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Photo courtesy of Odd Lauritsen

Norwegian Buck Owens tribute band Bakersfield will be performing at this year's Buck Bash at the Crystal Palace on Aug. 9 and 10.

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Photo courtesy of Odd Lauritsen

Odd Lauritsen meets his idol, Buck Owens, in Bakersfield in 2000.

There's been a noticeable change in rhythm to this year's Buck Bash. Beginning with the absence of a major headlining act, the popular all-star musical event and birthday tribute to Owens has also been extended to two days, Aug. 9 and 10.

Over the years, the event has pulled in sellout crowds featuring some of country music's biggest acts, from Dwight Yoakam and Trace Adkins to Brad Paisley and Asleep at the Wheel, as well as rising star Joe Nichols.

Few annual events stack up to its level of entertainment in celebration of Owens' musical legacy, which may have some questioning the move to scale back the festivities.

Fans needn't worry, said Buckaroo keyboardist Jim Shaw, on whether the party will be anything short of the revelry from years past, with the spirit of Owens being the guest of honor at next weekend's Buck Bash at the Crystal Palace. (Aug. 12 is the 84th anniversary of Owens' birth.)

"We decided to do something different," said Shaw. "This is more of a real Buck tribute than having a big-name artist coming to do concert. Everyone is really going to enjoy it."

Appearing both evenings will be Buddy Alan Owens and the Buckaroos, along with Norwegian Buck Owens tribute band Bakersfield.

"Lots of people love Buck and do his songs, but nothing like this."

Fronted by vocalist and guitarist Odd Lauritsen, the Bakersfield tribute is no ordinary homage to his idol but a detailed re-creation of the group's classic 1960s era with a stage show down to the flashy suits.

"I love Buck Owens," said Lauritsen, 50, during an interview from his home in Sarpsborg, Norway, located just outside of capital city of Oslo.

"Ever since I was a little boy, my parents had a lot of his records and that music has been with me all these years."

The idea that Norway would be a hotbed for Owens' music may surprise some, but not for Lauritsen, who, speaking with a thick accent, sounds like an authority on all things Buck.

"He was ahead of his time. He created something new. It was different from the Nashville sound. It was closer to what would be considered rock 'n' roll back then. Here come these two guys with Telecasters, looking sharp, with a lot of treble in the guitar. That was something really different. His music is timeless."

Lauritsen added that while Owens had a huge fanbase in Europe, influencing artists such as The Beatles, Norway had its own version of Buckmania.

"He was very popular in Norway and sold tons of records here in the '60s. If you really look into it, Buck was probably one of the most popular and biggest-selling country artists in the world, and I'm not saying that because I'm a fan. He came to Norway for the first time in 1969 and came back the next year. There were two shows and both shows were packed."

Lauritsen formed the idea to start the band in 1998 after years of playing country music in pubs, singing in his native language.

During this time, Owens' career was in a down gear with artists such as Garth Brooks and others ushering in the new country movement. Unaware that an Owens comeback was on the horizon, Lauritsen sprung into action following some inspiring news.

"I heard this disc jockey in the late '80s say that Buck Owens was back with this young rebel country musician named Dwight Yoakam, who'd been up to Bakersfield to pull ol' Buck from the rocking chair. After I heard that, I went and started to find his records again."

It would be a few years before his project would come to fruition.

But through a strange twist of fate, Lauritsen was given the chance of a lifetime to meet his idol in Bakersfield after assisting with a compilation of Owens' hits in 1998.

"EMI released a special collection, and I gave them a hand with some pictures. I told EMI that I had plans to go to Bakersfield and see Buck Owens one day. One day I got a call that the collection had reached platinum, and asked if I would go to Bakersfield and present him the award."

Lauritsen vividly recalls the 2000 trip. Fatigued and nervous after the 5,000-plus-mile flight from Norway to Bakersfield, Lauritsen described watching the iconic musician who'd inspired him to pursue music enter with a swagger suited to his image.

"I went to Jim Shaw's office there, and after about 10 or 15 minutes, Buck walked in. It was one of the biggest moments of my life as a fan."

Extending his hand for a hearty Bakersfield welcome, Lauritsen said Owens' greeting remains etched in his mind forever.

"The first thing he asked was, 'How'd you learn your English? I told him 'Love's Gonna Live Here,' is the first song I remembered. He took Jim Shaw's red, white and blue guitar and started singing the song in his office. I started singing a few lines with him, then he stopped and said, 'You come to the sound check tomorrow, rehearse the song and you can sing it later in the show.'"

Three years later, Lauritsen met steel guitarist Steiner Schroder, who happened to be an old friend of late Buckaroo steel guitarist Tom Brumley. Well-versed in Brumley's technique, Schroder was also instrumental in getting the band's flashy, Nudie-inspired suits like those of the original Buckaroos. An airline pilot, Lauritsen found a tailor during a work trip to Bangkok who could make similar suits, which have been a big hit since the beginning.

"That's how that got started. Now there were two of us who could put together a full set of Owens songs, and by 2005 we had the suits and everything."

Rounding out the lineup is drummer Luis Borgli, bassist Hans-Petter Jahr and lead guitarist Terjie Schroder, who recently added the fiddle to the stage show that also includes Owens' signature hits, and then some.

"We like to play songs from his catalog before he was famous. Songs like 'Under Your Spell Again' and 'Above and Beyond' were more or less keys to success for him, about 26 to 30 songs."

"I've known Odd for many years," said Shaw. "But I considered him more of a guitar player, until I heard him sing the first time. I didn't realize he sounded so much like Buck.

"Every now and then a little accent pops up, but he gave me goosebumps when I heard him, just blew me away. They've been working towards getting the right players for the group. Steiner is amazing on the steel. I just love them."

This marks Lauritsen's third trip to the Crystal Palace and Bakersfield's second full band performance after performing at the venue last year.

"We're really looking forward to coming back to Bakersfield," said Lauritsen.

"I don't know anybody who sounds like this group with the visuals and all. It's the real deal," said Shaw.

For more information on Bakersfield, visit the band's website at bakersfield.dk.