January 23: George Divine’s Million Dollar Ballroom, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
January 24: Eagles Ballroom, Kenosha, Wisconsin (Debbie Stevens also performed)
January 25: Kato Ballroom, Mankato, Minnesota
January 26: Fournier’s Ballroom, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
January 27: Fiesta Ballroom, Montevideo, Minnesota
January 28: Prom Ballroom, St. Paul, Minnesota
January 29: Capitol Theater, Davenport, Iowa
January 30: Laramar Ballroom, Fort Dodge, Iowa
January31: National Guard Armory, Duluth, Minnesota
February 1: Riverside Ballroom, Green Bay, Wisconsin
February 2: Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa
In January, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper”, Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Sardo, Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch set out on a 24 day tour barnstorming the Midwest. It became the most infamous tour in rock ‘n roll history.
Organizationally speaking, the tour was a complete catastrophe. The shows were often scheduled hundreds of miles apart from one another as they zigzagged through one of the deadliest winters the Midwest had seen in decades, in the worst possible transportation available. The musicians crammed into a drafty bus to perform in small ballrooms and theatres and by February 1st, Carl Bunch (Holly’s drummer) had left with frostbitten feet.
By the time the tour limped into Clear Lake, Iowa on the evening of Monday, February 2nd, Holly had decided to charter a small plane for himself, Allsup and Jennings to fly to the next venue in Fargo, North Dakota following the show at the Surf Ballroom. At the last minute, Jennings gave up his seat to The Big Bopper (who had the flu) and Tommy Allsup lost his seat to Ritchie Valens with a flip of a coin.
The performance in Clear Lake was electric and the music brought a joy that would remain forever in the hearts and minds of all who attended. It was a night that burned bright with some of rock and roll’s greatest songs and its brightest stars…and ended with the unthinkable. After their performance here at the Surf Ballroom, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, were killed when their plane crashed shortly after taking off from the nearby Mason City Municipal Airport.
The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history. Bobby Vee & The Shadows performed in Fargo, ND on Feb. 3rd, and Jimmy Clanton, Fabian & Frankie Avalon were substituted as the tour’s headliners. Frankie Sardo, Dion & The Belmonts and The Crickets continued until the end of the tour.
That day was forever immortalized as ‘The Day The Music Died’ by Don McLean in his 1972 anthem American Pie. For many people, that tour and subsequent crash symbolized the end of a period in both rock and roll and American history. The innocence, it seems, was forever lost.