As a young man enthusiastic and well entrenched in my first real career after leaving the Army and going to work with Fasco Industries, I (Bill Bowman) was oblivious to the fact that the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was performing a concert in what is now the old Cumberland County Arena. That was in 1976. It would be another 12 years before I realized the significance of that musically historic visit.
Elvis Presley was live and in person here in Fayetteville, North Carolina. By all accounts, his performance was grand. However, his visit here was pleasantly unusual and unique in several respects.
The first concert was Aug. 3, 1976. It was a sold-out event. Presley was impressed that Fayetteville was the home of Fort Bragg, and he wanted to do something special to honor the military while also thanking Fayetteville fans for their enthusiastic reception. He requested to do two additional shows on successive days.
Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, agreed. All three performances, Aug. 3-5, sold out, according to Paul Beard, who was the Arena operations manager at the time.
What many fans did not realize was that all three performances were recorded. Graceland Records released a three-disk CD pack titled “Next Stop: Fayetteville.” It was sold with a 44-page booklet of rare photos of Elvis onstage here in Fayetteville. You can find it on You Tube.
In the video, you can feel the energy and hear the excitement of 6,000 screaming fans. News reports at the time said Elvis and his entire entourage rented the top floor of what once was the Ramada Inn hotel on Eastern Boulevard.
Elvis’ enthusiastic reception and three days of sold-out performances, complete with live recordings of his music, were such a success that Parker scheduled a return to Aug. 25, 1977.
Unfortunately, he never did return. Elvis died of a heart attack at his home in Graceland Aug. 6, 1977, at the age of 42. Local fans were saddened, shocked and disappointed. Anticipating what was expected to be another stellar, sold-out concert, fans had purchased tickets for $12.50 and $15. The
Arena offered refunds but also provided the option to donate the ticket money to a local charity. Hundreds of ticket holders chose the latter. Their names were placed on a plaque honoring Elvis and put on permanent display in the hallway of the Arena, along with several photos of Elvis’ past performances. Those photos and other memorabilia remained on the wall as a memorial to Elvis for many years — until 2008, when the Arena underwent a significant renovation.
During this period, Beard, while serving as the facility manager under then-general manager Rick Reno, noticed something. During the interior renovation project, the Elvis photos and mementos had been removed from the wall and placed in a receptacle along with other construction debris. Fearing they would be mistakenly discarded as trash, the quick-thinking Beard, who is an Elvis fan, removed the framed photos and plaques and safely packed them away in a Tupperware crate. He stored them in his backyard shed. Beard knew the Elvis memorabilia represented one of the greatest performances ever staged in Fayetteville.
These treasures remained in Beard’s shed for more than a decade — until Fayetteville Observer senior columnist Bill Kirby received several inquiries about what ever happened to the Elvis pictures.
Beard, who is a Fayetteville resident and the general manager of the Florence, South Carolina, Civic Center, graciously dug them out and turned them over to the Crown Coliseum Complex. Elvis is now back in the house. Well, not quite. The Crown board of directors haven’t yet figured out what to do with the newly recovered treasures. However, what we do know is there is much public interest in seeing these mementos.
So, to this end, Up & Coming Weekly asked the Coliseum board to loan us the pieces for one day — April 13. We will have them on display for public viewing at our office during the Fayetteville Fans First Look at the new Segra Stadium, where the Fayetteville Woodpeckers will host their first game April 18. Our office is only about a 5-minute walk from the stadium.
The Elvis Presley photo display will be in Gallery 208 at 208 Rowan St., Up & Coming Weekly’s corporate offices. Hours are 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Both Fayetteville Observer former Arena manager Paul Beard will be on hand during the day to personally share their experiences and walk us down memory lane. Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop will also be present with Elvis signs, posters, refreshments, free gift coupons and assorted souvenirs.
A very special thanks to Kirby for his excellent Fayetteville Observer reporting and coverage of this story. And, to Beard for his insight, professionalism and quick action that salvaged a part of Fayetteville’s musical history. And many thanks to my colleague, Up & Coming Weekly’s senior reporter, and my friend, Jeff Thompson, who assisted me with this article.
And, of course, to our readers: Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.