Tribute festivals – musical salutes to your favourite bands

Can’t get the real thing – check out a fake festival

Ten tribute festivals celebrating the genius of Elvis to Abba

1. Elvis Festival – Parkes, NSW, Australia. January 9 – 13, 2019
After four days at an Elvis Festival you’ll certainly know not to call those jump-suited, hip-swinging men, “Elvis impersonators”. They’re ETAs (Elvis Tribute Artists) and the collective noun is “Elvii”. The festival in the Central West town of Parkes is a hoot, and while fans naturally go nuts over it, non-fanatics can’t help but be swept up in the energy of the non-stop entertainment and the friendly townsfolk. There’s free entertainment in Cook Park and the eight local pubs and clubs, as well as ticketed events by performers who travel the Elvis circuit. The 2018 theme was the “1968 Comeback” commemorating the event 50 years ago when The King took to the stage in his black leathers to mark his return to performing after years of making cheesy movies. The program and theme for 2019 are yet to be announced by highlights are the fantastic street parade lead by the popular, in-costume Mayor Ken Keith, Sunday morning gospel service, wedding vow renewals and plenty of contests for the vocally inclined. The downside is the heatwave conditions – temps can hit the low 40s, so best leave the leathers at home.

2. Elvis Cruise – New Caledonia. November 6-13, 2018.
If it’s literally too hot in Parkes, a cruise to the South Pacific complete with 24 ETAs and rock acts (also channelling Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison), book a berth on the CruiseNGroove, a seven-night sailing from Sydney departing November 6. Stars of Parkes, such as US artist Jack Rowley, will be on board, while Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas parties are all part of the fun aboard the ship Radiance of the Seas.

On stage at the Bowie Festival in Dublin

3. Dublin Bowie Festival – Dublin, Ireland. January 8-13. 2019
Dubliners honour David Bowie at this week-long event that commemorates not only his birthday on January 8 (same day as Elvis’s) but his death almost three years ago on January 10. Acclaimed tribute act Rebel Rebel was on the bill for the 2018 event, along with speakers including Woody Woodmansey, the only surviving member of the Spiders from Mars tour band. The Bowie Ball, where the dress-to-impress code includes space boots, and Bowie Raw – an intimate acoustic show – are hot tickets.

4. ABBA Festival – Trundle, NSW. May 2019
If Parkes can celebrate Elvis, then country cousin Trundle, 62 km away can surely pull in the crowds at its own gig – so thought two Trundle residents who put the event on the map six years ago. Headlining the 2018 festival was Bjorn Again, the successful parody act that began in Melbourne in 1988 and has been touring the globe ever since. Also on the bill was ABBA-Solutely Fabulous, a show by Aussie songstresses Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy.

Fans of the Swedish fab four live it up in Trundle

5. The London Beatles Festival – Ontario, Canada. 
You’d be forgiven for thinking this Fab Four tribute takes places in England. But no, it’s London, Ontario, a city with a population of 383,000, about 200km from Toronto. In its infancy, the festival is a weekend event of tribute bands and acts dedicated to single band members, such as ‘Dear John’, a Lennon show and ‘Bangladesh’, dedicated to Harrison. Beyond the bands there are speakers, authors and documentary producers with strong links to the group. Every Beatle nuance is milked; you’ll be bopping along at the Abbey Road Street Stage, the Sgt Peppers Listening Room and the Octopus’s Beer Garden. The 2018 event was held in July; the dates for 2019 have yet to be announced.

6. International BeatleWeek, Liverpool, England. August, 2019.  This is the Holy Grail for Beatles fans – a full week of tribute acts and speakers who in 1988 included Patti Boyd (George Harrison’s first wife and later wife of Eric Clapton), vinyl by the crate-load and a party to celebrate what would have been Harrison’s 75th birthday on August 24. Although it’s a wrap for 2018, it will be on again in 2019, with dates and events yet to be announced. Performance venues will include the famous Cavern Club in Mathew Street, the heritage-listed Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and the Alma de Cuba, the former St Peter’s Catholic church, now a swanky restaurant and bar.

7. Rory Gallagher Festival, Ballyshannon, Ireland. May 30-June 2, 2019
Ten thousand fans flock to this tribute festival to honour Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist voted Melody Maker’s Top Guitarist of the Year in 1971. A series of free street concerts and ticketed events for big-name blues’ bands take over Ballyshannon, where Gallagher was born in 1948. There’s also a chance to visit the Rory Gallagher museum/exhibition and check out his statue, unveiled in 2010. Established in 2002, the festival offers guitar workshops and of course there’s camping in true festival style. Ballyshannon is on a stretch of Donegal coastline known as the Wild Atlantic Way.

Irish guitarist Johnny Gallagher, next to the statue of Rory at the festival in Ballyshannon

8. Duluth Dylan Festival – Duluth, Minnesota. May 2019.
Bob Dylan, as every die-hard fan knows, was born in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941. A port town on the shores of Lake Superior, Duluth has made much of its favourite son, establishing a Bob Dylan Way – a signposted 2.5 km road that winds through the downtown area – and has released a compilation of Dylan songs by local artists, titled Duluth Does Dylan. The festival, which coincides with Bob’s birthday where tribute bands will take to the stage, draws many ‘Dylanologist’ guest speakers, while a ride on the Blood on the Tracks festival train (complete with music) travelling along the north shore to Hibbing, to where Dylan’s family moved when he was six, is a must.

9. KISS Kruise VIII – Caribbean. October 31 – November 5, 2018.
If rocking out with 2400 face-painted, leather-clad, tattooed passengers for a week around the Caribbean equals nirvana, then the eighth annual KISS cruise is just the ticket. Relax, not all passengers will be in costume every minute of every day, but they will frock up for the lookalike contests, the KISS wedding vow renewals and the big Halloween party. Unlike other tribute cruises, this one is the real deal and KISS will actually be on board, hold several concerts and lead some crazy activities. Expect high-voltage fun (yep, they have been known to play at bit of AC/DC around the pool) as the Kiss Navy “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Shout it Out Loud.”

10. Ultimate Tribute Festival – Tunbridge Wells, Kent. August 23 – 25, 2019
Not wedded to any particular artist or band? Love all pop and rock? Then head to the Ultimate Tribute Festival, where 60 tribute acts strut their stuff over a summer’s weekend in southern England. Artists recreate the Beatles, ABBA, Bob Marley, Bon Jovi, Amy Winehouse, Tom Jones, Pink Floyd and even our own Kylie on two stages in a 200-hectare lake-side expanse in Tunbridge Wells, an otherwise sleepy town about an hour by train south of London.

* Thanks to the Elvis Festival for inviting me to Parkes in January 2017 – it was hot (the temperature hit 41C at one stage!) but it was fun.

Parkes mayor Ken Keith (in blue) surrounded by ‘Elvii’ 




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