Beatles tribute bands from around world come to town for Abbey Road on the River

By John Kelly
Thursday, September 2, 2010; B02

Frankly, Havard Pedersen looks a little cold and tired in the little Skype video box in the corner of my computer. Then again, he has every right to be. It's after midnight and freezing where he is: Alta, a city in northern Norway. Alta is home to Havard and to Havard's band, a group that he says is the world's northernmost Beatles tribute band. Unless a band from Nunavut, Canada, comes forward, I'm inclined to believe him.

Well, Havard, here comes the sun, or, should I say, here comes Havard. His band is coming to town this weekend for the big Beatles festival at National Harbor. Called Abbey Road on the River, it's bringing musicians and fans from all over the world. Havard's band is called the Norwegian Beatles, which is pretty cheeky if you ask me.

"The thing is, the first years when we played in Liverpool," Havard says, "we were called the Beatless. But we found out that there were several bands all around the world who called themselves the Beatless. The other reason was every time they called us up on stage, they said, 'And here they are, the fantastic Norwegian Beatles' or something like that."

They decided to just go with it. And no, says Havard, they probably won't play "Norwegian Wood" this weekend. "Our best song is 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps,' " he says.

Juan Carlos del Valle doesn't call his band the Puerto Rican Beatles, but that's sort of what it is.

"Our challenge is to let people know Puerto Ricans can play Beatles music or rock music as good as anyone else," says Juan, the drummer, when I reach him by phone in Rincon. His band is called the Jukebox, and it's playing this weekend, too.

Of course, they sing in English. "If you sing Beatles songs in Spanish, it changes," Juan explains. But if someone asks to hear a song the Beatles used to do early in their career -- "Besame Mucho" -- they'll play it.

"We do it just for fun," Juan says.

I was unable to get in touch with the Italian Beatles tribute band, Sir Frankie Crisp, but I learned that Havard's Norwegian Beatles tribute band once shared a bill with Peter Seel's German Beatles tribute band, Lucy in the Sky, at a Beatles festival in Murmansk, Russia.

Peter is a newspaper reporter in Hartenfels, a village 50 miles from Cologne. "I wrote a big article about the Beatles in Hamburg," he says when I reach him there. "I wrote in my article the Beatles are a German band, too. They learned all they had to do in Germany."

Norwegian, Puerto Rican, German. John, Paul, George and Ringo belong to the world.

"Beatles music doesn't have any boundaries, geographically or culturally," says Juan.

Peter agrees. "I think we are all musicians. That's the first," he says. "We all love the Beatles. That's the second. And we all love performing, being with the audience."

There will be British and North American Beatles bands, too, including ones with punny names such as Luv Me Deux and the Hard Dazed Knights. Nova Scotia guitarist Hal Bruce will play all 214 Beatles songs in the order in which they were released. There's even a Traveling Wilburys cover band from the Midwest: the Traveling Beatleburys.

Representing Washington is the Apple Core, one member of which works for the IRS. "When we do 'Taxman' he gets a little shout out," said singer Andrew Ratliff.

What's the buzz?

So Gallery Place merchants have installed the Mosquito to deter teenage loiterers. The device supposedly emits a piercing sound audible only to people whose ears are between 13 and 25 years old. I wonder whether something else might work just as well. How about a tape loop that constantly repeats: "Honey, how was school today? Did you finish those thank-you notes to Grandma and Grandpa? Help me spread out some newspaper -- I need to trim Daddy's back hair." That always seems to empty the room of teenagers in my house.

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