Author: Damian Mendieta
Like most farmers markets, Eagle Rock’s weekly farmers market has everything. Vendors offer gleaming produce, fresh-cut flowers, handmade jewelry, tempting confections and the tantalizing food of enough cultures and cuisines to span the globe. But only the Eagle Rock farmers market can lay claim to a Elvis impersonator with furry sideburns, neon-colored shades and a booming voice uncannily similar to the King’s.
Donovan Chavez has been a fixture at the market for so long that he can’t remember when he started. A versatile performer, Chavez covers Presley’s songs, from his raw 1950s hits to his refined 1970s sound, and hundreds of rock and pop standards. Chavez’s gyrating hips and mannerisms take inspiration from Presley’s early years, but his wardrobe of bell-bottom pants and colored capes is all 1970s.
Chavez said he began singing at an early age and hasn’t looked back since. “I started in junior high school, when I was 13,” he said. He was inspired to begin his singing career by a friend who heard him sing. “I had no income, I had no job and a friend of mine goes, ‘You know what? Get into karaoke. Do some singing. Do something.'”
Chavez’s father, a former security guard and custodian at Occidental College, accompanied Chavez on stage for his early years in Eagle Rock. “Me and my dad started it way back,” Chavez said. “After my dad retired, he gave the business to me.” Chavez’s father may have stepped down from the singing duo, but he continues to make occasional Friday appearances singing at the market.
Chavez said he chose to imitate Presley because of their physical resemblance and the inspiration the King was to him personally. “He did gospel, rock and roll, the music of the 1970s,” Chavez said. “He had a very flamboyant look, and he sang to the world. He was an icon, and that really inspired me.”
The singing career of Eagle Rock’s Elvis impersonator has taken him to contests in Las Vegas, Nevada; Memphis, Tennessee; Yuma, Arizona and even Presley’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. Chavez said that he is also in high demand for private parties.
He maintains that his popularity stems from years of polishing his act and practicing his moves to resemble the King as much as possible. “I’ve had to train and train myself to do the hair and watch Elvis videos over and over until it just comes naturally,” he said. Chavez’s performances closely resemble Presley’s actual shows, from the greased-back hair and rockabilly moves to the smooth baritone voice.
The breadth of Chavez’s repertoire is impressive. He can go from Presley’s bluesy “Blue Suede Shoes” to Ray Charles’s soulful “What’d I Say” to Johnny Cash’s droll “A Boy Named Sue” with ease. Chavez also akes many song requests, and the performer is so accommodating that he performs encores for his audience whenever asked, even after the farmers market has officially closed.
Occasionally, Chavez is called on to use his local fame to help the community. For example, a group of seventh-graders from Saint Dominic’s School in Eagle Rock recently asked Chavez to help them raise money for an upcoming school program. The children were selling snacks and drinks to fundraise for a field trip to Washington D.C. All night, “Elvis” advertised their stand between songs.
Saint Dominic’s student Sergio Gutierrez and fellow classmate Carla, who declined to give her last name, enjoyed seeing Chavez perform during their fundraising night. Gutierrez said he’s a longtime patron of the farmers market and has always held Chavez’s performances in high regard. I think he’s awesome,” Gutierrez said. “He’s talented, he’s a dancer and he’s very enthusiastic.”
A newcomer to the farmers market, Carla found Chavez to be a charismatic and enthusiastic performer. “He’s funny and friendly,” Carla said. “He’s so outgoing, and I think it would be fun to see him again.” Carla added she would recommend the farmers market to her friends, even if just to catch a glimpse of Chavez in action.
Neighborhood resident Lydia Hammond, who has been coming to the farmers market for years, said the Elvis impersonator has been a part of the farmers market as long as she can remember. Hammond said she has spoken with Chavez on various occasions. She calls him an icon and anchor of the neighborhood.
“I really like him,” Hammond said. “Just watching him and all the other people, it just really feels like a community around here. He’s really nice and so are his family and his parents. He’s one of the iconic figures.”
The energy that Chavez radiates can be seen on the faces of the pedestrians who stop by to listen. When the smooth Southern voice of “Elvis” begins to flow through the farmers market, faces light up and pedestrians crowd near the performer. The compact venue allows Chavez’s voice to permeate every corner of the market and reach every participant, not just those in front of Chavez’s microphone.
For a free show, Chavez’s performances are executed seamlessly. Each show is heartfelt and each song is received with ample applause and enthusiasm from onlookers. As one song ended, Carla exclaimed over the applause, “Give him some tips!”
During songs, couples dance and children sway to the tempo of the King’s rock and roll, and Chavez’s family roots him on.
Chavez says he performs his impersonations because they bring his audiences joy. “I like to see the people’s faces when I sing. Some of them remember Elvis,” Chavez said. “They were there when he was alive.”
As the farmers market wrapped up on Friday, Oct. 14, various stands began to call it a night. Enormous trucks swallowed up booths and equipment while vendors packed away their produce and merchandise. As everyone else was packing up and heading out, Chavez continued to croon.
On this particular night, a two-song encore followed Chavez’s “last song” after the audience made consecutive song requests. The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” captivated the remaining patrons of the night. As the applause refused to die down, Chavez began to belt out a rich version of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.”
After the song, Chavez began to wind up the cords of his sound equipment, but an elderly woman begged him for one more song, “Jailhouse Rock,” a raucous track and one of Elvis’s most enduring hits. Chavez flipped through his C.D.’s until he found the backtrack for the tune. He then proceeded to close the night with all the groove and glamour the “King” of rock and roll himself had in his heyday.
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