Feb. 3 marks the anniversary of the Day the Music Died — the snowy night when (from left) Buddy Holly, JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens took off in a small plane from Clear Lake, Iowa after playing a gig at the Surf Ballroom. They were headed to the next stop on their Winter Dance Party tour and Holly, sick of the miserable experience on the tour bus, chartered a plane.
The plane crashed in a field about five miles from the airport due to poor weather conditions. In an interesting bit of trivia, Valens and Richardson weren’t even supposed to be on the plane. The plane was supposed to be for Holly and his bandmates, but Tommy Allsup flipped a coin with Valens for the last seat and Waylon Jennings (now-famous country artist) gave up his seat to a flu-stricken Richardson.
Holly was only 22 years old at the time of the crash and left behind a pregnant widow, who suffered a miscarriage shortly after the crash. The Big Bopper was 28 and Ritchie Valens was only 17 years old.
“American Pie” famously dubbed the day “the day the music died” and goes on, in its 8 and a half minutes, to chronicle the tumultuous 60s from the perspective of the changing music. The first verse starts with the death of these three musicians and the last verse speaks of Janis Joplin’s death in 1970. The song is full of interesting references, so it’s worth a study for history and/or music buffs. We’ve embedded a video of artist Don McLean performing his iconic song.
We grew up not far from the Surf Ballroom, it’s a neat old dance hall. If you’re ever in Iowa in the summer, there’s a festival to commemorate the three artists who were taken away from us the Day the Music Died.There is also a dance night/concert on the actual anniversary every year. Details can be found at the Surf Ballroom website. This year’s concert features Jerry Lee Lewis, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Tommy Allsup. It’s worth a trip.