Iowa History: The Day the Music Died

Our home state of Iowa and the local surrounding area are full of history. One such piece of this history is the plane crash that occurred on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, IA, that tragically changed rock and roll forever. The crash took the lives of American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson as well as their pilot Roger Peterson.

Continue reading to learn about the history surrounding the “Winter Dance Party” tour, our neighboring city and the tragedy commonly known as “The Day the Music Died.”

Surf Ballroom The Day the Music Died

In January of 1959, Buddy Holly and his band, Tommy Allsup, Waylon Jennings and Carl Bunch, started their “Winter Dance Party” tour across the Midwest. Additional rising stars Ritchie Valens, “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson, and the group Dion and the Belmonts had also joined the tour.

The tour was scheduled to cover twenty-four cities across the Midwest with no off days. It quickly became clear that the distances between venues had not been considered when the tour was scheduled. Adding to the tours issues, the buses used for travel were inadequate for long travel and frequently broke down in freezing temperatures, the performers were also adversely effected with cases of flu. At one point during their travels, Buddy Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, was unable to continue the tour and was hospitalized due to frostbite.

Their performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2 was the eleventh of the twenty-four scheduled events. The group of performers had driven 350 miles from the previous day’s concert in Green Bay, Wisconsin, even though Clear Lake had not been a scheduled stop on the tour. The promoters of the tour hoped to fill an open day spot and called the manager of the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom who then accepted and set the show for that night. The next scheduled stop was Moorhead, Minnesota, and the trip would take them back through two venues they had already played the week prior, another piece of evidence showing how poorly the tour was organized.

Frustrated with these escalating issues, Holly decided to charter a plane to fly himself and his band to Fargo, North Dakota, saving him the journey in the bus to allow him time to rest between the venues. With Carl Bunch still hospitalized with frostbite, those onboard would have included Buddy Holly and his band mates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. However, Jennings gave up his spot to J.P. Richardson, as he was suffering from the flu, while Allsup lost his seat to Valens on a coin toss.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson then drove to the nearby Mason City Municipal Airport. At the time of their departure, weather conditions were described as light snow, and the plane took off normally. The control tower reported clearly seeing a normal takeoff, but also observed the tail light of the aircraft begin to descend. Minutes later, the pilot, Roger Peterson, failed to make the standard radio contact after repeated attempts. Later that morning, the plane’s intended route was retraced and the plane wreckage was spotted less than six miles from the airport.

This event, known as “The Day the Music Died,” has since been mentioned in several songs, films and documentaries. Clear Lake also features various monuments at both the crash site and throughout the city. At the Surf Ballroom, the location of their last performance, an annual memorial concert is still held to honor the rock and rollers, aptly named the “Winter Dance Party.”

Learn more about various locations to visit below:

Locations to Visit

The Surf Ballroom & Museum – The Surf Ballroom is known widely as an American cultural icon, and because of the events detailed previously, a historical landmark. The original ballroom was built in 1933 but was destroyed in a fire in 1947, then rebuilt across the street from the original location in 1948. The location hosts many different events and is often filled to capacity with the music of internationally known performers.

Learn More About the Surf Ballroom

Crash Site Memorial – In a cornfield a few miles north of the Surf Ballroom is the Crash Site Memorial for those lost in the plane crash. At the entrance to the trail that leads to the memorial, you are greeted by an oversized structure depicting Buddy Holly’s signature glasses. The memorial includes a stainless steel guitar and a set of three stainless steel records that mark the exact spot where the plane came to rest. On the 50th anniversary of the event, in 2009, a second monument was erected honoring the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Learn More About How to Visit the Crash Site

Three Stars Plaza – Located near the Surf Ballroom, another monument is featured at the Three Stars Plaza. The Art-Deco inspired memorial features a spindle with three records stacked, and visitors can use its interactive features to listen to music and history about the three fallen rock and rollers.

Here at Lichtsinn RV, we are proud to recognize and appreciate the rich history of our home-state, as well as the many other historical landmarks. When preparing for your drive to our dealership, be sure to investigate the many locations and opportunities to visit on your way.

Contact a Lichtsinn RV Sales Consultant to find the perfect RV for your next adventure to these great locations!

Experience the Best® at Lichtsinn RV, we have been recognized by Winnebago Industries as the #1 Winnebago Dealer in North America each year since 2015. Lichtsinn RV is located 1 mile north of the Winnebago Factory in Forest City, IA and we proudly sell new Winnebago motorhomes and pre-owned RVs from various manufacturers. While at Lichtsinn RV, you can expect no delivery miles on new RVs, a complimentary half-day educational orientation of your RVexcellent guest reviews, an assigned support team from sales, parts, service and the business officesuperior accommodationsno-hassle pricing and competitive financing. See our extensive new and used inventory here.

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