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Remembering Buddy Holly -- The Day The Music Died

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65 years gone now for Winter Dance Party '59





Sidling up on January 23, 1959, came the “Winter Dance Party” bus. “They had come in from Chicago, where they all congregated the day before, for rehearsals,” said Garabedian. “It arrived about an hour late, I’m told. These were days with no tight security, like now, so it wasn’t a mob scene. The Milwaukee Journal estimated 6,000 people attended the show that evening.”

Attending the show was 16-year-old Donna Fischer Doffing, and her memories still provide a fresh and unique window into that evening, still fun, 64 years later. 

“Ritchie Valens had been singing the song ‘Donna,’ and it was playing on Milwaukee radio,” said Doffing. “It was part of the Channel 6 (WITI) Dance Party, a local version of American Bandstand. Because of that song, and being on TV, and hearing he would be coming to town … I don’t remember if I asked my parents, but my brother went with me, he was two years older than me.”

They took two buses to get to the Eagles Club. “We got there early, my mother gave me a red and white valentine heart, and I glued it to the back of my purse. It said, ‘Donna,’ and you could flip it up or down, if I wanted to be noticed. Someone would say my name, and I would always act surprised. I was 16.”

She was walking inside the Million Dollar Ballroom “and then, it just so happened that Ritchie Valens walked past, unrecognized, and he saw my purse, and said ‘Donna.’ We talked,” she recalled, “and I realized it was Ritchie. I told him the song, ‘Donna,’ was very popular in Milwaukee because I was calling the stations all the time.


Valens invited her into a larger room, where musicians waited before coming on stage. “I gave my camera to someone to take our picture,” she continued. “People had cameras back then, but it was only used for special occasions, for Christmas, Easter … there were two photos left. My Mom let me have the camera for the two photos. ‘I want to take the roll to Walgreen’s to get it developed.’ That was the photo of both of us, and him playing. 

“I was waving at Ritchie. Backstage, he was so conscientious, very much of a gentleman, and I thought he was older than me. Come to find out later, he was only one year older. The audience was very receptive and singing the songs. It was a real experience to be in a place where these songs on the radio were being played live."


The 1959 Winter Dance Party in Milwaukee: Memories of a Moment - Shepherd Express


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Teen heartthrob Buddy Holly joined rising stars Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson for the second stop of the infamous Winter Dance Party tour on Jan. 24, 1959, at the Eagles Ballroom.

More than 1,500 screaming teenagers squeezed into a packed ballroom to witness a performance that would soon become — certainly far sooner than anyone envisioned — a significant piece of music history.

Just one month past her 13th birthday, Kenosha resident Pat Keating arrived hours early to assure a front-row spot at the stage.


“The Big Bopper was all over the stage,” said Keating, who attended Washington Junior High School at the time. “He had so much energy. He was nuts. He looked like a goofball, but was so much fun to watch.

“Then Buddy came out, and everyone was in awe. Girls were crying like the Beatles were performing. Ritchie Valens was so laid back and quiet. We all thought maybe he was a little shy or something.”

It was one of the most energetic shows of the tour and also the most documented, thanks to the diligence of local photographer Tony Szikil.

Winter Dance Party rocked Kenosha before deadly plane crash | AP News

Szikil documented the historic night in Kenosha with a series of stunning photographs, capturing a sea of star-struck teenagers singing along to hits including Holly’s “Peggy Sue”, Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.”

Tony Szikil was working a wedding on the first floor of the Eagles Ballroom when the ceiling started shaking from the Winter Dance Party above.


Winter Dance Party: Ten days before the music died - Kenosha.com


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After an all night ride from Kenosha, the Winter Dance Party arrived about midday in downtown Mankato Minnesota, the scene of their next performance. They checked into the Hotel Burton and got some much needed rest before their show which was to begin that night at the Kato Ballroom. The Kato was owned by Herb and Jerry Martinka who had some success in booking many different kind of bands at that time. Of course, they hosted many teen rock and roll dances in 1959 also. These events were watched over with a firm hand back then and like many of the venues the WDP was to play, a strict no-drinking policy was enforced. Policemen were on duty keeping an ever watchful eye on the crowd and parents were admitted free to further keep things under control. As Larry Lehmer's book, The Day The Music Died reports, most of the dances were over by 11:30 PM in those days, which turned out to be a very good thing as most of them were held on weeknights. Weeknights meant school nights for the kids and it's unlikely that much homework got done over the weekend on this Sunday night Jan. 25.

The Kato was going to have an overflow crowd. 1,500 teenagers willing paid $1.50 each to come dance to the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Popular Minneapolis DJ, Bill Diehl not only promoted the show but drove 70 miles to be the emcee that night. Bill had met Buddy Holly a year earlier when Holly appeared in Minneapolis and had this to say about the rock and roll star: "He was very scholarly..I always called him the Glenn Miller of rock. This was not the stereotypical rock and roll star. This was a fellow who made sense." The kids too were looking forward to seeing Holly who most of them had heard only on portable transistor radios, jukeboxes and record players. They pressed near the stage as Holly and his band came on and some even sat on the front of the stage where a large section of the wrought iron railing was missing. Between sets, all the performers posed for pictures and signed autographs. One of the fans, Dianne Cory who attended the show that night said that the members of the WDP seemed to be in a very good mood, especially Ritchie Valens and Frankie Sardo. Typical teenagers themselves, they were having a good time on their first big tour. "They were cutting up and being silly." Dianne said. Drummer Carl Bunch was having fun too. Earlier that day he had met a young lady by the name of Cathy Chatleain at Frederickson's Cafe across the street from the hotel. Cathy was a waitress and working but liked Buddy Holly's drummer and invited him back to her home to meet her parents that afternoon. That night, Cathy would attend the show to watch Carl play drums and even invite him to a late night birthday celebration for friend Judy Peery. After the show, Carl and Dion's Belmonts would take Cathy up on her invitation and show up to help with the birthday party. It must have been a welcome relief to return to just being a teenager that night for Carl, Freddie and Carlo. The next morning they would face another long drive to Eau Claire, Wisconsin some 167 miles to the east. It was a crazy itinerary that would make them drive 5 hours BACK to Wisconsin from which they had just performed. It was still cold too. The Midwest was known for it's subzero winters with the winter of 1959 being no different. Little did they know that night too just how cold it was going to get either. Just three days into the tour, it was to be the last night their journey would be trouble free. They would soon find out just what kind of transportation they had been given to get themselves from date to date and how brutal life on the road could be. But for this night, they would sleep in a warm bed at the Hotel Burton, with the sounds of the crowd and the rock and roll they played drifting through their dreams.

Winter Dance Party 1959-JAN 25-Mankato, MN (tripod.com)


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On Jan. 26, 1959 the floor of Fournier’s Ballroom vibrated as young people from across the Chippewa Valley stood shoulder to shoulder watching some of the biggest names in music at the time perform on stage right here in Eau Claire.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, along with Dion and The Belmonts and Frankie Sardo brought their Winter Dance Party tour to Fournier’s 65 years ago.

 Claire native and Holly historian Don Larson has been to 37 of the shows. This year The Surf will host the 45th annual. Larson also attended the Eau Claire tour as a 17-year-old senior at Memorial High School.

He wasn’t much of an Elvis Presley fan, but he was really into Holly, and was ecstatic when he heard he was coming to town.

“I was thrilled to death. I couldn’t believe he was coming to Eau Claire. I went down to Meyer Music and bought my ticket for a dollar,” Larson said.

The night of the show, friend Glenn St. Arnault picked Larson up at his parents’ house and they went to Fournier’s, a popular venue for community events at the time that was located near the current site of the Eau Claire County Jail. (A historical marker at the intersection of First Avenue and Ann Street still marks the location of the former ballroom, which opened around 1900 and closed and was torn down in 1971.)

“I didn’t dance that night. I just wanted to be close to the Bandstand, so that’s where I stood all night,” Larson said, recalling that Holly’s backup band wasn’t the Crickets as advertised, as he had split from the Crickets shortly before the tour.

He didn’t mind too much, because he was just a few feet away from Holly on stage.

At the end of the night, before he went to bed, Larson used his mother’s typewriter to type a list of the seven songs Holly played that night. He still has it in a scrapbook today.

The next morning, on the bus, Larson learned of a missed opportunity. A friend had asked why he didn’t stop at Sammy’s Pizza after the concert. The friend said Holly, Valens, Richardson and other performers had gone there for pizza.

“I missed out on that,” Larson said.


Larson has become a Holly expert, and has collected many photos of the Eau Claire show over the years. The photos have opened many doors for Larson and led to special interactions and connections.

One interaction in particular stands out.

Years after the Winter Dance Party, Larson blew up a photo from the Eau Claire show and presented it to Jennings after a show in Colorado. He was stunned and thankful. The meeting began a lifelong friendship between the two.



Caroline Thompson Pietrowski was also in the audience that night in Eau Claire.

While attending Owen-Withee School, her bus driver asked if any of the juniors and seniors wanted to go to the Buddy Holly concert in Eau Claire. A group of 12 happily volunteered and got permission from their parents to make the trek to Eau Claire in two vehicles on a bitter cold night. Their bus driver arranged everything.

Pietrowski and her twin sister were only six deep away from the stage.

“There was a lot of excitement because in those days you just didn’t have that opportunity at all,” she said. “It was a very exciting adventure.”

Fans reflect on EC Winter Dance Party 65 years later | Local Entertainment | leadertelegram.com

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A Tale of the 1959 Winter Dance Party from Tipton, Iowa

On Friday, January 30th after performing at the Capitol Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa the night before, the stars travel by bus for their next gig in Fort Dodge, Iowa some 250 miles away. Complicating the long road trip is the fact that the bus’ heating element is not working. The riders are miserable and the driver decides to stop in nearby Tipton for repairs.

While the heater issue is diagnosed and repairs made at the Gaul Motor Company for four hours, the Winter Dance Party band members go for a bite to eat at Al’s Meet and Eat Restaurant on the 300 block of Cedar Street. The band interacted with the town’s folks who didn’t appear to know who they are.

Some of the band members looked for warmer clothes at the T & M Clothes Store. In 1992 store owner George Tevis recalls that the band members were underdressed with lightweight coats and pants. They paid for new winter gear with lots of $100 bills, he said.

But at the Meet and Eat there was something a bit more interesting going on. Ritchie Valens and maybe others chatted up the wait staff at the tiny diner. Ritchie Valens asked waitress Ester Wenck if she wanted to hear the song he made famous. Wenck said yes and Valens went over to the diner’s juke box and played his hit, Donna. Wenck said that Valens then sang along with his record to her.

A repair of the heater is completed and the band leaves for their Laramar Ballroom performance in Fort Dodge.

42N Observations: A Tale of the 1959 Winter Dance Party from Tipton, Iowa


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It was the chance to dance and be with friends that drew Roger Kinseth and his best friend, Gary Crouse, to plop down $1.50 to see the up and coming stars of the Winter Dance Party at the Laramar Ballroom in downtown Fort Dodge on Friday, Jan. 30, 1959.

Kinseth and Crouse were 17-years-old, juniors at Fort Dodge Senior High School, and loved nothing better than a night out with friends at the Laramar. ‘Shagging the Drag’ on Central Avenue to the Square was also a good time, but it’s hard to beat the fun that teenage boys and girls can have together on the dance floor, and the Laramar was just the place for it.

“You always took your dates to the Laramar on Friday and Saturday nights,” Crouse said. “That’s just what you did. We had so many popular groups that came to the Laramar back then.”


The two friends were so impressed with Holly, and all the stars of the Winter Dance Party, that when they learned the show would be on stage at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake just three nights later, they decided they wanted to see it again. After all, who knew when such rising stars would be back in the area?


“We just decided to get some dates and go on up to The Surf and see the show again,” Kinseth said. “We got to see two of their last four shows.”

That no doubt puts the two former Fort Dodgers in rare company. To have seen Holly once is amazing, but to have attended two venues of the hopscotching Winter Dance Party could put them in the record books.

“We always danced to the music,” he said. “You weren’t just sitting there listening to them, we got up and danced.”

At the Laramar, there was a tradition known as a ‘trap,’ that got couples to mingle on the dance floor, changing up partners by encircling them in a ‘trap,’ and thus getting to know many people.

The Laramar’s dance floor was reserved for teens only on the night of the Winter Dance Party. Adults could pay $1 for admission to the balcony to watch the show.

Crouse, who now lives in Crown Point, Indiana, can’t quite remember who his date was three nights later when the foursome traveled up to Clear Lake for the last, fateful concert. He does remember that he had to borrow a scarf from her to keep from freezing on the long drive home in the snow.

The two couples had taken a Chevrolet to the lake, a 1953 Bel Air traversing two-lane roads for the long drive back to Fort Dodge.

“We drove home in a blizzard,” Crouse said. “It was terrible. At that time, cars had vacuum -operated windshield wipers, and they couldn’t keep up with the snow, so I had to stick my head out the window to see. I borrowed my date’s scarf so my ears didn’t freeze.”




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The concert line-up was Buddy Holly and the Crickets (including new members Waylon Jennings and drummer Carl Bunch), Ritchie Valens, the “Big Bopper”, Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Sardo, and MC Lew Latto. The entire crew traveled over 350 miles from Fort Dodge, Iowa, by bus, to get to Duluth.


“If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly,” said Dylan during his Nobel Lecture in June 2017. “Buddy died when I was about 18 and he was 22. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him.”

Dylan continued, “Buddy played the music that I loved, the music I grew up on—country western, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs, songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great, sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype, everything I wasn’t and wanted to be.”

“I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone,” shared Dylan. “I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed. He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing.”

He continued, “I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. He looked older than 22. Something about him seemed permanent, and he filled me with conviction.”

Dylan also remembers the experience of standing just a few feet away from Holly, who made eye contact with him. “Then, out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked me right straight dead in the eye, and he transmitted something. Something I didn’t know what. And it gave me the chills.”

“I don’t really recall exactly what I said about Buddy Holly, but while we were recording, every place I turned there was Buddy Holly,” recalled Dylan in a 1999 interview. “It was one of those things. Every place you turned. You walked down a hallway and you heard Buddy Holly records like ‘That’ll Be the Day.’ Then you’d get in the car to go over to the studio and ‘Rave On’ would be playing. Then you’d walk into this studio and someone’s playing a cassette of ‘It’s So Easy.'”

Dylan continued, “And this would happen day after day after day. Phrases of Buddy Holly songs would just come out of nowhere. It was spooky, but after we recorded and left, it stayed in our minds. Well, Buddy Holly’s spirit must have been someplace, hastening this record.”

In 1998, Dylan won three Grammys for Time Out of Mind, including Album of the Year.

“I just have some sort of feeling that he [Holly] was, I don’t know how or why,” said Dylan during his Grammy acceptance speech, “but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”

On This Day: A 17-Year-Old Bob Dylan Saw Buddy Holly Perform Three Days Before the Day the Music Died - American Songwriter



Edited by Badgeholder Still
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In the early morning hours of February 1, 1959, Bob Eckert and three other drivers in Mercer were called out by a Sheriff’s Deputy to bring their cars and help rescue a group of musicians who were stranded out on Highway 51 near Pine Lake.  The early months of 1959 were some of the coldest on record, and the temperature during the early hours of February 1 had dipped down to 35 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.  It was dangerously cold that night, but the drivers went out, picked up what the Iron County Miner later in the week blithely identified as “an orchestra,” and brought them into the town of Hurley.  Most of the musicians were put up in a hotel for a few hours rest, but one of them had such badly frostbitten feet that he had to be hospitalized in Ironwood.

The musicians rescued that night in 1959 were not members of any orchestra.  Rather, they were some of the pioneers of Rock and Roll.  On the bus that night were Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, Richie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts, and J.P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper.  Holly and the others with him were on one of the most poorly organized tours in the history of rock music.  Called “The Winter Dance Party,” the tour started in Milwaukee on January 23rd and followed a grueling schedule that had the bands playing every night across three states in towns and cities that were often hundreds of miles apart.

The ride that brought them to the Northwoods was typical of the tour. Traveling in an old, reconditioned school bus, the musicians finished playing in Duluth around 11:00 pm on January 31st.  Packing up their own instruments, they boarded the bus for the long, overnight haul to Appleton, Wisconsin.  None of the musicians had dressed properly for the northern winter, let alone for a sub-zero breakdown in the middle of the night.  They got no relief either.  Although the Appleton concert was cancelled, they played on the evening of February 1st in Green Bay. 

In 1959, Buddy Holly Stopped in the Northwoods on the Winter Dance Party Tour | WXPR




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Bumping into Buddy Holly in the bathroom at the Riverside

Daugherty was a year out of high school when he and a buddy went to see the Winter Dance Party at the Riverside Ballroom. The ill-fated tour had played Duluth, Minnesota, the night before and somehow made it to Green Bay in brutal winter weather, but not without a bus breakdown, frostbite that sidelined Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch and travel woes that forced the cancellation of a show earlier in the day in Appleton.

“Everybody loved Buddy Holly and his music. It was a pretty big deal,” said Daugherty, of Howard, about the Green Bay visit.

The two waited in a long line to get inside the ballroom — so long that by the time they got to the doors it was after 8 p.m., which meant they had to pay the full $1.25 price. Admission was 90 cents before 8 p.m. Daugherty remembers being upset about having to shell out the extra 35 cents.

“That was big money in those days,” he said.

Once inside, they worked their way up to the front stage so they could look up at Holly, Valens, The Big Bopper, Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. If there were screaming girls in the crowd, Daugherty doesn’t recall.

“We didn’t pay much attention to that. We were too interested in the stars themselves.”

Then came the part of the night when fate stepped in, at the urinals of all places.

“My wife doesn’t like me to tell this story, but just shortly before one of the breaks, I had to go to the bathroom. I’m taking a whiz, and I look up and they had taken a break, and here’s Buddy Holly right next to me taking a whiz, so I got to talk to him in the bathroom.”

Like every other teen at that time, Daugherty wanted to be a rock star, so he told the 22-year-old Holly how he had a guitar and was trying to learn to play.

“He just encouraged me to keep it going. He said it’s a wide-open market, a lot of room for people,” Daugherty said. “Then I just told him I loved his music and he went back to playing again. That was kind of neat.”


John Daugherty was a 19-year-old Buddy Holly fan working at a local service station on Monroe Avenue and Main Street in 1959 when a concert poster from the Winter Dance Party at the Riverside Ballroom landed in his hands.

In the decades that followed, it hung in his bedroom in De Pere, survived a house fire in Howard, briefly went missing and eventually found its way to a collector in California.

Now, 64 years later, it’s the only known surviving poster from an unforgettable night of music forever etched in Green Bay rock ‘n’ roll history — Holly & The Crickets, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson as The Big Bopper on the Riverside stage on a bone-chilling winter’s night on Feb. 1, 1959, for what would be the second-to-the-last show the young stars ever played.

It’s only the third Winter Dance Party poster to ever come through Heritage Auctions in the 47-year history of the the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer.

Last November, a poster from the Feb. 3, 1959, show at the Moorhead Armory, which went on despite the deaths of its three biggest stars, sold for a world record-setting $447,000. Its price was undoubtedly bolstered by the fact it carries the same date as "the day the music died."

In 2020, Heritage offered what was then the first-known surviving poster advertising the Winter Dance Party, from the Jan. 25, 1959, show in Mankato, Minnesota. It sold for $125,000.

The poster from the Green Bay stop is special, because it’s the last one from a show that Holly played, Howard said. The stop at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake the next night, on Feb. 2, was a late addition to the itinerary on what was originally scheduled to be a rest night. It was advertised only with a last-minute ad in the newspaper. No posters.

“There’s only one Green Bay (poster) that has ever been discovered ... so it’s just as rare as you can get,” Howard said. “A standard rare concert poster means there might only be five or 10 or 12 and all the collectors sort of knock each other out for them. But this is just a hen’s tooth, much rarer than a needle in a haystack. It’s just an almost nonexistent artifact of rock ‘n’ roll’s first tragedy.”



The only known surviving poster from 1959 Winter Dance Party at Riverside Ballroom is going up for auction. But first, its incredible story. (yahoo.com)

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