Today in Rock n Roll History: “Syracuse Loves Elvis”

Elvis in Syracuse

On July 25th and July 27th, 1976, Elvis Presley appeared at two sell-out performances at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Though it was late in his career, Syracuse went crazy for the King. Unfortunately, these would be his first and only performances in the Salt City. He was set to play again the following year, on August 20th, but passed away four days earlier on August 16th.

Here’s Mike Holdridge’s review of the night from Syracuse Post-Standard, July 28th, 1976:

“The ‘King’ lives! Elvis Presley, displaying the same charisma, vocal range and showmanship which carried him to the throne of the ‘King of Rock ‘n Roll’ in the mid-50s, carried on an open love affair with more than 8,000 of his staunchest fans last night at War Memorial Auditorium. Playing to his second War Memorial sellout in three days, Presley was nothing less than dynamite as he crooned his way through a fine mixture of love songs and had ’em rockin’ in the aisles with the kind of tunes he does best. Clad in a baby blue and white suit with gold embroidery (and, yes, he does weigh more than he did in ’56), Presley came on stage to the dramatic strains of ‘The Theme From 2001’ and exited (under heavy security) 65 minutes later following Can’t Help Falling In Love. In between, a Syracuse-dominated audience fell in love with him. But then, after waiting 21 years for him to come to town and then waiting for untold hours to grab up the tickets to this originally announced concert, most of them were already in his corner before he stepped on stage.

A steady stream of flashbulbs illuminated the big hall as Presley moved through C.C. Rider and I Got A Woman, teasing the heavily-female audience with many of those no longer infamous ‘bumps’. The crowd joined in as Presley broke into Amen and then quieted as the Tupelo, MS. native switched to one of his biggest hits, Love Me. Presley got acquainted with the crowd early as Charlie Hodge, the only ‘scarf man’ in show business, provided him with a seemingly-endless flow of baby blue and white scarves. Presley draped them momentarily around his neck or wiped his thoroughly soaked brow and cast them into the audience. He might as well have been giving out $10 bills the way the recipients reacted.

Many in turn presented him with gifts – handmade items, clothing, yellow roses, etc. – and a few were rewarded with kisses from ‘The King’. Presley’s tremendous vocal range manifested itself in You Gave Me a Mountain and minutes later he had 8,400 Bicentennial-oriented men, women and children on their feet with a moving vocal and narrative rendition of America the Beautiful. He turned to a medley of his biggest hits – All Shook Up, Teddy Bear and Don’t Be Cruel – but got as much applause from songs he borrowed from Olivia Newton-John and Peggy Lee. Jailhouse Rock, another old favorite and Polk Salad Annie followed before Presley introduced the talented group of singers and musicians who back him up. The latter served as a rest period for Presley while at the same time providing the opportunity for solo spots for his guitarists, drummer and piano players.

Presley got in a few bars of Early Mornin’ Rain, What’d I Say?, Johnny B. Good and Love Letters during the instrumental solos and then brought the crowd to its feet with a stirring rendition of a former Timi Yuro hit Hurt, Elvis’ latest single. An encore performance of the latter plus a few short bars of Hound Dog brought Presley to the nostalgic How Time Slips Away and the crowd moved closer with the realization that the concert end was near. Telling the crowd that ‘You’ve been one of the finest audiences we ever worked with’, Presley said he’ll be back ‘if you want me’. A thunderous standing ovation followed, giving Presley his answer, and security men whisked him out of the building as a virtual sea of humanity closed in on the stage. Love live the ‘King’!”

Other reviews of the concert can be found here by Joan E. Vadeboncouer of the Syracuse Herald Journal and here by local music historian Ron Wray.

Photos from Elvis’ performance in July 1976:

Here’s a video of the performance via Nostalgic Syracuse:

Relive the concert with the (nearly) full set-list: