The Surf Ballroom

The Surf Ballroom
Some might not recognize the name of the Surf Ballroom and its connections with Rock & Roll but the Hall of Fame officially listed this music center located in Clear Lake, Iowa as one of its landmarks in 2009. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Originally opening in April 1934 (and rebuilt in the late 1940s across the street when a fire destroyed the building), the Surf Ballroom was the place where the who’s who of the 1950s rock era performed. Icons such as Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers took the stage here during their early careers. Over the years, and even today, the Surf continues to bring in notable legends such as Alice Cooper, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Why is the Surf Ballroom such a notable place in the history of Rock & Roll music? On Monday, February 2nd, 1959, the Surf hosted the Winter Dance Party tour featuring the young performers Buddy Holly and the Crickets known for “Peggy Sue”, Ritchie Valens known at the time for “Donna” and J.P. Richardson Jr aka “The Big Bopper”, known for his song “Chantilly Lace”. The tour stop also featured performances by Dion and the Belmonts, Waylon Jennings, and Frankie Sardo.

After continuous problems with the buses taking them to their gigs (drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized due to frostbite when the heater broke down on the bus), Holly chartered a plane to carry him, Tommy Allsup of the Crickets and Waylon Jennings to the next tour stop in Moorhead, Minnesota after the show. This is where legend comes in. While Buddy Holly would board the plane, Allsup lost his seat to Valens in a fateful coin toss. Jennings gave his seat to Richardson who was suffering from the flu. He would later recount how Holly joked about hoping his bus broke down along the way.

Early on February 3rd, minutes after take-off, the plane crashed in a field in Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the plane’s pilot, Roger Peterson. The day became known as “The Day the Music Died” and the Surf Ballroom would be known as the venue for the last concert for the trio of musicians.

The Surf Ballroom is located at 460 North Shore Drive in Clear Lake, Iowa. The museum is open daily and has guided tours.

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