Thousands of rock-n-roll lovers are converging on Clear Lake for the Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom.
The three-day event started last night. It’s a celebration of the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson, who died along with pilot Roger Peterson in a plane crash near Clear Lake after a show at the Surf on February 2nd, 1959.
Surf Ballroom director Laurie Lietz says they see music lovers every year from at least 40 states and several foreign countries.
“This is the place that they come to take their vacation,” Lietz says. “It really just resonates with us that this is an important event to them and it’s just so much fun, too. They’ve created a ‘February family,’ I think they call themselves. For a lot of people, it’s a place to come and just enjoy the music and enjoy the friendships that they’ve created over the years.”
Thursday night’s concert featured the ’60s garage-rock band The Kingsmen, whose big hit was “Louie Louie,” as well as Joey Dee and Little Peggy March. Austin Allsup also performed. He’s the son of Tommy Allsup, the last surviving member of Holly’s Crickets from the Winter Dance Party. Tonight’s (Friday) lineup features two performers from the doo-wop group Sha Na Na as part of the event’s traditional sock hop.
“We’ve got Bowzer’s Rock and Doo-Wop Sock Hop featuring Bowzer and the Stingrays,” Lietz says. “They’re a fabulous group along with Rocky and the Rollers. We’ve got Johnny Contardo, who was also with Sha Na Na, as Bowzer was, and an original Comet, Joey Ambrose.” Lietz says they’ve recently been turning the corner on their Saturday night concerts to highlight some artists that have been influenced by Holly, Valens and the Bopper.
“This year’s Three Stars Memorial Concert is featuring Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives,” Lietz says. “He is a rockabilly artist, and before it was rock-n-roll, it was rockabilly, so it really kind of ties into the history of the music itself and kind of how it all started.” Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys are also performing Saturday night, as are Albert Lee and Headcat 13, along with special appearances by Narvel Felts, Linda Gail Lewis, and Sonny West. Lietz says Sonny West has direct connections to Buddy Holly’s career.
“He goes way back in the lineage of the rock-n-roll music,” Lietz says. “He wrote ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Rave On’ for Buddy Holly. So he knew Buddy Holly and he is thrilled. He reached out to us via Facebook and wanted to be part of the event once again, so we’re thrilled to have him come back and be a part of Saturday evening’s show.” Tickets to each night’s concert are available this year or people can still purchase a three-day pass.
(By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)