It all started when local musician Hank Schyma, also known as Pecos Hank, heard it was Elvis’s birthday and he asked the owner of Avant Garden to come in and sing Elvis songs for the evening. Schyma had grown to love Elvis after living in Los Angeles and being exposed to The Sun Sessions by his roommate at the time.
He advertised it as Elvis’s birthday party and when he got to the gig with Will Van Horn on upright bass, a friend was there decked out in a Labyrinth-inspired David Bowie costume and she informed him that the two famous men shared a birthday.
A self professed “Elvis man”, Schyma didn’t know many Bowie songs but he and Van Horn were able to improvise “Suffragette City” and BowiElvis Fest was born. “It was fun, it was like a private party. We did it again the next year and the next year. We outgrew Avant Garden and we went to Fitzgerald’s. Then we outgrew Fitzgerald’s and I handed it over to Splice Records. Then they took it, and really made it was it is today,” says Schyma.
Schyma was introduced to Splice founder Shaun Brennan by mutual friend and Splice artist, Craig Kinsey. “He’s a mover and a shaker,” says Schyma of Brennan. “He makes things happen. He surrounds himself with great people that are competent and he loves what he does. He’s just so passionate and energetic about it and I think that is infectious.”
The Continental Club makes a perfect home for BowiElvis Fest and has enough space to accommodate all of the activities for the evening. “If you go in there are probably 20 to 30 different things that are shrines to Elvis. They’re kind of in a time warp there and this festival is also in a time warp so it’s a perfect mesh in that regard,” says Brennan.
BowiElvis Fest is a nonstop event and perfect for music lovers who like to bounce around as guests can go from the Continental Club to its smaller and connecting bar, Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge. Participating bands play a mix of Elvis and Bowie covers along with original songs.
“For me it’s fun and it’s an excuse to play covers. We are an original band that plays original music but it’s fun to pretend and go inside of Elvis’s skin for a little bit. Their songs are constantly played on the radio, so I don't think we're going to forget them anytime soon,” says Schyma.
The event, which has sold out the past two years, has no shortage of entertainment for the evening. This year will include face painting, live bands in both venues, burlesque performances by Houston’s own Dem Damn Dames, a costume contest, DJ Chaney spinning records in the spacious backyard and Splice Records regular, Mills McCoin serving as MC for the evening.
Every year Splice Records hunts down bands which they think would make a good fit and see it as an opportunity to highlight Houston’s local talent while celebrating world famous artists who helped shape rock and roll. This year will feature music by Nick Gaitan, Pecos Hank, The Cactus Flowers, Muddy Belle, Aaron Stephens, Antonio Eye, Dinner Party and Minor League.
“When I’m scouting out the bands I'm always thinking about who’s going to play a good Elvis, who’s going to play a good Bowie but also, who rocks around town. There’s going to be a good mashup of contemporary and modern but also some vintage rock and roll,” says Brennan.
“When I’m scouting out the bands I'm always thinking about who’s going to play a good Elvis, who’s going to play a good Bowie but also, who rocks around town."
“What makes BowiElvis so great is they’re so different, David Bowie and Elvis, yet they both seem to attract the same crowd. If you like both of them, you’re probably just a music lover and so the people that come out are just big Elvis fans, big Bowie fans, or both and they know all your music and they sing all your songs together. It’s just a fun party,” explains Schyma.
“It always gets a little bit wild and weird. The one thing I love about BowiElvis is the disparity of ages is from 21 to 81 and everything in between so I think you’ll be going to a concert where you’ll be hanging out with multiple, different generations. I’ve come to find out that people really miss rock and roll, people love to rock out. It's an event where I feel we are preserving rock and roll, “ says Brennan.
BowiElvis Fest will take place January 11 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 7 p.m. $20