Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The day the music died February 1, 2019

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


SIXTY YEARS AGO ON FEBRUARY 3, a charter plane crashed into a northern Iowa field killing all aboard. It was, they say, the day the music died.


Portraits of the deceased musicians. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


Dead were rising musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.


All around Clear Lake, you’ll see posters from the annual Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom. I found this one at the AmericInn Hotel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


This weekend the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, continues its Winter Dance Party honoring those singers who performed there before that fatal flight en route to Moorhead, Minnesota.


The ballroom stage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


Several years ago I visited Clear Lake, a delightful lakeside community just across the border from Minnesota. That trip included a stop at the Surf Ballroom. My knowledge of the famed musicians and of music in general is rather limited. But I do remember Don McLean’s lengthy American Pie hit from 1971 with that repetitious the day the music died. That line references the deaths of Holly, Valens and Richardson. I never understood that as a teen. I simply liked the melody, puzzled by the words.


Another tribute to the Surf’s most memorable performer, rock and roll legend Buddy Holly. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


I am of that era when rock and roll represented rebellion with young people challenging societal norms and authority, voicing their opinions via music. It was a time of turmoil in many ways. A time of change.


This display references American Pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.


The February day the trio of musicians died in 1959 in Iowa really wasn’t the day the music died. Rather, rock and roll continued to rise, flying, soaring, reaching new heights of popularity.



TO READ MY ORIGINAL POST on the Surf Ballroom, complete with more photos, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


15 Responses to “The day the music died”

  1. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I’d like to visit this place someday. It’s my understanding that other musicians were supposed to be on that flight but there weren’t enough seats for all of them. I can’t imagine how those left behind felt

  2. Too many greats in music have passed since that time – Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Allman, etc.. Unfortunately the list keeps growing. Mostly now from complications from illness. While there is sadness in their passing, I am happy we are left with their still great recordings to be discovered, enjoyed, by generations to come. Ethan was a great fan of the Beatles when he discovered music. These days his tastes are running more contemporary to mine. I still listen greatly to the music of my youth. Ethan, as of yet, has not discovered this treasure.

  3. Ruth Says:

    My son visited the plane crash site. I’ll share your blog post with him, Audrey. I heard Don McClean sing that in concert. Great post.

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    In my lifetime there have been a number of plane crash deaths in the music industry. The deaths affecting me most as a teenager in the 1970’s were Jim Croce and members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. There has always been expression through music in tumultuous times, and I am thankful now, I am more aware of the music lyrics than I was back then. Like you, as a kid I just liked the melody and didn’t always understand the lyric meanings. Forrest and I listen to music on road trips and many times I have to Google a song to discover what the song was truly about… and sometimes it remains a mystery, that only the writer knows.

  5. Valerie Says:

    We’re going to the Paradise Theater tonight…will you be there?
    I’ve never been to the Surf Ballroom but I’d like to go someday.

  6. hotlyspiced Says:

    This morning I was listening to our community radio station and they did a full report on this tragedy and how it all happened and how much snow there was at the time and how cold it was and how they were travelling in buses totally unsuitable for the conditions and how frequently the buses were breaking down and how one of the musicians got frostbite from being stuck on a broken down bus etc, etc. It truly would have to be one of the worst tragedies that has ever happened to music sensations. I love the song ‘American Pie’ as well and when I was little I used to ask my father to explain they lyrics to me as I had no idea what the words meant xx

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