Beatles-inspired bands from world over feeling fab in US

The resemblance was striking: four young men in suits and skinny black ties, all sporting an early-Beatles bowl haircut, with the same guitars, and of course, the songs that still make crowds go wild.

Except for one difference: instead of John, Paul, George and Ringo, this Fab Four featured Diego, Juan Carlos, Francisco and Heriberto.

And it wasn't Liverpool's Cavern Club. This was a festival for Beatles-inspired music lovers on the banks of the Potomac River outside Washington. And these crowd-pleasers were not British but Puerto Rican.

"The Jukebox," a cover band steeped in the magic of the Beatles, was among some 50 groups who took turns making fans scream and shout at the Abbey Road on the River festival this Labor Day holiday weekend.

The event, billed as the "the world's largest Beatles-inspired music festival," drew groups from around the globe like Germany's "Lucy in the Sky" and "The Norwegian Beatles," who boast being "probably the northernmost Beatles tribute band in the world."

Half a century after they first stepped up to the mic, the Beatles continue to inspire new generations of followers.

But apart from the music that brings them together, tribute bands use a broad variety of formats. There is everything from Jimmy Pou, a one-man orchestra specializing in George Harrison's repertoire, to the "Newbees," a big band with violinists, cellists and a solo singer.

Not all of them dress like the cuddly mop tops or limit themselves to music from their favorite Liverpool band.

Up close, the four Puerto Rican "Beatles," who are nearing their forties, may lack the youth of their heroes at the height of Beatlemania, even though they were not even born when the legendary band finally split.

But they still manage to wow their audiences with their perfect English, playing hit after hit before a greying crowd that delights in the nostalgia.

"We try to look like them, but we don't pretend to be them," said Francisco Cairol, Jukebox's solo guitarist who plays the role of George Harrison on stage.

The group hopes to simply share a good time with their audience.

"People are happy and dancing, that's the greatest feeling ever," he told AFP.

The 38-year-old said he and his colleagues make a living by imitating their idols, playing in several countries, including at the legendary Cavern Club and even opening a Paul McCartney concert in Puerto Rico in April.

Nine years ago, the four Puerto Rican musicians set aside their repertoire of Latino hits to head into a whole new direction.

Jukebox has now played some 60 Beatles songs. The group changes costumes based on the Beatles period chosen for any given concert.

"We let our beard grow a bit when we play later songs," explained the would-be Harrison.

At the festival in National Harbor, Maryland, fans found everything to quench their nostalgia, with stands selling stage costumes - including the grey suits from "A Hard Day's Night" for 370 dollars - or a replica of the bass drum used for "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," for 275 dollars.

David, a T-shirt vendor, was not worried his business would dry up any time soon, even in these hard economic times.

"The music will last forever and the products will last forever," he said.

Abbey Road on the River has attracted some 30,000 spectators each year since 2002. The tribute festival was first held in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 2005. This year marked its Washington debut.

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