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After twice being pulled onstage at Belly Up, Preston Cale, third from left, is the unofficial 13th member of Graceband, an Elvis Presley tribute ensemble. Courtesy photo
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Elvis band, fans can’t help falling in love with new king

SOLANA BEACH — Preston Cale was seemingly born to entertain. When he was barely out of diapers he commandeered his brother’s electric keyboard, hit every button and created a dance move for each sound.

He enjoyed singalongs during summer school when his kindergarten teacher rolled out a piano during lunch.

He performed at pep rallies and talent shows in high school and showed off his dance moves on the Jumbotron during a Padres game.

Preston appeared in “Peter Pan,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Little Mermaid” at the Lyceum Theater through his participation with Arms Wide Open.

More recently the 23-year-old nearly stole the show — and the hearts of everyone at Belly Up — when he was invited onstage to perform with Graceband, an Elvis Presley tribute ensemble.

His father, Dave Cale, saw an article about the band in a local paper and thought his son might enjoy the show.

“We were sitting in back and I asked Preston if he wanted to go to the front of the room,” said Dave, who describes his son as high-performing Down syndrome. “The place is packed and I’m trying to snake him through and these two big guys stop us and say, ‘It’s too full up there. You’re not moving.’

“Then these women come from the crowd and say they’ll get us up there. And one takes my hand and she snakes us up to the front,” he added. “I don’t know these people. And they get him in front. So I go back to my chair and I turn around and he’s onstage, air guitaring it. I’m just stunned.”

Front man Chris Maddox, aka Elvis, said it’s not something the group normally does.

“He was pulled up originally because he just stood out,” Maddox said. “Eric Durham, our guitarist, saw him upfront smiling and with a lot of happy enthusiasm. Eric wanted to recognize that.”

“After the show almost every one of the people associated with that group came by as they left and interacted with Preston,” Dave Cale said. “They gave him a guitar pick and an armband and all kinds of stuff. “

Preston’s mother, Pamela, said that type of “complete inclusiveness” is important to her son and other people with disabilities.

“You want that full inclusion, not just in school but in the community, because school is such a short time in their lives,” she said. “That community inclusion is massive.”

“I was so astounded that these strangers were all over him,” Dave Cale said. “They had big enough hearts to come by and interact with Preston personally.”

That was in March. Since then band members have sent Preston pictures of his performance and other Graceband mementos, including a T-shirt and one of the scarves Maddox tosses to audience members throughout his shows.

They also texted the family when the band returned to Belly Up in June.

“Of course, I already had tickets,” Dave Cale said.

Preston was once again invited onstage, this time tossing out some scarves, imitating a few classic Elvis hip-jiggling moves and introduced as an unofficial band member.

“He has a compass for center stage. He’ll find it,” Pamela Cale said. “For a young man who’s limited in speech he gets his points across with music.”

It’s not the first time Preston has been acknowledged during a concert. That was during a Chris Isaak performance, when he was given a guitar pick.

After a Lynyrd Skynyrd show — which Dave Cale attended in the same blue Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt he wore the day Preston was born more than two decades earlier — he walked away with a set list, pick, drumstick and a string taken off the guitar and handed to him after the band played “Free Bird.”

But the Graceband performances at Belly Up are the only times he’s been invited onstage. And it’s something Preston is looking forward to when the band returns there Sept. 17.

“It makes me excited,” Preston said. “We love Graceband. … I am the king.”

Maddox said he is happy to share the spotlight with Preston and equally impressed with his parents.

“They are so active in his life and helping him to get out and do the things he wants to do,” Maddox said. “That requires a lot of love and commitment over time. Once we got to know them I really wanted to honor that as much as Preston.”

A musician at heart, Preston primarily plays keyboards. He learns by reading music or watching YouTube and writing the notes down as the players perform.

He’s currently into classical music and has yet to attempt an Elvis song. But his parents say that could be next. He’s a fan of “Jailhouse Rock,” having seen the movie.

“What happened that first night just blew me away,” Dave Cale said. “I walked out of there on cloud nine. To show someone that much respect and dignity, it’s worth more than money.”

“They’re musicians so they talk his language,” Pamela Cale added.