Elvis impersonator gets things all shook up in Ilwaco

Lee Birchfield, 21, does his Elvis impersonation at the newly reopened Sunset Tavern in Ilwaco. CHRIS NIELSEN photo

ILWACO - What started out as a childhood fascination has turned into a career for Lee Birchfield, a local Elvis impersonator who is getting things all shook up in Ilwaco at the newly reopened Sunset Tavern.

Every Friday and Saturday night since late November, Birchfield, 21, has entertained crowds at the tavern with his lively performances.

Not only does Birchfield have Elvis' looks and moves, but has his singing voice - so much so that several times he has had to prove to audiences that he is not just moving his mouth to pre-recorded songs.

"I just like the guy," said Birchfield. "He is someone as a kid I could look up to, even though he wasn't alive by then. I just like his personality."

Birchfield claims to be more of a 50s and 60s era Elvis impersonator, minus the flashy leisure suits, but he still includes Elvis songs spanning his entire career, which ended with his untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42.

Birchfield, who currently resides in Ilwaco, said it was his parents who first got him interested in Elvis when he was growing up.

"They just really liked him a lot and listened to him all the time," he said. "I started playing in clubs at the age of 13 in Vancouver."

By the age of 15, Birchfield knew he had found his niche as an Elvis impersonator and continued performing in Palm Springs after his family had moved to California. At 18 he was playing in clubs in Las Vegas, Nev. and Laughlin, Nev., where he got the chance to share the stage with 50s superstars, The Coasters.

"It was all I did at the time and how I supported myself," he said. "Then I got a job as an extra in the movie '3,000 Miles to Graceland,' with Kurt Russell in April of 2000."

According to Birchfield, he heard about auditions for being in the movie through his dad and proceeded to go to Las Vegas, where he and around 100 other Elvis impersonators landed parts as extras in the movie. He described the experience as "a lot of fun" as well as an opportunity to work with other Elvis impersonators. The scene he was in, which is shown at the beginning of the movie, took three days to shoot.

Following his appearance in "3,000 Miles to Graceland," Birchfield continued to perform in clubs in Palm Springs, San Bernadino and other California cities, but then decided to head back to Washington by late 2001. He ended up in Vancouver, where he was able to continue performing as an Elvis impersonator. He also performed in LaCenter, where friends, Steve and Sherry Franks worked at the LaCenter Tavern. It was the Franks who purchased the Sunset Tavern in Ilwaco last November.

According to Birchfield, he sees himself as unique due to his career choice as an Elvis impersonator, but at the same time no different than anybody else. He said that entertaining people around him and making them happy gives him a lot of satisfaction.

"There are a lot people surprised by finding an Elvis impersonator in Ilwaco," he said. "It's been a really good response, though. I like Washington, and feel like I am back home now. I am planning on being here as long as I can."

Birchfield said he plans to continue learning more Elvis songs and further his career as an Elvis impersonator indefinitely.

Birchfield performs every Friday and Saturday night at the Sunset Tavern around 10 p.m. His performances take place in between karaoke. The tavern is located at 110 First Avenue South in downtown Ilwaco.

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