It is a truth universally acknowledged that for a woman of almost any age, the piano riff at the beginning of Dancing Queen brings on an irresistible urge to become just that. And on Sunday, July 7, the Sun Valley Pavillion will be packed with dancing queens, jiving along to the timeless tunes of ABBA.
A night with The Music of ABBA: Arrival From Sweden is the closest any woman will ever get to an authentic ABBA concert; the original band dissolved in 1982, and only toured the USA once. But the infectious beats of the fab foursome are deeply embedded into the country’s pop culture, and this authentic tribute band are helping keep the music alive.
Creators of such enduring hits as Knowing Me, Knowing You, The Winner Takes It All, Mama Mia and Waterloo, ABBA was made up of two couples from Sweden, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Formed in 1972, the group is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 370 million albums and singles worldwide. In the mid-nineties their music saw a resurgence, thanks to hit movies such as Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and combined with the debut of Mama Mia the Musical (today the 10th longest running broadway show in history), a slew of ABBA tribute bands were born.
In 1995, Vicky Zetterberg saw one of those bands in her hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. “They were from Australia” she said. “They were awful.” Having seen the real thing herself, 5 times, she determined to start her own tribute band and do it right. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is crazy. You can’t do ABBA like that, with fake Swedish accents,” she said in her thick, authentic Swedish accent. “And I decided to do a proper ABBA show.”
A professional singer, Zetterberg reached out to original band members Bjorn and Benny, as well as working with ABBA’s costumier Owe Sandstrom, to create the perfect tribute band. Eighteen years later, ARRIVAL has become a world-famous musical act, touring in over 35 countries to consistently sold out crowds.
Zetterberg, with her mane of brown hair, assumes the role of “Anni-Frid” and Jeanette Norlander is “Agnetha,” while Fredik Bjorns is “Bjorn” and Leif Olsson is “Benny.” The group also regularly tours with several of ABBA’s original musicians and wears ABBA costumes specially created by Sandstrom for ARRIVAL.
Had you always been a hardcore ABBA fan or was this more of an opportunity that you decided to seize?
Vicky Zetterberg: I’d admired the way they did the music and I admired the way they sung. I’m a singer, my mother was an opera singer, and I’ve always admired ABBA. It’s a special technique they use, one which is really hard to do.
Was your mother an inspiration for your career as a singer?
VZ: She wanted me to sing opera, but I wasn’t really interested in it. Actually, I wanted to be a hard rock singer. I went to show school in Gothenburg and my teacher said ‘No, no. You will never be a hard rock singer. You’re a typical ABBA singer. He was right.
What can the Sun Valley audience expect from the concert?
VZ: We don’t go on and think that we are ABBA. We talk about ABBA, but when we’re doing the songs we try to recreate ABBA. We have the same look, the clothes we have are exact copies of the original outfits ABBA wore. ABBA was 50 percent music, but it was also the show and the clothes, it was the whole package. We also tell the story of ABBA, so they get a real ABBA injection. We want to show the new generation how ABBA was. You know everything about The Beatles, you know everything about Elvis, but people don’t know really that much about ABBA. That’s what we try to do. A lot of people don’t know that ABBA stands for the first letters in their name. So we tell the story, how they met, they were two married couples who just wanted to see if they could write some good music together. They couldn’t dream that ABBA could be this big. I think today even they’re still shocked by it – “Yea, we wrote a couple pop songs, there’s nothing special about that.” They’re typically Swedish, they don’t realize how big they are.
ARRIVAL is billed as the only authentic ABBA tribute band, and the fact that you have some of the original ABBA musicians playing with you really helps support that claim.
VZ: Yeah, sometimes we have original musicians that worked with ABBA, they’re 65 years old today, so sometimes they can’t go on tour with us, but as often as we can, we have them with us.
Do they have some great stories to tell about ABBA’s heydey?
VZ: I know a lot of stuff but it’s private. I know Bjorn and Benny and they don’t want us to talk about the private things. Benny supports us and said as long as you do it with respect and don’t talk about our private lives and that stuff. So it’s really important to me to respect that. If I knew anything I would never say it.
So the members of ABBA actually worked with you on creating ARRIVAL?
VZ: Yes, I talk to Bjorn and Benny. I never met the girls. But I always check out everything with them, and they know everything about the show. It’s really important to them that we do it with respect. They were two married couples, they were together for 10 years, and ABBA cost them their marriages. I think they deserve some respect. I mean they were one of the biggest pop groups ever.
What do you think it is about the music of ABBA that has had such resonance with modern audiences. What is it about the music that just keeps on playing?
VZ: It’s the way they wrote the songs. It’s happy music, people recognize themselves in the songs. Everyone has a favorite. Some people love Fernando, some people love Dancing Queen. They have done so many hit songs, almost 10 albums. It’s the music and it’s the quality, the same with The Beatles and Elvis, good songs. And people really get crazy at the concerts, dancing and screaming and going wild. ABBA’s music affects people.
It’s so true, everyone has their favorite ABBA song, even people who don’t know who ABBA are have a favorite ABBA song! So, what is yours?
VZ: It’s really hard. I have so many favorites! Of course Dancing Queen is a fantastic song. I also have a lot of the more songs that are not famous. Kisses of Fire, Angel Eyes, I have like maybe 20 favorites. All the songs are so different. But Dancing Queen is of course is a masterpiece, it is really, really one of the best songs. I Wonder is one I really like to sing, most people don’t know it. It’s so fun because I tell the audience about the story of the song. It’s important to me to educate the audience about ABBA. I want people to know that ABBA was four people from Sweden and I want them to know their names.
After all the success you’ve had with ARRIVAL, have you ever thought about tracking down that that original Australian tribute band and thanking them for starting your career?
VZ: Yes, really, I should thank them!
Details: The Music of ABBA: Arrival From Sweden arrives in Sun Valley at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 7 at the Sun Valley Pavilion. Buy tickets here. This event is suitable for all ages, prices range from $25 to $65. Additionally, Intermezzo preferred seating tickets ($75) and Diva Tickets ($150, include a party on July 6th and valet parking) are available through the Sun Valley Opera or 208.726.0991.