It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the British Invasion, and the organizers of the world’s largest Beatles music tribute festival are expecting 25,000 Fab Four fans to hit downtown Louisville this weekend for Abbey Road on the River. The festival headliners? Oddly enough, the quintessentially Californian Beach Boys, who’ve been at the top of producer Gary Jacob’s wish list for years. The reason is simple – everyone can sing along to Beach Boys songs.
“They, like the Beatles, created a body of work that everybody knows each of their songs,” says Jacob. “To be able to get up and sing and dance to Beatles music is what made Abbey Road on the River great from the beginning. It was always that everybody knew the music.”
The current Beach Boys lineup includes Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, and they’ll include several Beatles songs in their show (Sunday, 7 p.m., Belvedere Festival Park Lawn) as well as a song Love just released dedicated to George Harrison, “Pisces Brothers.” Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian opens, and he’ll join the Beach Boys for a few numbers as well.
But California’s close to home compared to how far some of the Beatles tribute acts travel to perform for the annual fest. Sixty musical acts are booked for the five-day event, which takes place Thursday-Monday at the Belvedere, Galt House and Muhammad Ali Center. The bands hail from all over the world – Norway, The Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, and even Osaka, Japan, home of the Beatribes, who, with their trim suits, describe themselves as an “orthodox” tribute act.
“Everybody immediately thinks of our Japanese band, only because of the cultural difference and that a Japanese band can, linguistically, so perfectly sing Beatles songs, which is pretty amazing to see, because they don’t speak English,” says Jacob.
Check out The Beatribes performing “I Saw Her Standing There”:
But personally, Jacob says he’s looking forward to a new band from Colombia called Classicstone.
“They’re a large ensemble and they can go very deep into tracks, and they’re also going to do a Queen tribute one of the nights. They’re very versatile,” he says.
Classicstone performs “A Day in the Life”:
Who are these narrow specialists? Jacob says the bands are composed of musicians who were likely on the cusp of making it with their own music, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen.
“And then they kept playing. And when they played Beatles music, they noticed that people responded really well, so they started developing their Beatles genre,” he says. “Now you have bands playing Beatles music longer than the Beatles played.”
“At the core, all of these musicians are world-class musicians, and they’re able to interpret the Beatles’ music beautifully and perfectly,” he adds.
Several screenings of the new documentary “Good Ol’ Freda” are scheduled for the festival. The film tells the story of Freda Kelly, who served as private secretary to The Beatles for ten years. Thursday’s screening (9:30 p.m., Belvedere Lawn) will be outside on an LED wall. Kelly will host Q&A sessions after the screenings.
Here’s the trailer for “Good Ol’ Freda”: