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Time for the Elvis Birthday Bash in Olympia

The King will share the spotlight with the Godfather of Soul

Robert Washington is James Brown, thank you very much. Courtesy photo

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At this year's Elvis Birthday Bash in Olympia, the King will be sharing the spotlight with the Godfather of Soul.

The reason for the pairing is that Robert Washington, the first African American world champion Elvis impersonator, long a part of the 15th annual bash, also does a James Brown act.

"I think people will be surprised that they're watching the same guy," says event organizer David Ross.

While diehard Elvis fans might not like the dual billing, the combination is not as unlikely as it initially sounds.

You might say, in fact, that the two flamboyant performers go together like peanut butter and banana, Elvis Presley's favorite sandwich combination.

The two knew and admired one another. Brown visited Presley at Graceland, and it's said that the capes Brown wore onstage inspired Presley to add a cape to his costumes.

"I want to pay a tribute to a good friend of mine, brother Elvis Presley, who opened up a lot of doors for me," Brown said in an interview filmed after Presley's death. "Elvis was a pioneer ... I love Elvis."

"It's a mutual admiration relationship, so it's pretty cool," Washington says.

The addition of the Brown act is part of making the bash into a full concert experience, said organizer David Ross. This will be the first time the bash won't include a screening of the 2001 documentary Almost Elvis, which tells the story of Washington's journey to becoming the world champion Elvis impersonator. The film, which Ross helped to produce, will be back for future bashes.

Washington's performances as both Presley and Brown will be accompanied by the Elvis tribute band Kentucky Rain, and members of Tush Burlesque will act as showgirls. (Don't get too excited, though: The ladies will keep their clothes on in the interest of keeping this event family friendly.)

Washington, 56, has been performing as Elvis for decades. Between 2010 and 2013, he toured Europe with members of Presley's band.

"They were not English-speaking countries, but they knew all the words," he says. "There are a lot of big fan clubs over there. It was a great experience."

He began performing as Brown just a few years while on an Elvis cruise with other tribute artists. "We were doing karaoke, and one of the other guys suggested doing James Brown," he says. "He did it before I did, and he talked me into doing it."

Imitating Brown didn't come naturally to him the way imitating Elvis did, he said. For one thing, his vocal range doesn't accommodate Brown's high-pitched screams. And then there are Brown's signature dance moves.

"It's more difficult than doing Elvis," he says. "I do minutes minutes of James Brown, and I'm exhausted. Elvis is a workout, but James Brown is a double workout."

If it will be a workout for Washington, the bash won't do any favors for the physical condition of attendees, who'll be fed fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches and bacon-maple bars.

But if it's a workout you want, Saturday morning's Elvis Dash might be your event. It's an opportunity to dress as Presley (or wife Priscilla Presley, or an Elvis bodyguard, or however you want) and run or walk a 5K or 10K course.

It's the third dash, and last year more than 200 people participated. "Not all of them dressed up as Elvis," Ross says. "There are people who go over the top, but probably a third to half were just there for their first big run of the year."

The only problem is dash competitors will be offered the same snacks served at the bash - and they'll get free tickets to the bash, meaning two opportunities in one day to eat peanut butter and bacon.

"It's not a real health-conscious weekend, put it that way," Ross says.

ELVIS BIRTHDAY BASH, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. S.E., Olympia, $15,

ELVIS DASH, 9:30 a.m. Saturday (registration 8-9 a.m.), Jan. 17, Strong Center, 2256 Mottman Road SW, Olympia, $45,

ELVIS GOSPEL BRUNCH, 11 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, The Urban Onion, 116 Legion Way SE, Olympia, $10 cover plus $12.99 for buffet brunch, 360.943.9242

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