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When Casco-based musician and entertainer Lee Birchfield is off-stage, he is a mild-mannered, humble guy who downplays his achievements as an Elvis Tribute Artist as well as being a gifted musician in his own right. But, when he takes the stage, look out. No matter the venue, his electrifying performances are usually standing-room only and, due to high demand, Birchfield is booked about three to four months in advance.
Thirty-six years after Elvis Presley's untimely death, Birchfield is carrying the torch of a tradition that has turned on generations of fans to "The King's" unique blend of rock 'n' roll, blues, gospel, and country that he pioneered.
Last Friday night, Birchfield's performance at Algoma's Stadium Diner offered another packed house the opportunity to listen and dance to his rich baritone voice and artful guitar work. They were not only treated to Elvis standards but Birchfield mixed it up a bit, showing his versatility as a musician, performing popular hits by other notable musicians as well.
Unlike a lot of other musicians known for their Elvis renditions, Birchfield sings, plays his own guitar and programs his own bass lines and drum beats--not relying on the back-up of a Karaoke machine for his performances. "In 2005, it was the first time I did my own one-man show and it has really turned out well, the crowd enjoys it, and it is danceable."
In 2011, he placed 17th in the world in the Ultimate Elvis Contest held in Memphis, Tennessee--home to The King's mansion, Graceland. It is a remarkable achievement for any Elvis Tribute Artist. "I did seven preliminaries that year and I placed in five of them...that's probably my biggest accomplishment in the 'Elvis World', Birchfield added.
Birchfield, whose father was a "diehard" Elvis fan, grew up around 50s and 60s rock 'n' roll, learning to play guitar as a teenager. But, it was not until the age of 15 that he began playing gigs at local Elks, Eagle, and Moose Lodges around the Pacific Northwest--mainly in Washington.
Birchfield had played major resorts in Palm Springs, California before he turned 20, resorts that include "The Spa Casino" and "Casino Morongo."
Elvis Tribute Artists, or ETAs, hold a special place in western popular culture, Birchfield said. He said that they help keep an era of rock 'n' roll embodied by Elvis Presley alive, an era that has both universal and multi-generational appeal.
"A lot of people who loved Elvis and who were younger then, it takes them back to a certain place in their lives and it also introduces younger people who weren't around then to his music, helping them get familiar with the music."
In 2000, Birchfield had a cameo in the motion picture "3,000 Miles to Graceland", filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 2004, Birchfield recorded his first CD titled "Disrupting Nature". Shortly afterward, he teamed up with Las Vegas promoter Gary Hansen and the team formed an eight-piece band called "The Xtroadinairs". The band performed a Vegas Era Elvis Presley Tribute Show over the next 14 months, performing more than 200 shows in 60 cities. Lee teamed up with "The Fabulous Fairlanes" in 2006 and 2007, performing at venues throughout the Northwest. In 2008, Birchfield became a fixture at the Parker House Restaurant and Lounge in Washougal, Washington, which would became his home, three nights a week for the next two years. Birchfield also managed a six-month contract at the Chopsticks Lounge, in Vancouver, at the same time.
After playing a number of shows at Green Bay's Oneida Casino as well as other local venues, Birchfield decided to call Kewaunee County his home and focus more on performing in the Midwest, he said. "The people are great out here," he added.
While Birchfield still dons his Elvis costumes for special events, charities and competitions, his solo repertoire also includes covers of songs by The Doors, The Beatles, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix--among many others.
Birchfield credits his almost jam-packed schedule and his energetic performances to his passion for playing music and his love for entertaining crowds of people. "I don't ever want to stop doing what I'm doing...as long as I can do something I love and make people happy doing it, I'm happy making a living doing what I'm doing."
Tickets are currently on sale for Lee Birchfield's performance on Sunday, December 1st, from 1-4 p.m. at Stadium Diner located in Algoma. Birchfield also currently has three CDs available for sale at Stadium Diner: "Disrupting Nature", "Indescribably Blue", and "Just Pretend". For more information, Stadium Diner is located at 205 Navarino Street in Algoma and can be reached at 920.487.9788.
Lee Birchfield can also be found on Facebook.