Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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 The Globe-Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
February 06, 2016

Clear Lake keeps 50s spririt alive - but for how much longer?
by Courtney Fiorini

CLEAR LAKE — The Winter Dance Party wraps up Sunday, 57 years after the original event. As those who originally loved the music grow older, the Surf Ballroom may be faced with the question of how long the music festival can last.

Right now, the event is doing well with many events selling out.

It’s certainly a boost to the economy,” the Surf’s executive director Laurie Lietz said.

The key is bringing in new people to enjoy the event and get the word out.

The first memorial concert was called “The Tribute to Buddy Holly Concert” on Feb. 3, 1979. The concert marked the 20-year anniversary of the plane crash that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson.

The event evolved into a celebration of the music of the 1950s and early 60s and expanded to a Wednesday through Sunday event.

The party has changed over the years. There are new elements like Friday’s tribute to Jerry Dwyer, the man who owned the plane. He always said he would write a book telling all he knew about the crash. Though it was not completed before his death, his wife said she will take on the responsibility of finishing it.

“I think that there will always be an interest in the event,” Lietz said. “It will have to evolve as the original fans and population grows older.”

According to Lietz, teaching children the history is the key.

“One of our favorite events is the kids show on Friday,” Lietz said. “We teach them a little about the history and we get 800 to 900 kids having a great time to old music.”

A few bands will go out to Clear Lake Middle School and Garner-Hayfield-Ventura to perform for the kids who sometimes dress up.

“Brings tears to our eyes to see them so excited and energetic,” Lietz said.

The 27th annual British Buddy Holly Society Luncheon was sold out at the Best Western. The event featured a variety of 50s and 60s music performed by British-American musicians. Every year a group makes the trip from the United Kingdom to Clear Lake for the event.

“We get people from all over and every year I try to meet somebody new,” Winter Dance Party enthusiast Bruce Atkinson, 66, said. “The British groups are so dedicated to come all this way.”

Atkinson lives in Omaha and has been to all but three dance parties. He first attended in 1980 after a friend invited him. He and his wife have brought their daughter every year since she was 9.

“I see both a lot of new faces and a lot of the old faces,” Atkinson said. For him, it’s a reunion and a chance to see how the music had reached new people, he said. They have befriended many families over the years and go visit them through the year.

“I’m a record collector and it’s interesting to see how the music has regenerated itself and is available in new mediums,” Atkinson said.

With programs like iTunes, Apple Music, Pandora and Spotify, new generations have access to all the older music they want. Musicians are also popularizing the old sounds — artists like Lady Gaga, who’s performed with Tony Bennett, and Adele.

“I’m totally elated to see all the young kids at the sock hop,” Atkinson said. “People bring their children and they love the music, I think there’s a lot of longevity there.”

The family sock hop is the most diverse crowd. Dads and daughters, mothers and sons dancing together. Some older couples were teaching the younger kids how to jitterbug. Mark Ebeling has taken his two children, ages 6 and 8, for at least the past five years to the sock hop.

“It’s a family event for us,” Ebeling said. “It’s fun.”

Crystal Koch of Clear Lake, a friend of Ebeling family, brought her two little daughters dressed in poodle skirts out to the Winter Dance Party for the first time.

Jim and Dawn Perry came to the Surf for the first time this year from Arizona. They also renewed their wedding vows Friday.

“The cutest thing I’ve ever seen was this one little girl at the Family Sock Hop, she wasn’t much older than 2 years old and she was dancing her little heart out in that poodle skirt and big bow in her hair,” Dawn said. “It warms my heart to see all these kids enjoying themselves too and they’ll always remember this.”

What can be expected through the years for the Winter Dance Party? Original groups like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Coasters and others can’t perform forever.

“We’ll have to tap into cover bands and groups who were inspired and influenced by Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper,” Lietz said.

Photographs courtesy of The Globe Gazette & Sara Becker Thome
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2016

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