COLUMBIANA COUNTY FAIR Elvis impersonator: I prefer act my way
Variety acts and Elvis tributes are featured nightly at the fair.
BY VERONICA GORLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LISBON -- It's not easy being "The King."
As an Elvis impersonator, Brian Brenner encounters crazed Elvis fans and even crazier impersonators, and he said it's hard to make a living merely by impersonating Elvis.
"It's a double-edged sword," Brenner said of performing as Elvis. "We get hired because of Elvis, but it's not enough to keep us going."
Brenner performs variety acts and Elvis routines as a part of "The Brian Brenner Show," which includes Brenner on vocals, Rodney Johnson on drums and vocals and Brenner's wife, Becky, on lights, sound and vocals.
The group performs four times a day Wednesday through Sunday at the Columbiana County Fair.
The variety show -- a mixture of oldies, country and comedy -- will be at 4, 6 and 7:30 p.m. on the Midway stage, and the Elvis tribute nightly at 9 p.m.
What he's seen: Brenner, who hails from Dayton, has seen some strange sights during his 20-year career as a touring performer and Elvis impersonator.
"For the most part, Elvis fans are down-home people who are family-oriented and think Elvis was a well-mannered, good old country boy, in spite of his declining years," Brenner said.
"But every once in awhile, you still get a fan that still thinks Elvis is alive. They eat, sleep, drink Elvis. They come in all shapes and sizes and forms."
Brenner added that some fans bring their kids dressed up as Elvis to his shows.
"We always get asked if I think Elvis is still alive," Brenner said. "I answer an emphatic 'no,' and people are surprised."
View on impersonators: He has entered local Elvis contests and sees impersonators who "kind of take it a little too far."
"There are impersonators running around thinking they're Elvis," he said. "When I'm on stage, I put myself in that Elvis mode. Off stage, I'm me. Others live that image too far."
Brenner believes that generally, Elvis impersonators are viewed from a comical point of view because there are too many bad impersonators saturating the market.
For that reason, he began performing variety shows and hopes not to be pinned as just another Elvis impersonator.
Brenner pointed out that younger generations aren't familiar with Elvis' performances.
"There's a lot of people out there who have never seen an Elvis concert or an Elvis movie, and they see an Elvis impersonator and think that's what Elvis was like."
Aiming for respect: He said he tries to put on a respectful tribute. During the tribute shows, he and Johnson put on a comedy act mocking exaggerated Elvis impersonators.
"There are a few people who take offense to it," he said. "They think we are making fun of Elvis, but we're not. We're making fun of the impersonators.
"There's a fine line between an Elvis impersonator and a clown, and I try not to cross that line."
This is the fifth time "The Brian Brenner Show" has returned to the county fair.
"We've made some nice friends here. We have people who come in a 50-mile radius just to see the Elvis show," Brenner said.
Six-year-old Gregory Ash and his brother Justin of East Palestine watch nearly every show.
"They're good singers," said Justin, 4.
Ralph Fisher of Wellsville saw Brenner's show for the first time three years ago.
"And I haven't missed a show since," Fisher said. "I think he is, by far, the best. He sounds just like him, he looks just like him, he acts just like him -- it's unbelievable. If you close your eyes, you'd think he's Elvis."