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Kitty Dunn

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Surf Ballroom memories

We're hearing a lot this week about the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa...because it's now been 50 years since "the day the music died."  It was on February 2nd, 1959 that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens played the Surf Ballroom...and then fed up with a cold tour bus that was always breaking down, they got on a small single engine plane to get to their next gig. And as everybody knows..they never made it, crashing in a nearby farm field. Tonight there's a huge tribute concert happening at the Surf, with a stellar lineup including Graham Nash, Los Lonely Boys, Delbert McClinton and Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens. Holly's widow is also expected to be there..along with Tommy Allsup, the guy who lost the coin flip to Ritchie Valens for the last seat on the plane. I wish I could be there for that show..but I did get a chance to attend "50's in February" a couple of years ago. Mike and I had a great time, accompanied by our friends Roger and Julie. (Johnny Rivers and Nelson were the big headliners.) The ballroom at the Surf has been restored to what it looked like when Buddy played there..and it's pretty surreal. Add that to that the fact that couples were dressed in 50's gear..which looked a little odd since many of them were in the late 60's or 70's! There's a museum of sorts at the Surf...with some memorabilia you can check out. But my favorite part was the old pay phone on the wall..the last phone Buddy Holly ever used to call his wife Maria Elena. Roger checked the coin return and found a dime! We got instructions for driving out to the crash site (something like..turn left at the 3rd silo)..and it really is out in the middle of nowhere. Mike, Julie and Roger hiked out to the site through slushy snow..but as it was getting dark I decided to wait back in the van (which was a little scary..being ALL ALONE in the desolate rural landscape).   But when the gang got back they told me all about the small memorial there..where people had left mementoes (including one person who left an Illinois driver's license.) Roger added the dime he found in the pay phone. If you're a fan of Buddy Holly..or rock and roll history in general..I highly recommend you make the trip out to the Surf Ballroom sometime. Hey--it's just been named a rock and roll landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Our buddy Michael Bie has written a great article about the Winter Dance Party tour, on his website classicwisconsin.com. 



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02/02/2009 8:55AM
Surf Ballroom memories
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