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For the first time in 25 years, a July in Collingwood without Elvis Presley

'Who am I without Elvis?' Former Collingwood Elvis Festival organizer feels a void without her usual hectic July

For the first time in 23 years, the last weekend in July will be a quiet one for Rosemarie O’Brien.

And for Collingwood.

It’s Collingwood Elvis Festival weekend, or it was for 25 years.

The world's largest Elvis Festival came to an end in 2019, and no private enterprise picked it up for 2020. Though it would have been cancelled due to COVID if they did.

“I feel like something is missing,” said O’Brien.

She was the organizer of the event, and though she worked on planning it all year, July was particularly hectic.

“I can’t say I haven’t been thinking about it,” she said. “It was a very large part of my working life. I was involved for 23 years. Who am I without Elvis? You have to find yourself all over again.”

O’Brien was a queen in a world of festivals for the King; in fact she was called a “King Maker.” So it’s no surprise she’s got a few invitations from Collingwood Elvis Festival fans this weekend.

“There’s still fans coming up here this weekend,” noted O’Brien.

She got a lunch invitation from a former competition judge who purchased a timeshare in the area because of the Collingwood Elvis Festival. Since it was pre-paid, the former judge decided to use it for a visit.

Another festival goer is also travelling to Collingwood for a week’s stay and reached out to O’Brien to get together and reminisce.

A local is having a small Elvis gathering in her backyard.

“I see the comments, like ‘I would have been packing today,’ and ‘I miss it,’ and it hurts my heart in that respect because so many people enjoyed it so much,” said O’Brien.

But it’s not all sad.

“It’s bittersweet … I don’t know whether I should thank Elvis or the town, because it would have been so hard to reschedule an entire festival due to COVID,” she said. “As much as I get a little sentimental … we at least got out at the right time, if there was a right time.”

COVID shutdowns, however, have made it even harder for Collingwood Elvis Fans, who not only have to deal with missing the local event, but other festivals - Niagara Falls and Tweed have been cancelled.

“It’s a hard transition,” said O’Brien.

Inevitably, she often gets asked if she thinks the festival will come back to Collingwood.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” she said. “I just tell them never give up hope, you never know.’”

She said she doesn’t know if the Collingwood Elvis Festival could have survived another five to ten years, but she’s looking to the other Elvis festivals to “carry on the legacy that Collingwood started.”

“Hope runs eternal, as they say.”

Town council decided in 2019 to fund one more town-run Collingwood Elvis Festival, the 25th anniversary event, in July 2019 and then turn the festival over to private operators if they were interested.

The town did receive three special event permit applications from operators hoping to host the Collingwood Elvis Festival in the future, but in all cases talks between the town and the applicant ended without an event permit being issued. Even before COVID hit, it was clear there would be no 2020 Collingwood Elvis Festival.

O’Brien is still getting a little bit of her Elvis fix this year as festivals coordinator for Collingwood’s parks, recreation and culture department. She has been hosting a virtual series for the town called Re:Event, which revisits events in town that have been popular and how event organizers are reinventing the event for the future.

Her guest recently was Memphis Jones, who was the recurring host for Collingwood Elvis Festival performance events and the tribute artist competition. He was also a performer at the festival. He was on Re:Event to talk about his involvement in Jazz and Blues at the Station.

O’Brien has also been working on ways to implement a busking program in some fashion this year, and has been part of the team putting together a video series featuring local buskers.

“I’m keeping quite busy, and doing mighty fine here,” O’Brien said from her home office.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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