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Playing 'Willie'

Celebrity impersonators
to show off unique talent
at Rising Sun convention

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(April 2006) – For years Mike Owens of Louisville, Ky., listened to people say, “Hey, you look like Willie Nelson,” or “Wow, you sound just like Willie Nelson.” He tried his best to stay away from anything to do with the famous country music singer. Being a musician himself, Owens, 53, wanted to be known for his own work. However, a night performing on the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville Tenn., changed all of that.

Mike Owens

Photo provided

Louisville singer Mike
Owens loves being Willie
Nelson for the night.

Owens is one of several celebrity impersonators who will be featured at the Rising Star Celebrity Impersonators Convention on April 2-5 at Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, Ind. The public is invited to attend a show on Sunday, April 2 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Other shows also are open to the public throughout the convention.
Close to 30 years ago, Owens was performing for the first time on the legendary Grand Ole Opry. He had been performing on the stage when country music superstar Roy Acuff motioned for him to follow him. Apparently, Acuff was going to introduce Owen to several other well-known performers. Because Acuff couldn’t remember Owens’s name, he referred to him as “Little Willie.” The name stuck.
Owens gave up trying to steer clear of the “Willie Nelson” image and began performing as an impersonator. Because his work comes naturally, he seldom practices for his impersonations. He said the only time he ever rehearses is when he is learning a new Nelson song.
Owens performs seven nights a week. He travels throughout the United States and Canada entertaining audiences. He will soon be traveling to Canada to perform as Nelson at a birthday celebration for a Canadian Supreme Court Justice.
Although he impersonates Nelson much of the time, he also does work by other singers, as well as his own material. He said that when he is hired as Nelson, he shows up “in full Willie gear, complete with the bandana.”
Not only does Owens work as a singer, he owns Rogues, a small recording company in Louisville. His company helps musicians who would not be able to afford a larger recording company. Rogues not only does the music recording, it also helps with the printing and packaging of CDs as well.
Owens has never met the real Nelson, but early in his career he went to several Nelson concerts. He has no idea what Nelson thinks about impersonators, but Owens said he has considered writing to him and sending him a CD of his music with a picture. He would be interested in Nelson’s response.
Along with Owens, there will be a variety of other impersonators and tribute artists at the Rising Star Celebrity Convention and the Sunday showcase of impersonated stars. Cher, Rod Stewart, Alan Jackson, and Whitney Houston impersonators are among the talents that will be featured.
Bill and Phyllis Duke are the promoters for the convention. They previously operated the Scottsburg Jamboree in Scottsburg, Ind., and continue to promote shows in the region through their Rising Star Promotions.
Phyllis Duke said the convention was organized to entice talent agents, buyers and producers come to a central location to watch the various entertainers.
Performers from as far away as New York, Florida and Las Vegas are hoping to attract the attention of promoters and agents.
The convention starts on Sunday evening with a show featuring the impersonators and a live band. The show is open to the public for $20 a ticket. Duke said the evening promises to be a fun-filled and fantastic show. Each of the impersonators at the convention will perform for approximately 15 minutes. Rod Stewart and Cher will even be performing a duet together.
There will be showcases on the Monday and Tuesday of the convention in which the industry professionals will be able to watch the performers work with soundtracks. Information about each artist will be available to those agents, buyer, promoters and producers who have registered and paid for a full-access ticket to the convention.
The showcases are open to the public for $10 each day, but spectators who do not have the proper credentials will not have access to the promotional information. Agents who wish to attend the showcases only may do so free of charge if they register and present an Agent ID card. However, they will not have access to the brunches, dinners, parties and other networking opportunities.

• For more information about the convention, call Bill and Phyllis Duke at (812) 883-9141 or visit: www.risingstarconvention.com.

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