CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — The 60th Anniversary of the Winter Dance Party has now concluded. This year, the memories lived on.
It has been 60 years since a plane crash which took the life of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson.
During the Winter Dance Party, Ritchie Valens’ younger siblings, Connie, Irma, and Mario Valens took to the stage singing “La Bamba,” a big hit record for Ritchie and also the title of a movie depicting his story.
“A lot of people come to the Surf, and they think, oh, the plane crash,” said Connie Valens Lemos. “The Surf is about the last performance of my brother, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. That’s what we celebrate, their music, their lives, their legacy.”
“When I think about my brother and how young he was, I want all these kids to get inspired by his music,” said Irma Valens Watson of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Surf Ballroom remains as an iconic spot in music history.
Many artists who were influenced by the three musicians have come here to perform and pay homage. Many also have left autographed photos and guitars.
The green room backstage is covered in autographs by artists who have played the Surf over the last 60 years.
“Their last exchange which took place right here, Buddy said to Waylon, ‘I hope the bus breaks down.’ And Waylon said back to Buddy, ‘I hope the plane crashes,’ and so Waylon thought he caused that crash. It haunted him for a long time,” said Jeff Nicholas, president of the Surf Ballroom.
Waylon Jennings did eventually come to the Surf, as did Don McLean who wrote “American Pie,” or “The Day the Music Died,” as some know it.
“[The] Don McLean song ‘American Pie’ talks about [how] the music died. The music didn’t die at the Surf, that’s where the music died,” said Nicholas, “Of course, it really only died for a brief moment because the music lives today.”