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          Copyright 2007  text and photos, if not otherwise mentioned: Jim McCool

                          (by written permission of the author, 02-08-07)

Jim McCool aus Madison im US-Bundesstaat Wisconsin nahm zum ersten Mal mit seinem Freund Diego an den alljährlichen Feierlichkeiten im Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa teil, die dort den Todestag der 3 Stars wieder aufleben lassen.

Hier sein mit viel Herzblut geschriebener Fanartikel, garniert mit tollen Fotos, die Jim dort machte. Es lohnt sich, das anzuschauen.


Hello all! 

Before I go into detail about the events this past weekend, I would just like to note that we had an incredible time in Clear Lake and Mason City.  The people there are so friendly!  The whole event was wonderful, despite the bitter cold weather (and folks, this kind of cold cannot be adequately summed-up in words.  I don't remember ever experiencing cold weather like this, and I'm from Wisconsin!).

My buddy Diego and I met a lot of wonderful people and made many new friends.  This was our first time there, but it didn't take long at all for us to decide that it certainly wouldn't be our last time.  We will be coming back every year.  I urge all of you reading this who haven't been to this annual event to do whatever it takes to go next year. You will not regret it!

TommyAllsupJimMcCoolClearLake2007.jpgThis is the "Big Bopper" Jim McCool together with my friend Tommy Allsup in the SURF BALLROOM during the "50's in February" festivities.

My friend Diego and I arrived in Mason City at about 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, February 1st, after almost five hours of driving.  That isn't much, but we had been up since the night before.  We checked-in to our motel and rested a bit before getting ready to go to the Surf Ballroom for the first time.  Fortunately, we had the aid of a GPS to guide us to the various locations we would be visiting throughout the weekend.  Unfortunately, the GPS somehow had the address wrong for the Surf, and when it stated "arriving at Surf Ballroom", we found ourselves in front of somebody's house on the lakefront with no Surf Ballroom in sight.  Well, I knew we were close.

After all, it's a small town.  How hard could it be?  Yep, we got lost.  We drove around for almost half an hour looking for it, getting frustrated because I think we covered just about every street in Clear Lake.  Every street, that is, expcept for the one that the Surf was on.  We finally found it!  After scratching our heads wondering "how did we not find this earlier", we parked in the lot and dashed through the painfully cold wind to the entrance.

SURF_BALLROOM_2007.jpgThis is a picture of the front of the Surf Ballroom, along with the marquee.

We went in, and it was amazing. You walk in, and you're taken back in time to 1959.  The ballroom is taken very good care of.  We found our booth, #316, located at the rear of the dance floor on the house-right side, next to the main bar in the ballroom.  After locating our booth, we decided to get something to eat and look around.  Coupe De Ville opened the show that evening, with a good number of people filling the ballroom. 

              My good buddy
              Johnny  Rogers

               rocks  the joint.

              Credits to
   Shannon Moore, my "lil sis"

Then, Tommy Allsup & Friends rocked the house with many of Buddy Holly's best songs, with Johnny Rogers doing an impressive Buddy Holly.  I was thrilled to see them open their set with "Gotta Travel On", which was the song that Buddy opened his set with on the Winter Dance Party tour in 1959.  Tommy Allsup showed why he is one of the most successful session guitarists of all time.  Despite his age, he can still crank out the tunes on his Stratocaster like it was 1959. 

After Tommy Allsup & Friends, and a brief intermission, The Nelson Brothers took the stage to close the show that night.  Now, I didn't actually see much of their show because I had struck up a conversation with Tommy Allsup's bass player in the Surf Lounge between acts. We were talking about music and the Winter Dance Party for a good two hours. I could hear the Nelson's well, and they sounded great. It was nice to hear them do justice to their father's great songs.  When the show ended, Diego and I decided to head back to our motel rooms for some much-needed sleep.  It was a great first night in Clear Lake.

We slept-in Friday morning.  I guess we didn't realize just how tired we were.  After getting up and grabbing a bite to eat, Diego and I headed for the Mason City Municipal Airport.  Once we arrived there, we went in to the general aviation terminal, which is operated by North Iowa Air Service.  We talked with the manager, Todd, about different aspects of the aviation business (Diego and I both work in the aviation field).  I asked Todd about the terminal building and how it has changed over the years.  The building as it is now was built in the early 1960s, having been expanded over the years.  He mentioned that the original general aviation building was basically a house, and that the basement of the house is still there.  It was in this general area that Jerry Dwyer operated his flying service in 1959.

Jerry_Dwyer_2007.jpgFormer Dwyer Flying Service owner Jerry Dwyer (center), with Jim McCool (left), and Diego Castillon (right) at our booth at the Surf Ballroom, February 3rd, 2007.

When we got to the Surf Ballroom that evening, the parking lot was already full, but we were extremely fortunate to have found a parking spot on the street right in front of the Surf.  We dashed across the street through the icy, razor-like wind and entered the lobby.  Johnny Star and The Meteors were on stage performing. There were considerably more people there this night than the previous night, and many more were still coming.  After a while we settled in at our booth as the evening's main event, DJ Mike Harvey and the Super Gold Sock Hop, got underway.  The dance floor was packed and everyone was having a great time.  While Diego and I were sitting at our booth, who comes up and to us and says hello?  It was Sevan (WinterDanceParty on this message board).  I regretted that I had forgotten to make note of which booth he was going to be at before I left for Clear Lake, so I was hoping he would find me at mine, and he did.  We chatted for a bit there and off and on throughout the night. It was very cool.

Later on in the evening, Sevan introduced me to Jerry Dwyer.  This was a huge deal for me.  I had no idea he was going to be there.  Jerry is a class act!  He's such a nice guy, and he loves to meet people.  I was also flattered when Jerry remembered me every time he saw me after that throughout the weekend.

Mike Harvey closed out the show that night by playing "American Pie" by Don McLean.  This was accompanied by a very well done visual annotation of the song on the video screens.  It was a very poignant moment that coincided with the approximate time that the Winter Dance Party concert had ended that night 48 years ago.  There was some talk that a few people were going to the crash site after the show to be there at the exact anniversary of the plane crash.  Diego and I had already planned to do this, and Sevan was going too, along with some members of the British Buddy Holly Society.  At about 12:30 AM, Diego and I left the Surf, got in the car, and headed for the crash site.  At about 12:40, we turned onto the gravel road which led to the intesection of Gull Avenue and 315th Street, where you park and walk the half mile to the crash site along the fence.  As we approached the intersection, we saw that there were already two other cars parked on the left side of the road.  I slowed down and started to pull to the right side of the road to park.

WARD_FUNERAL_HOME.jpgOn a related note, located near the Surf Ballroom is  the funeral home, pictured here, that the bodies of the plane crash victims were taken on February 3rd, 1959.

The funeral home that is pictured is the old Ward Funeral Home, which is indeed where some of the crash victim's bodies were taken on February 3rd, 1959. It is now called the Ward-Van Slyke Funeral Home. 

And then it happened.  The course of events that I'll never forget.

As I pulled over, we felt my two right tires drop off the road and into the ditch. The ditch that we couldn't see and didn't know was there. We were now sitting there at a good 45 degree angle, and we were stuck.  We weren't going anywhere.  The road had played a trick on me.  The high winds had drifted the snow in such a way that made the road look wider than it was.  Luckily, the driver of the car across the road from me was in his vehicle and was determined to help us.  He introduced himself as Clare from Los Angeles.  He was in town for the same events at the Surf.  He wasn't going to walk out to the crash site, however, due to the dangerously cold weather.  Clare attempted to push my car with his van, but it proved to be a futile effort.  Nothing but a tow truck could get me out of this jam.  There was another pickup truck at the intersection parked about 30 feet behind Care's minivan.  Clare went over to the truck's driver's-side window to ask if he might have some chains we could hook up to my car.  It turns out that the driver of the pickup was Wayne, the manager of the Surf Ballroom.  It turns out that Wayne had his own dilemma, however, because at about this time, his friend whom he had driven out to the crash site, was returning to the truck after visiting the crash site, but she wasn't alright.  She was disoriented and had begun to experience the early effects of hypothermia.  Wayne had to get her out of there fast.

Clare let me use his cell phone to contact a towing company.  I got a hold of one at around 1:00 AM.  As I was on the phone with the towing company, another vehicle approached the intersection, pulled over to park, and it too went into the ditch!  It was around this time that Sevan and the others arrived to find me and Diego off the road.  We had to laugh.  Sevan took a picture of me in the car, then headed out to the crash site with the others.  I should note that the sub-zero weather was compounded by strong winds which produced dangerous wind chills of between -30 and -50 degrees.  Diego and I were having second thoughts about going out to the crash site once we got pulled out of the ditch.  Clare was kind enough to stay until we got pulled out and back onto the road.  The tow truck arrived at about 1:45 AM, quickly pulled us out, and I paid the $80.25 bill.  We turned the car around and parked on the other side of the road. 

At this time, Sevan and his friend were returning from the crash site, frozen.  They strongly advised that we not go out there, mainly because we underestimated the amount of winter clothing we would need.  I had a coat, gloves and ear muffs, but I knew that wasn't enough.  Diego only had a coat and hat.  We knew it was just too dangerous, so we headed back to the motel for the night.  I didn't realize it then, but the bill for the tow truck would be the best $80.25 I had ever spent.  Had I not gone off the road, Diego and I might have quickly gotten out of the car and headed into the field to the site, realizing half way there that it was a mistake.  I also would most likely not have met Clare, who, the next night caught up with me at the Surf where we struck up a friendship. Back to Friday night, Diego and I headed back to the motel after a very eventful, and seemingly fateful evening.  We were looking forward to a busy Saturday.

I got up around 9:00 in the morning and called Diego's room to make sure he was up.  We had planned on getting to the Surf Ballroom at 10:00 to check out the memorabilia show and sale, then catch the autograph session.  We left the motel and got to the Surf a little after 10:00 that morning and ran into one of our new friends in the parking lot.  She came in with us and we browsed the venders tables for a while.  *** Cole was there selling copies of the famous pictures he took of Buddy Holly and The Crickets at the Electric Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa in 1958.  I looked around and bought a few items.  Sevan found me a little later in the Surf lounge and gave me the news I had been waiting to hear.  *** Haukoos was at one of the venders tables and he had his pictures with him.  He is the man who took the only known photographs of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and The Belmonts performing at the Surf Ballroom on February 2nd, 1959, just a couple hours before the plane crash.  For personal reasons, Mr. Haukoos has not released the photos for publication, but he brings them to this event to show them to the public.  They are fantastic pictures!  It was really amazing to see pictures from that night.  He has a couple shots of Buddy performing, as well as a couple of Ritchie Valens, and one of the pictures of The Belmonts performing shows Buddy Holly in the background playing the drums.  Sevan took notes on the specific details of the photos.

Clear_Lake_2007_1.jpgPictured on stage at the Surf Ballroom, from left, Tommy Allsup, Bobby Vee, Sonny Curtis, Robby Vee, Tommy Vee, and Jerry Allison.

At 1:00, the lines for autographs were already quite long.  I had already gotten The Crickets and Bobby Vee's autographs last year, but I wanted to speak with Bobby Vee and give him a message from a friend who couldn't be there.  After quickly getting a picture signed by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs, I got in line for Bobby Vee. 

BOBBY_VEE_SURF_2007.jpgBobby Vee entertains the crowd at the Surf Ballroom with one of his hits.  February 3rd, 2007.

For those of you who don't know, Bobby Vee is a class act, a real down to earth guy.  He loves to talk with everyone.  When I got to him, we had a nice chat, and I asked him about what it was like performing on February 3rd, 1959.

I was flattered when, after our conversation, he complimented me by telling me I had a "very creative mind" for asking the particular questions I had asked. He then jotted down a message for my friend.

Crickets_Surf_2007.jpgThe Crickets on stage at the Surf Ballroom.  February 3rd, 2007.From left, Sonny Curtis, Tommy Allsup, and Joe B. Mauldin.  Jeffrey Vee can be seen taking a picture from backstage.

After hanging around the Surf a while longer, Diego and I decided to leave for a while, then come back later for that evening's shows.

We returned to the ballroom at about 6:00 that evening. Josh Holmes was performing on stage.  After settling in at our booth, Jerry Dwyer found me and Diego and talked with us for a while.  He confirmed for me me that he still has the plane wreckage.  We talked about various aspects of aviation, and specifics of the 1947 V-tail Bonanza aircraft.  Jerry is a terrific guy.

After grabbing a bite to eat and a few drinks from the bar, The Cleftones took the stage.  The ballroom was packed! It was the biggest turnout of the weekend.  Everyone was feeling the energy that was in the air.  It was great to see Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs take to the stage and perform one of my favorite songs, "Sugar Shack". Jimmy Gilmer still has that same great singing voice even after more than 40 years since he recorded that song.  Then the Fireballs really got the crowd going with their raucus hit "Bottle of Wine". 

CRICKETS_SURF_2007_2.jpgThe Crickets on stage at the Surf Ballroom, February 3rd, 2007.From left:  Sonny Curtis, Tommy Allsup, Joe B. Mauldin, and Jerry Allison. 

If you look closely, in the background you can see some of the signatures on the backstage wall behind Jeffrey Vee.

A bit later, I headed down toward the stage for Barbara Lewis' set.  She has a wonderful voice, and a terrific sense of humor that was evident throughout her performance.  By this time, Bobby Vee's sons Tommy (on bass) and Jeffrey (on drums) had come onstage to back up Barbara Lewis.  After a short break, the lights went down and everyone's attention was turned to the video screens.  They showed a video intro for Bobby Vee's show, giving a summary of his career and his ties to the Winter Dance Party, concluding with several clips of him singing on various television shows.  Then, the lights came up and Bobby was on stage and he picked up singing where the video left off.  It was a very cool start to his set.  Bobby was also joined on stage with his son Robby, who normally doesn't perform with his dad much anymore because he has a solo career and is usually on tour himself.  It was a real treat to see all the Vees on stage together.  Bobby has a great stage presence, and he sang all of his hits. 

After his set, the stage abruptly went dark and everyone watched the video screens again.  The video went into more details of February 3rd, 1959.  Then the lights came up and Bobby Vee introduced The Crickets.  With Sonny Curtis on vocals, Joe B. Mauldin on bass, and Jerry Allison on drums, they began playing the songs that made them and Buddy Holly famous.  Then, Sonny Curtis brought Tommy Allsup on stage, and he played the rest of the set with them, along with Bobby Vee and his sons.  What a great show!

CRICKETS_SURF_BALLROOM_2007.jpgWith Joe B. Mauldin pictured at left, Jerry Allison drums-out "Peggy Sue" during the Crickets performance at the Surf Ballroom, February 3rd, 2007.

The performance ended just after 1:00 in the morning, and after I shook hands with Bobby Vee and thanked him for a great show, Diego and I left the Surf Ballroom and went to a nearby bar with our friends Kristi and Stephanie.  Unfortunately, they had announced "last call" just before we arrived at the bar, so we all decided to go to Perkins instead for coffee.  It was after 2:00 AM when we got to the Perkins near Mason City.  We dropped off the ladies at the door so they didn't have to endure their fiercely cold wind.  As Diego and I walked in the door to meet our friends, who do we see standing in the lobby of the restaurant but Tommy Allsup and Johnny Rogers!  We talked with them and got some pictures, then we all sat at three tables and had and early breakfast in the company of several Buddy Holly fans, Tommy Allsup, and Johnny Rogers.  That was the icing on the cake!  I never could have guessed that was going to happen.  

BOBBY_VEE_CRICKETS_2007.jpgBobby Vee and his son, Robby, join The Crickets on stage February 3rd, 2007.  From left: Bobby Vee, Robby Vee, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin.

At 3:15 in the morning, we said goodbye to Tommy, Johnny, and the rest of the folks and left Perkins. We drove Kristi and Stephanie back to their motel, said our goodbyes, and then headed to our motel.  It was now after 4:00 AM.  We were dead tired, but also thrilled about our experiences over the weekend.  We retired for the night (or morning, I guess).  We had to get up at 10:00, and check out at 11:00.  We would visit the crash site on our way out of town on Sunday.

After returning to our rooms at around 4:00 in the morning, we slept as late as we possibly could before having to check out. There was definitely a sadness and emptiness we were feeling now that the events were over. Of course, we didn't want to go home.  We packed up and checked out of the motel, then stopped at a nearby Denny's for a late breakfast before heading out to the crash site.  At the restaurant, we saw a table full of Buddy Holly fans who were, no doubt, also on there way home. 

After breakfast, we headed to a nearby Wal-Mart to buy some extra warm clothing to put on before braving the strong sub-zero winds at the crash site.  We also picked up some of those hand and foot warmer packets that you put in your gloves and shoes.  After leaving Wal-Mart, we drove out to the intersection of Gull Avenue and 315th Street, in the middle of the Iowa farmland. 

This time, we parked on the opposite side of the street that partially swallowed my car just two days earlier.  I could still see the tire tracks deep in the snow off the other side of the road.  We bundled-up, activated our hand and foot warmers and headed out into the field aong the fence-line for the half-mile trek.  We really had to fight the strong wind coming at us.  Regardless of the amount of warm clothing we had on, the icy wind was so cold it was burning us.  I walked backwards for part of the way so the wind was at my back.  Soon, my car was out of sight as we passed over the small hill in the field about half-way to the crash site.  I could see the intersecting fence of an adjoining field, and I knew that the site was just a few feet beyond that.

CRASH_SITE_2007.jpgMy friend Diego at the crash site, February 4th, 2007.  The wind chill was between 20 and 30 degrees below zero.

Then, there it was, the memorial.The snow drifts around it were thick, but visitors had dug the snow out from around the stainless steel guitar and records.  We were the only ones there.  That's how I had pictured my first visit to the crash site.  There was an eerie calm out there.  We stood for about five minutes and took it all in.  Our cameras had frozen, but I was able to get one shot of Diego kneeling by the memorial. Then my camera was not going to cooperate any longer.  We realized that, considering how cold it was right then, we would never have made it had we gone out there Friday night.  I guess it was a fortunate twist of fate that I had gone off the road that night.

We paid our final respects and then started the walk back to the car. The walkback was easier because the wind was at our backs.  Still, when we got back to the car, we realizedthat our hands and legs were numb.  After allowing for a few minutes to warm up the car, I programmed the GPS to route us back to Madison, where we expected to be home about 5 hours from then.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and we pulled away from the intersection and pointed the car home.  It was a memorable time in Clear Lake.