WINTER DANCE PARTY

February 2, 2016

In January of 1959…Buddy Holly…Ritchie Valens…J.P. "The Big Bopper"…Dion and the Belmonts…Frankie Sardo…Waylon Jennings…Tommy Allsup…and Carl Bunch set out on a 24 day tour barnstorming the Midwest….

 

The tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 23, 1959…Organizationally speaking…the tour was a complete catastrophe…The shows were often scheduled hundreds of miles apart from one another as they zigzagged through one of the deadliest winters the Midwest had seen in decades…in the worst possible transportation available…The musicians crammed into a drafty bus to perform in small ballrooms and theatres and by February 1st…Holly’s drummer…Carl Bunch…had left with frostbitten feet…

 

By the time the tour limped into Clear Lake, Iowa… On the evening of February 2nd…Buddy Holly…Ritchie Valens…and The Big Bopper play their last show as part of the "Winter Dance Party" tour…stopping this night at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa…Admission is $1.25…The last song of the night was The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace."

 

Holly had decided to charter a small plane for himself…Allsup…and Jennings…to fly to the next venue in Fargo, North Dakota following the show at the Surf Ballroom… Manager Anderson called Hubert Dwyer…owner of the Dwyer Flying Service…a company in Mason City, Iowa…to charter the plane to fly to Hector Airport in Fargo…the closest one to Moorhead…Flight arrangements were made with Roger Peterson…a 21-year-old local pilot…The flying service charged a fee of $36 per passenger for the flight on the 1947 single-engine V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza…registration N3794N…which could seat three passengers plus the pilot…

 

At the last minute…Jennings gave up his seat to The Big Bopper who had the flu…When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly…he said in jest…"Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up"…Jennings responded…"Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes"…a humorous but ill-fated response that haunted him for the rest of his life…

 

 

Ritchie Valens…who had once had a fear of flying…asked Tommy Allsup for his seat on the plane…The two agreed to toss a coin to decide…Bob Hale…a DJ with KRIB-AM… was working the concert that night and flipped the coin in the ballroom's side-stage room shortly before the musicians departed for the airport…Valens won the coin toss for the seat on the flight…Dion had been approached to join the flight…decided that since the $36 fare…equaled the monthly rent his parents paid for his apartment home in the Bronx…could not justify the indulgence…

 

Dion however...tells the story a bit different...”Big Bopper and I won a coin toss to fly to our next gig with Buddy Holly…When I heard the cost of the flight was $36…a whole month's rent for my parents…I gave my seat to Ritchie Valens…And, unlike everyone else in the room for that coin toss, I lived to tell about it.”

 

The performance in Clear Lake was electric and the music brought a joy that would remain forever in the hearts and minds of all who attended….It was a night that burned bright with some of rock and roll's greatest songs and its brightest stars...and ended with the unthinkable…

 

The "Winter Dance Party" tour did not stop…Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup continued performing for two more weeks…with Jennings taking Holly's place as lead singer.

 

 

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