The famed Winter Dance Party gets underway tonight at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
The 39th annual event honors the memory of rock-n-rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson who died in a plane crash in February of 1959 after performing at the historic venue.
Surf Ballroom director Laurie Lietz says they’ve scheduled another full weekend of entertainment.
She says Thursday night’s lineup includes Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, Jay Siegel’s Tokens, Austin Allsup and Rosie & The Rivets. On Friday, it’s the Holy Rocka Rollaz, the Bobby Cochran Band, Vito Picone’s The Elegants, and the Tailfins. The weekend wraps up on Saturday with Brenda Lee, Bobby Rydell, Albert Lee & Friends, Linda Gail Lewis and Danny B. Harvey & Annie Marie Lewis. Among the people to be honored at this year’s event will be its founder.
Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Darryl Hensley organized the first event in 1979 while working for a Clear Lake radio station. Hensley died in September in a bike accident near Burlington. Lietz says Hensley tried to make it back to Clear Lake every year.
“He had made so many life-long friends that had come to him and the Surf just because of this event,” she says. “I know his friends and family are planning to be here to honor his legacy, but I know there’s a big hole in a lot of people’s hearts including ours this year when we lost him.”
Also being honored is Dean Snyder, who saved the ballroom when he purchased it back in the 1990s. Snyder died recently in Clear Lake. Lietz credits Snyder and his family for keeping the event and the ballroom going.
“We wouldn’t be here during this weekend to celebrate these legacies if they hadn’t stepped in to take care of the building. It’s a huge undertaking,” Lietz says. “They underwent a massive rehabilitation of the ballroom and other restoration efforts. We continue to try and piece together. We do a little bit each year, but they really did it all within a short period of time to get it back up and running. It’s a huge part of their family and we enjoy our relationship with them.”
Lietz says planning for the event takes more than a year, and with some of the musicians getting older, sometimes they don’t want to come to north-central Iowa in early February to perform.
She says this was one of the first times that she’s been involved where everyone accepted their offer to perform at the event. “There’s years where it’s difficult to piece it all together and you kind of need a center cog, and if that doesn’t work, you kind of have to start over again. It was pretty easy for us to piece together the lineup, and everybody is glad to be here, and that always makes it fun when they want to be here.”
The event kicks off tonight with the family sock hop at 6:30.
(Story and photos by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)