By Linda Sickler/SMN
It’s time for a trip down memory lane to the days when Elvis Presley was alive and swinging.
On Sept. 3, the Tybee Post Theater will stand in for a Las Vegas nightclub as Russ Lanier and his Dream Team Band present“Down at the End of Lonely Street,” a musical extravaganza with a full nine-piece band complete with horns and backup vocalists.
Lanier himself will portray a convincing Elvis, an act he’s perfected over time.
“In the past probably six years, we’ve done a big stage show called ‘Viva Las Vegas.’” Lanier says. “We have kind of tailored it down and called it ‘Down at the End of Lonely Street,’ a two-set show; one in black leather and one with the early concert Elvis from 1970 to 1971.”
No humorous Elvis parody played for laughs, this is a tribute to The King from one of his biggest fans.
“I wouldn’t wear a jumpsuit for a long time,” Lanier says. “I’ve always done the younger Elvis. I had long, curly hair and it was easy for me.”
A certified public accountant by day, Lanier knows all of the songs Elvis performed.
“There are about 52 to 55 songs that I want to do every show, which is too many,” he says. “The most I’ve done in one show is 35, although I usually do 27. There are always a few fans who ask why I didn’t do that one song they love most of all.”
With 12 band members, including five horns, as well as seven backup singers, there can be as many as 20 people on stage at one time.
“I’ve also used dancers in the past,” Lanier says. “It is a very Christian-based group.
“I’m a past worship leader at First United Methodist Church in Statesboro. One of the shows we’ve done in the past was all gospel music with a quartet.”
The one thing all Dream Team members share is a love for Elvis and performing his music.
“There was only one Elvis and we don’t try to out-Elvis Elvis,” Lanier says. “We take it very seriously.
“We do it the same way he did, whether it’s the live version or the concert version. We do it seriously and sincerely.”
While Lanier has done the big band show for about six 1/2 years, he has been entertaining audiences as Elvis for many years throughout the Southeast.
“I’ve done some shows with the Miss Georgia pageant circuit,” he says. “I’ve done local entertainment throughout the region.”
After raising funds, Lanier was able to bring the band together.
“We’ve traveled all over Southeast Georgia and gone up to Nashville,” he says. “We performed some showcases in Nashville.
“We kind of sit ready to go and could go somewhere every week and love it,” Lanier says. “We all have day jobs, so we do this part-time.”
In addition to performing, Lanier has written a children’s book, “The Caterpillar Cowboy.”
“I dedicated it to my wife and daughter,” he says. “It was published in 2012 and republished a year ago.
“It’s the first book in a three-part series. Finding time to follow through right now is more time than I can dedicate to it.
“I don’t bring records and T-shirts to concerts to sell,” Lanier says. “I bring my books to sell and will probably bring some to Tybee.”
Lanier has loved Elvis’ music his whole life.
“My siblings were much older than me,” he says. “I grew up in a house where Elvis was always on the record player.
“By this time, he was no longer the 1950s Elvis, he was the 1960s Elvis. He was already the jumpsuit Elvis.
“My mother loved Elvis,” Lanier says. “I started singing a lot in church and sang in high school and college. I learned to sing by putting my voice with Elvis and B.J. Thomas.”
By that time, Elvis was wildly popular.
“Every guy wanted to be Elvis and every girl wanted Elvis to be theirs,” Lanier says. “My most favorite song is ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’
“We are doing so many of his songs that I love in this current run. So many of his songs are so passionate.”
His Elvis shows often sell out.
“Probably the most surprised I’ve ever been was when we did a show in Millen four years ago,” Lanier says. “We had no idea how many people would show up.
“It was a 500-seat venue, and some of the older seats had no bottoms, yet every seat was filled.
“When we did the ‘American Trilogy’ at the end of the first set, people were crying,” he says. “They all stood up and it was probably one of most moving things I’ve seen.”
“Amazing Grace” also gets a big reaction.
“These are the songs that mean so much to people,” Lanier says. “If he was alive, Elvis would be 81 years old.
“It is 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds who are the first ones to buy seats on the front row,” he says. “But young kids love Elvis, too.”
Lanier is looking forward to playing the Tybee Post Theater.
“The stage there is beautiful,” he says. “It’s similar to the Emma Kelly stage in Statesboro.
“We won’t have quite the same number of performers as usual. We will cut back on the horns and singers, but it won’t diminish the show at all.”
Lanier’s only regret is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to perform.
“I wish I had more time and energy to devote to this,” he says. “Everybody wants to be Elvis.
“When you watch something and study it and study it and love it and love every little nuance of every song, you’re hooked. The band is phenomenal.
“They’re good enough, they can play with anyone,” Lanier says. “They’re probably better at what they do than what I’m doing.”
One of the reasons for the success of the group is because it’s different, Lanier says.
“Our group is the only group I’m aware of that has a ready-to-go 10- to 19-piece band at any time,” he says. “We could go to New York, Las Vegas or Atlanta next week.
“There is a stigma with Elvis-type acts because everybody does it. This is serious business for us.
“We’re professionals, but this is not what we do for a living,” Lanier says. “We’re willing and ready and I regret we don’t have the opportunity to go more places and do it.”
Lanier promises the Tybee show will be rocking.
“There will be black leather involved,” he says. “We’ll probably have some form of different attire for the second set.
“We try to be very respectful,” Lanier says. “I hope the audience responds and appreciates that.”
IF YOU GO
What: Russ Lanier and his Dream Team Band present “Down at the End of Lonely Street”
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 3
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $25 or $22.50 for members
Info: www.tybeeposttheater.org, 912-472-4790