New Brunswick 'Elvis' denied entry to U.S. to perform at cross-country festival
Performers grilled at border crossing over Maine festival honorarium — and some aren't allowed in
Several Canadian musicians and performers faced intense scrutiny and questioning at the U.S.-Canada border Thursday, despite an invitation by a Maine town to celebrate Canada Day, the Fourth of July, and the relationship between both countries.
Some performers were even turned away.
They included Mike Bravener, who has put on his Elvis wig and flashy matching costume to travel to Eastport, Maine, at the town's request, for the last 15 years.
This year, after arriving at the crossing from St. Stephen to Calais, Maine, he was detained and questioned for more than an hour.
"It was unnerving for sure," said Bravener, a Presley impersonator from Fredericton. "[It's] sad, because of the people and friends I have in Eastport and them not knowing. Them all being down there on the waterfront expecting Elvis to show up."
When he was denied entry into the United States, he said, the point of contention with U.S. officials was the $500 honorarium the town of 1,300 gives him for travel and his performance.
Bravener said U.S. customs officials were friendly and understanding, but he was questioned repeatedly about the nature of his visit to Eastport, a coastal community about 45 kilometres south of Calais.
He was eventually told his explanation for collecting the payment was inadequate, and he needed proper paperwork and forms — which he didn't have and didn't know were required.
Cross country celebration
Bravener was invited by Eastport in a letter he received in June, much as he has been for years.
The event celebrates both Canadian and U.S. holidays.
"It's a four-day celebration beginning with Canada Day events together with our neighbours from Deer Island, New Brunswick, and neighboring communities, ending with a spectacular fireworks display over the bay between the U.S. and Canada," says the letter of invitation from the Eastport Fourth of July committee.
"Our committee would like to invite you to participate in our celebration with your very popular Elvis performance."
CBC News made attempts to contact the organizers of the event but has not yet received a reply.
Not the only one
Despite attending the Eastport parade for the last 30 years, several musicians in the 22-member Saint Mary's Band from Saint John were also detained and questioned.
"I think what the American customs and border guards were trying to do was flush out people who were trying to make money, personally," said executive Michael Richard, a trumpet player.
Richard said he witnessed other Canadian musicians being asked to get out of their vehicles for questioning.
"There was a pipe and drum band coming from Fredericton to play in the parade," Richard said. "And they had a similar situation of verification of volunteering. And that's effectively what we're doing."
Richard said his band also receives an honorarium from Eastport, but the players were allowed to enter the U.S.
CBC News asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection if policies applying to New Brunswick musicians and performers had changed in recent years.
Spokesperson Micheal McCarthy wrote in an email: "I am prohibited by privacy laws from discussing an individual traveler's circumstances."
But he said anyone travelling into the country to be a "paid performer" would need a valid P-visa, a temporary visa issued to athletes and musicians so they can legally perform for payment in the U.S.
Blames border politics
Bravener said that last year he was questioned about his participation in the Eastport festivities but had been able to cross the border.
He blames U.S. border politics inflamed by President Donald Trump for his rejection and the scrutiny of other artists.
"I think there's a direct correlation between President Trump and what happened," Bravener said. "In fact, there's no doubt in my mind. Where last year they had pulled me aside and pulled me in, they did let me go. I told them the exact same thing as I told them last year. I think there's politics involved."
He believes Elvis's Eastport entertaining days are over for now, since the community is unlikely to be able to increase the honorarium to cover visa costs for performers.
"But I'm not upset, if those are the rules," said Bravener, as he prepared for a Saturday night performance in Moncton. "It's just really, really, disappointing."