Music

A cousin of Elvis, country artist Amelia Presley to perform in Barrington

Penny Road Pub's 'Pillars of Freedom' concert to benefit veterans

Yes, she’s related to that Presley.

It’s a question country singer Amelia Presley answers quite often. Gladly.

“From an early age, I knew he was my cousin,” she said of Elvis Presley. “My dad … he told me I was related to Elvis, and I thought that was really cool and just kind of wanted to follow in those footsteps and be a singer when I grew up.”

A native of Mississippi, Presley will perform for the first time in the Chicago area as part of a “Pillars of Freedom Rockin’ with the Veterans” event from 6 p.m. to midnight April 16 at Penny Road Pub, 545 Penny Road, Barrington. With a $10 cover charge (veterans enter free), the event will raise money for the Pillars of Freedom Foundation, which works to support and honor the military and first responders.

It’s a cause Presley seeks out. She enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 2010, serving until 2015.

Wanting a steady paycheck to support her son, Barrett, now 7, she explored a few service branches before deciding on the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard was kind of like, ‘We’ve got plenty of people.’ They didn’t return my phone calls for a long time. I kept calling. I just bugged the heck out of them, and they brought me in,” she said with a laugh.

Having begun songwriting and singing at an early age – influenced by classic country artists such as Patsy Cline and Hank Williams – Presley continued her pursuit of a musical career while in the military, with her service inspiring many of her songs.

She wrote her newest single, “Hard Headed Mama,” while stationed in Alabama.

“This guy called me up saying, ‘You can get out of the military, and I’ll take care of you.’ I wrote that song kind of like to say, ‘Are you insane?’ ”

Another song – her favorite – is “Underway,” written while she completed military school in Virginia as a message to her son. Underway is a word used in the military to describe being deployed.

“It’s kind of describing why I was gone all the time. He was little, and he just knew I was gone for work,” she said. “I wrote the song to explain, ‘I’m doing this for you so you have health insurance and you’re taken care of.’ He didn’t understand it then, but I think he understands now that he’s a little older.’ ”

Becoming an ambassador for Heart Songs for Veterans, in which artists from across the country in all genres of music donate songs to raise money for veteran and wounded soldier programs, Presley signed with the group’s record label in March and is working on a new album.

She released her first album, “No Pony Ride,” in 2013, naming it in honor of the horse and horse trailer she sold to afford the recording session.

She said she tries to keep her songs country, sticking with the simplicity and the beauty of classic country, but also offering up more in-depth lyrics.

As for any musical similarities to her famous cousin, she said, “I think there’s definitely kind of a mix between country rock and blues, but mostly country. I’ve got kind of a raspy voice, so it brings out some soulful blues too.”

She heard stories of Elvis growing up in Mississippi, where past generations of her family moved, disconnecting them a bit from the Presleys in Tennessee.

She remembers her father asking her “papaw” why he never invited Elvis to Mississippi.

“He said the reason he never invited Elvis down was because Elvis just wanted to play guitar. Why would he bring him down? He wouldn’t pick any cotton,” she said with a laugh. “That’s how my grandfather was. All he cared about was getting the job done.”

Now living across the street from the farm she grew up on, that’s what Presley aims to do when she walks over and asks what needs to be done. But she also wants to get the job done on stage.

“This whole journey I haven’t really known where it’s going,” she said. “It’s kind of been an experience where I learn as I go. You know, I want music to be my career. That’s always been my goal, and I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to that. I’m definitely getting somewhere with it.”

PILLARS OF FREEDOM ROCKIN’ WITH THE VETERANS

WHEN: 6 p.m. to midnight April 16

WHERE: Penny Road Pub, 545 Penny Road, Barrington

COST & INFO: Featuring Amelia Presley, Pirate Radio and Saloonatics. A $10 cover charge will go to the Pillars of Freedom Foundation to support veterans. Veterans enter free. Information: www.pennyroadpub.com.

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