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Mamma Mia! ABBA fever lives on in Utah

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect an upcoming event.

SALT LAKE CITY — “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing,” ABBA enthusiastically sings in a late-1970s music video. The blonde-haired, powerhouse vocalist Agnetha Faltskog leads ABBA in the joyous tune, “Thank You For the Music,” inviting the many children surrounding the stage to sing along.

At the video’s 2:17 mark, there’s a close-up of a girl, also with blonde hair, whose smile becomes so wide she’s unable to continue singing. She begins laughing and places her hand over her mouth as if to contain her happiness.

That beaming girl was Camilla Dahlin, and “Thank You For the Music” remains her favorite ABBA song to this day.

But even more importantly, Dahlin gets to share her gratitude for ABBA’s music night after night, portraying Faltskog in the Swedish ABBA tribute band Waterloo. Speaking from her home in Sweden in 2018, Dahlin told the Deseret News it had been a while since the band — which Dahlin and her friend, Katja Nord, formed in 1996 — visited the United States. But the pair ended that separation last year, when they performed ABBA’s hits alongside the Utah Symphony at Deer Valley Resort.

This weekend, ABBA fans will have the chance to hear another tribute band that played the Beehive state last year, the Swedish ABBA tribute band Arrival, who will perform at the Sandy Amphitheater on Saturday. And keeping in the spirit of ABBA, Sundance Summer Theatre is staging "Mamma Mia!" from July 18-Aug 10. Given how much ABBA love comes to Utah each year, it's safe to say that locally, at least, ABBA mania is alive and well. But the ABBA fandom rises to an entirely different level about 5,000 miles from the Beehive State, in the heart of where it all began.

Being true to ABBA

Both Dahlin and Nord were 9 years old when they witnessed ABBA’s breakthrough in 1974, when the Swedish sensation won the televised Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Waterloo.”

“I looked at the television, and as a small child … I identified with (ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad) because she had darker hair,” Nord told the Deseret News from her home in Sweden, just hours before her flight to Utah. “I listened to ABBA a lot when I was a child.”

Fast-forward a few years to when Nord and Dahlin were 18 years old, working at a local hospital. The two quickly discovered they had more in common than their jobs. A love for singing the songs combined with their physical resemblance to the ABBA women eventually led the pair to form the tribute band Waterloo — named after the song that started it all.

While other ABBA tribute bands use wigs, Nord and Dahlin said they take pride in their natural appearance — they’ve even kept the same haircuts for 22 years.

“Me and Katja, we look like Agnetha and Anni-Frid everyday, 24/7,” Dahlin said. “I never wear (a) wig. I have my own my hair, and I always have the same cut and coloring because I really want the audience to feel like they’re seeing ABBA onstage again.”

Katja Nord, left, and Camilla Dahlin, right, dressed as ABBA's

Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog during the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.
Katja Nord, left, and Camilla Dahlin, right, dressed as ABBA's Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog during the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.
Provided by Waterloo

Although the friends are well past the ages the ABBA singers were during the height of their careers, their dedication to appearance continues to pay off.

“Sometimes we think maybe we are too old, but (recently) when we were in Hamburg for a meeting and we went through the security, they said, ‘Oh! You look like ABBA.’ We were so happy — it was an ego boost,” Nord said with a laugh. “Obviously we’re a little bit older now … but it doesn’t seem to matter for the audience.”

Beyond physical appearance, Nord and Dahlin spent years studying the singers’ movements and vocal styles. But the pair took their tribute even further, writing a letter to ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson seeking approval.

They got it.

Respecting ABBA

Waterloo isn’t the only tribute band to seek ABBA’s approval. When Victoria Norback formed her band Arrival in 1995, she had one major goal in mind: “Put on a proper ABBA show.”

This stemmed from seeing Bjorn Again in concert, an Australian parody of the Swedish pop group (Coincidentally, the last ABBA tribute show to have been performed at Layton’s Ed Kenley Amphitheater was Bjorn Again, back in 2007).

“It was awful,” Norback said of Bjorn Again's satirical take. "I decided, ‘No, no, no. You can’t do it like this. If you do an ABBA show, you have to do it in a proper way,’ “ABBA was two couples. They were married … it cost them their marriage. I think you should have more respect for ABBA. You should do it in a proper way.”

So Norback traveled from her hometown on Sweden’s west coast to Stockholm, where she met Andersson in person to obtain approval. For two hours, the pair discussed the band’s logistics over coffee. Now, more than 20 years later, Norback brings Utah her “proper show” — once to the Kenley Amphitheater on July 19 and again to the Sandy Amphitheater on July 21.

Victoria Noback, right, formed the Swedish ABBA tribute band Arrival in 1995. Since 2005, the band has done 58 tours in America.
Victoria Noback, right, formed the Swedish ABBA tribute band Arrival in 1995. Since 2005, the band has done 58 tours in America.
Provided by Arrival

Unlike Waterloo, Arrival has toured extensively in the United States, now on its 58th American tour since 2005. The band has also performed a handful of times in Sandy, but this trip marks their first performance in Layton.

“If this is a show (the Sandy Amphitheater has) trusted for more than three years, then I (thought I) need to look into this,” said Kirt Bateman, executive director for the Davis Arts Council, which puts on the summer concerts at the amphitheater. “I can think of eight national ABBA tributes just off the top of my head. Getting one is not difficult; choosing one that is any good might be more the difficult one.”

Bateman said Arrival’s authentic sound impressed him — a testament to Norback’s decades-long dedication to getting the performance just right.

“It really has to sound like ABBA,” she said. “I grew up with ABBA. I was always fascinated by the way Agnetha and Anni-Frid were singing. … I practiced a lot when I was a teenager and I wanted to sound like them — all the girls did. …They’ve made so many great songs. We could go on for 10 hours onstage.”

‘ABBA fever will never stop’

Seeing a resurgence in ABBA’s music thanks to the upcoming release of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” reminds Bateman of his own path to the Swedish sensation in the mid-1990s. Bateman was 19 years old and fresh out of high school when the Australian cult films “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Muriel’s Wedding” came out. Both films had ABBA-heavy soundtracks that instantly captivated him.

“Back in the mid-'90s everybody was falling in love again with this ABBA music,” Bateman said. “Now, it’s this generation’s turn to get introduced to this music — to fall in love with this great music.”

Camilla Dahlin and Katja Nord formed the ABBA tribute band Waterloo in 1996. The group performs alongside the Utah Symphony at Deer Valley Resort Friday, July 13, 2018.
Camilla Dahlin and Katja Nord formed the ABBA tribute band Waterloo in 1996. The group performs alongside the Utah Symphony at Deer Valley Resort Friday, July 13, 2018.
Provided by Waterloo

And now, we have ABBA to thank for the new music, as the band announced earlier this year it would release a song this December — the first new music in 35 years.

“ABBA fever will never stop,” Norback said.

“It’s cool they have been making such a big impact in music history,”’ Nord said. “Wherever we come in the world, if (people) don’t know what ABBA is, if they don’t know what Sweden is, they always know what ‘Dancing Queen’ is.″

If you go …

What: Arrival: The Music of ABBA

When: Saturday, June 29, 8 p.m.

Where: Sandy Amphitheater, 1245 E. 9400 South, Sandy

How much: $20-$28

Web: sandyamp.com