Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper Coming Back to Life at Surflight Theatre

Feb 12, 2019

Thanks to the Don McLean classic “American Pie,” Feb. 3, 1959, will forever be remembered as “the day the music died.” In the very early hours of that fateful Tuesday morning, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, along with pilot Roger Peterson, were killed when their chartered Beechcraft 35 Bonanza single-engine aircraft crashed into an Iowa cornfield.

But on the evening of Feb. 2, 1959, the music was very much alive, thanks to Holly, Valens and Richardson, in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Even though a snowstorm was approaching, the ballroom was packed with teenagers, according to a 1992 National Public Radio report that quoted Glen Sharred, then a high school junior in Newton, Iowa, some three hours away from Clear Lake, who, with classmates, had borrowed an Oldsmobile from one of their mothers to drive to the show.

“Those guys that were singing up there on that stage weren’t much older than us, you see,” Sharred told NPR. Indeed, Richardson was just 28, Holly only 22, and Valens was the baby of the bunch at 17.

“That was the great thing about it,” said Sharred. “You know, somebody in your own age group performing something like that and known worldwide, you know, and getting better. So it was kind of neat.”

Well, the music is still alive, thanks to Todd Meredith and the Rave-Ons. They’ll be performing a 60th anniversary commemorative concert of that famous last performance, called “The Night the Music Lived,” at Surflight Theatre at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17. Their show faithfully re-creates the Clear Lake concert, employing information garnered from documentaries, books and the memories of other musicians who performed at the show, such as Waylon Jennings, who was playing bass in Holly’s post-Crickets band.

Tickets are $37.50 and may be purchased online at surflight.org or by calling 609-492-9477.

Don’t expect to walk up to the theater, located at 201 Engleside Ave. in Beach Haven, the evening or day of the shows and get tickets. There are only a handful of tickets still available for both performances.

The crowds that will watch the Rave-Ons this coming weekend will likely be much older than Sharred and his friends were in 1959. But they grew up with the music of Holly, Valens and Richardson and are probably oh, so familiar with songs such as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “It’s So Easy,” “La Bamba,” “Oh Donna” and “Chantilly Lace.”

Interestingly, the weather forecast for Beach Haven this coming weekend calls for rain and snow showers. Hmm, the Surf Ballroom and Surflight Theatre, Clear Lake and Beach Haven, a wet and snowy winter forecast, gee – could it be that Feb. 16 and 17, 2019, at Surflight are becoming a doppelganger of Feb. 2 and 3, 1959, in Iowa? —R.M.

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