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Fans cheer Presley pretenders at Elvis Fest's opening

LAKE GEORGE - Standing at the rear of the Shepard Park stage Thursday evening, Elvis tribute artist Gino Minopoli watched another performer portraying the King of Rock 'n Roll sing and strut while the rain-soaked audience of about 1,000 echoed his phrases and cheered.

"Lake George is a fantastic venue, and this Elvis Fest is incredible," said Minopoli, from Toronto. "The fans here are really warm and sincere, and they really embrace the Elvis tribute artists."

This free show in Shepard Park offered a preview of this weekend's LakeGeorge.com Elvis Festival at which 65 tribute artists are booked, singing 1,600 Elvis songs, or 5,000 minutes of singing and gyrating, performer Terry Collins told Thursday's enthusiastic crowd.

"Lake George is under siege," he said as the crowd cheered.

The festival is showcasing some of the best tribute artists from around the nation, as well as one from Australia, Barbados, and the Mideast nation of Qatar.

Events for the weekend include continuous performances from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday by tribute artists competing to secure a berth in the 2009 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition in Memphis. Both this preliminary round and the finals are sanctioned by the one-and-only Elvis Presley Enterprises. The performances are at Painted Pony Ranch in Lake Luzerne off Rte. 9L.

From 6 to 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at the Painted Pony Saloon, Dinner with the Tribute Artists allows guests to meet and greet the top performers of the weekend. An Italian buffet is scheduled for Friday evening, and a barbecue is set for Saturday. Each is $22 per person.

At 8:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, the Elvis fest will present their two Vegas-style shows featuring dozens of award-winning performers. The Friday show is titled "The Great Pretenders - Elvis & Friends," which includes tribute artists portraying Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Ricky Nelson, and James Brown.

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