy who gave up a successful music and art career back home go from the top of the Vegas tribute artist food chain back down to being bait?

"Obviously there have been changes," says Connolly, who cites four-walling and the economy as factors. A few years ago, instead of paying entertainers to perform in their showrooms, hotels started charging rent to the performers. For a while, Connolly was able to make it at Fitzgeralds with sponsors and a producer. Eventually, the marketing, promotion, rent, salaries and other expenditures became too much. He closed the show in 2006 after more than four years.

His then-producer, John Stewart, came up with the idea for a rolling stage. Connolly and other tribute artists could perform on the double-decker bus with the Strip serving as a backdrop. They would have only themselves to answer to, giving them more power over their destinies than ever before.

"You have to figure out how to adapt and overcome," Connolly says. "Every city has a paradigm; how does this model work? Rather than get uptight about it, pining about how it used to be, you can’t. You have to do what the Marines do: duck and cover."

And things have been going well. Connolly just played sold-out shows in Russia, performed on a cruise ship and made appearances in Mexico. He recently filmed a Doritos commercial, dressed as Elvis. It can be seen on YouTube.

But his chances of seeing the inside of a Vegas showroom as a performer decrease a bit every day. There was a time when it didn’t matter who you were in Las Vegas; so long as you had a great act, you got work and recognition, Connolly says. Now, resorts want well-known commodities.

Elvis and Vegas go hand-in-hand so Connolly knows there will be work for him in this town. But the husband and father of three knows he runs the risk of slipping into the obscurity that most tribute artists dwell in, where people know them only for whom they look or sound like. Rarely do they get top billing in their own names. And that is not all right with him.

"I think it’s perfectly OK for people to pursue that direction, but that’s not the direction I want," Connolly says. "I want to be known."

That has been his goal since he was a boy growing up in Worcester, Mass. One of seven sons, Connolly remembers the day of his 2-year-old brother’s funeral. He died of leukemia; Connolly lost three brothers to the disease. On the day of the funeral, he got down on his hands and knees and pulled sod away from his brother’s headstone so that it could be clearly seen.

"I was 12 and I remember saying, ‘I am not going to end up just a plaque in the ground.’ " Connolly says. "I want people to know I was here."

Connolly has become a dedicated Elvis fan over the years. But the fact that he is an Elvis tribute artist is purely a coincidence. He could sing and sound like Elvis. It was a role he played. Over the years, Connolly has been on countless auditions in Los Angeles and Vegas, but nothing seems to shake out. It always comes back to Elvis.

"I see myself as an artist who to a certain degree pursues what is right in front of him," Connolly says. "And I’m still doing it because it gives me the opportunity to perform. I’ve done other things, but the Elvis thing is always there."

While the bus is a good venue, Connolly is branching out into other areas. He has started merchandising, selling T-shirts and postcards featuring his likeness. And he would like a more permanent stage.

In an effort to stand out and possibly get a venue interested in him, he combined his art with his art. Connolly, who attended art school on a scholarship for a while, recently did a performance in which he sang Elvis songs and painted a 6-foot portrait of Elvis. In 15 minutes.

He got the idea when he was hired to play a corporate gig; he earned $2,000, while a guy who painted a replica of the "Mona Lisa" in 15 minutes was paid $10,000.

"I said, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ " Connolly recalls. "Now I’ve got to get it down to five minutes. We’re trying to get that into a showroom."

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Glittering Lights dazzles Las Vegas
The Glittering Lights holiday display is shining at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Mat Luschek/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Skybar at Waldorf Astoria lets you sip your way through Las Vegas history
Skybar At Waldorf Astoria Lets You Sip Your Way Through Las Vegas History (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stan Lee in Las Vegas for Madame Tussauds unveiling
Stan Lee Las Vegas speaks with the Review-Journal's Chris Lawrence about his love for his fans and shared universes. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ultimate Belgium Waffle Sundae at Lavo
Lavo at the Palazzo serves a 16-scoop ice cream sundae that costs $800. (Rochelle Ricahrds, Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip
A New Zip Line Is Opening On The Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel lLas Vegas Review-Journal)
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip
You'll need a keen eye to find this secret bar on the Las Vegas Strip (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"The Lion King" roars into Las Vegas
New music club 172 brings loud luxury to Las Vegas
New music venue at the Rio brings rock ’n’ roll and food together at intimate club. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fans fear for Zak Bagans’ safety in Las Vegas Halloween TV special
Fly Linq zip line time lapse
Fly Linq zip line timelapse
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Shaq opens Las Vegas restaurant, Big Chicken
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu
Robert Deniro And Chef Nobu Talk About The Success Of Nobu (Al Mancini Las Vegas Review-journal)
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center
Nevada Ballet Theatre rehearses for "Dracula" at The Smith Center (Janna Karel/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio, MGM Resorts International’s luxury hotel turns 20
The more than 3,000-room Bellagio hotel is situated on the site of the former Dunes Hotel. The Dunes was imploded in 1993, and construction of the Bellagio started in 1996. It cost $1.6 billion to build, making it the most expensive hotel in the world at the time. The Bellagio was former Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn’s second major casino on the Strip after The Mirage. MGM Resorts International acquired the property from Steve Wynn in 2000. (Tara Mack/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Recycled Art and Cute Dogs at Summerlin Festival Of Arts
Recycled Art, Cute Dogs Abound At Summerlin Festival Of Arts (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show
Bellagio Patisserie Creates Life-size Sculpture Of 20th Anniversary Of Cirque Du Soleil Show (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains
10 Most Iconic Moments At The Bellagio Fountains (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jason Aldean talks about the possibility of a Las Vegas residency
Country superstar Jason Aldean discusses his feelings about playing in Las Vegas and says he'd be interested in a Las Vegas residency when the time is right at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 21, 2018.(John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US
Block 16 Urban Food Hall Serves Favorite Foods From Across The US (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment
Benny the Skating Dog could be the next Golden Knights on-ice entertainment (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who To Watch At Life Is Beautiful
Life Is Beautiful Setup
Workers preparing Fremont street for this weekend's Life is Beautiful festival, on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The 46th annual Greek Food Festival will feed 25,000 people in Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip
Madame Tussauds Has The Newest VR Experience On The Strip. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zia Records Move
Zias Records is moving from its Sahara Avenue and Arville Street location to a bigger store. (Mat Luscheck/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies
Students At The International Contortion Convention In Las Vegas Learn How To Bend And Twist Their Bodies. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Video from Fertitta wedding Sep. 1
video from @wedstagrams of Fertitta wedding at Red Rock Resort
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas
You Can Get Vegan Unicorn Toast In Downtown Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like