It was the prelude to the day the music died.
Ten Midwest concert dates, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1, 1959, which led to a fateful end for the Winter Dance Party outside Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 2.
The concert bill included Dion and the Belmonts, rising teen star Frankie Sardo and a trio that would perish in a post-concert airplane crash: Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson Jr.) and Ritchie Valens.
One of those concert dates — Jan. 29, 1959 — included two performances at downtown Davenport’s Capitol Theatre. For a $1.50 ticket, music fans could enjoy the show, billed as the “KSTT Concert of Stars.” (KSTT was the call letters for the Davenport radio station at 1170 AM.)
Three film documentarians are compiling a history of the Winter Dance Party tour, and they have secured photos from all of the Winter Dance Party concerts ranging from Milwaukee to Clear Lake.
Except for one.
“Up until the beginning of this year, Milwaukee and Davenport were the two places where no pictures had surfaced. A woman finally came out of the woodwork with pictures from the Million Dollar Ballroom (in Milwaukee) of her with Ritchie Valens,” said Sevan Garabedian, a filmmaker from Montreal. “Davenport is last on the list.”
Garabedian said Larry Lehmer, author of the book “The Day the Music Died (a key phrase from Don McLean’s famous song “American Pie”),” also came up empty when looking for photos or information.
“Discovering photos from Davenport would be a huge deal for Buddy Holly fans, Ritchie Valens fans, any fan of rock ’n’ roll music,” Garabedian said. “It would definitely be a nice coup for us if this was discovered.”
He is encouraging the children and grandchildren of those who attended the concert to sift through their old photographs.
“These women who snapped the pictures with their little Brownie camera didn’t realize this was history,” he said.
Connie Gibbons, former executive director of the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas, and of the River Music Experience in Davenport, said she has not heard about any photos from the Davenport concert.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen anything from Davenport,” said Gibbons, now executive director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss., which is scheduled to open in September. “A lot of times, people have those things in their family photo box and they don’t realize they’ve got them. Sometimes people hold onto them out of a sense of sentiment and don’t want to share them.”
Garabedian, 32, is working on the film with Shawn Nagy, a historian and Webmaster of http://BuddyHollyOnline.com">BuddyHollyOnline.com; and with Jim McCool, a Madison, Wis., filmmaker.
Rather than focusing only on the Clear Lake performance and subsequent airplane crash, the as-yet untitled documentary will look at the entire Winter Dance Party tour.
“Our film is going to focus on all 11 days, the friendships that were made and how close these guys really became,” Garabedian said. “It’s really talking about how special and unique that was.”
He said the filmmakers are close to securing an interview with Dion DiMucci, lead singer of Dion and the Belmonts, which would be the first time he has talked about the tour on camera. Also scheduled to be interviewed is Sardo, whose short-lived tenure as a teen music idol led to a career behind the scenes in movies.
“He’s been very reclusive,” Garabedian said of Sardo. “When he saw our idea and what we were going for, he really wanted to meet with us.”
DiMucci has been disappointed with documentaries and coverage of the fatal plane crash through the years, Garabedian said.
Garabedian said production on the documentary should begin before spring and is expected to be finished by this time next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the crash.
Filmmakers will re-create the tour route, stopping at each venue, including the Capitol Theatre.
“The Capitol looks so beautiful,” Garabedian said. “I can’t wait to visit it.”
David Burke can be contacted at (563) 383-2400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.