February 3, 2009 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the plane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, Richie Valens, and their pilot, Roger Peterson in Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly, Richardson, and Valens were part of the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour featuring popular Rock and Roll musicians that had performed in Clear Lake at the Surf Ballroom earlier in the evening.
The Dance Party tour traveled by bus from performance to performance across Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Many of the performers were not happy with the lack of heat on the bus (a necessity in the dead of a mid-west winter) and the time it took traveling from city to city.
As a result of these conditions, on February 2nd Holly decided to charter a private plane to fly from Clear Lake (site of their February 2nd performance) to the tour’s next destination of Fargo, North Dakota. Originally Holly’s back-up musicians, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup, were to fly with Holly to Fargo. After some changes, Richardson and Valens took their places. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on February 3rd, the plane took off in snowy conditions and crashed in a nearby field. Weather and pilot inexperience were listed as probable cause of the accident.
Only days before, Davenport teenagers filled the Capital Theatre in downtown Davenport to listen to the music of the Winter Dance Party. Davenport was the seventh stop on the tour with two shows on January 29th at the Capital. Hosted by local radio station KSTT and billed in newspaper advertisements as “Concert of Stars”; tickets to the 7 and 9 p.m. shows sold for $1.50 each. Dion and the Belmonts, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the headliners.* The tour, which had started on January 23rd, had only played ballroom style venues to this point. Davenport’s Capital Theatre would be their first audience seated performance.
Unfortunately, no pictures have come to light of the performances in Davenport. After leaving Davenport, the tour made stops in Ft. Dodge, Iowa; Duluth; Green Bay; and then Clear Lake.
The tour continued through February 15th with Jimmy Clanton, Fabian, and Frankie Avalon filling in the now empty spots. Clear Lake continues to hold special events every February in memory of the late performers and the music of early Rock and Roll.
Built in 1920 as part of the Kahl Building, the Capital Theatre has undergone recent renovations and still hosts both local and national musical and fine arts performances. Please see A Capital Theatre! posted on December 22, 2008 for more details on this historic building.
It would be interesting to hear (or see) the memories of those that attended the performances at the Capital Theatre on January 29, 1959. Feel free to share memories (or photos) of the event with us!
(posted by Amy D.)
*Davenport Daily Times, January 27, 1959. Pg. 14.