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Winter Dance Party at The Surf: 'To us, it's a place of worship'

39th annual event showcases the history of rock 'n' roll and 'The Day the Music Died.'

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 8:07 AM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 8:57 AM

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa - It's been a North Iowa tradition for 39 years now, and the beat still goes on.

The Winter Dance Party kicked off Wednesday night at the Surf Ballroom with the Family Sock Hop, headlined by Johnny Rogers.

The four-day event showcases the history of rock 'n' roll music, as well as the memorable February 2, 1959 concert starring Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson at the Surf. Shortly after the trio boarded an airplane en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, the plane crashed in a field in rural Cerro Gordo County, killing everyone on board, including pilot Roger Peterson. The accident has led to the name "The Day the Music Died" after singer Don McLean referenced it in the 1971 hit "American Pie."

The event originally began as one-time show 20 years later on February 3, 1979 as a tribute concert to Holly, and was organized by local DJ Darryl "The Mad Hatter" Hensley. Due to the overwhelming success it received, the event would continue, and would later expand to two, and then four days. The event also began including art exhibits, movie showings related to the time period, and even a wedding/vow renewal ceremony. 

The party draws an audience from over 36 states and four countries. John Cumberland and David Taylor, both of whom are shooting a documentary on Richardson's life and the concert, are from the United Kingdom. Cumberland holds the venue near and dear to this heart, and remarks how it meant for long-time owner Dean Snyder to renovate such a key landmark in music history.

"To us, it's a place of worship, so to speak. If Mr. Snyder didn't dedicate his life to this, it would be another unfortunate nail in rock 'n' roll's coffin," Cumberland says.

Taylor also notes the influence Holly, Valens and Richardson have in popular music.

"It was a tragic event, but those seeds blossomed in the 60s into a whole new kind of music," Taylor says.

The Surf originally opened in 1933, but financial problems forced the venue to close in 1994. Snyder purchased the ballroom that year and restored it to its original glory. In January 2008, Snyder leased the building to the North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum for daily operations, though he continued to be involved.

This year's event will mark a significant change, as Snyder died Jan. 13.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 486434

Reported Deaths: 6575
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1009131586
Ramsey43165803
Dakota36375392
Anoka33335388
Washington22121258
Stearns18752201
St. Louis14822263
Scott13308107
Wright12538116
Olmsted1181788
Sherburne874172
Carver775640
Clay692387
Rice670791
Blue Earth596635
Kandiyohi579674
Crow Wing521282
Chisago499545
Otter Tail483270
Benton447790
Winona418549
Mower405731
Douglas393368
Nobles387247
Goodhue386269
Polk343763
McLeod340049
Beltrami338651
Morrison324747
Itasca313646
Lyon313644
Becker312542
Isanti306756
Steele301511
Carlton300149
Freeborn282623
Pine282016
Nicollet259241
Todd248330
Brown245537
Le Sueur235720
Mille Lacs227947
Cass220424
Waseca209317
Meeker207434
Martin189928
Wabasha18673
Roseau180317
Hubbard160740
Houston157414
Dodge15294
Renville150340
Redwood147027
Fillmore13768
Chippewa136735
Pennington136316
Cottonwood135020
Wadena131020
Faribault123417
Aitkin119033
Watonwan11758
Sibley117310
Rock115914
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101624
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9488
Jackson93610
Swift87918
Pope8075
Marshall78015
Lake74218
Stevens7418
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68516
Wilkin67411
Koochiching61911
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5092
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3075
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 335218

Reported Deaths: 5443
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51785551
Linn19463313
Scott17080210
Black Hawk14924292
Woodbury13778212
Johnson1312174
Dubuque12416194
Dallas1019092
Pottawattamie9828143
Story959345
Warren511674
Clinton500784
Cerro Gordo498882
Webster494487
Sioux479169
Marshall463072
Des Moines427161
Muscatine424191
Buena Vista412237
Wapello4025108
Jasper386266
Plymouth367478
Lee354252
Marion339869
Jones284654
Henry279637
Bremer268754
Carroll266349
Crawford252235
Boone242830
Benton240354
Washington239047
Mahaska215246
Jackson209738
Dickinson202440
Tama202365
Kossuth198055
Delaware185540
Clay183825
Winneshiek182827
Fayette178635
Page177819
Buchanan176929
Wright173831
Hamilton173742
Cedar171523
Hardin169439
Harrison167169
Clayton159854
Butler158831
Mills147920
Floyd147741
Poweshiek147730
Lyon145541
Cherokee145336
Allamakee142347
Madison141918
Iowa139423
Hancock137630
Grundy132030
Winnebago130231
Calhoun129311
Cass128751
Jefferson128334
Appanoose123147
Louisa122341
Mitchell120440
Chickasaw119615
Union118731
Sac118318
Shelby116433
Emmet115040
Humboldt113525
Franklin109019
Guthrie108928
Palo Alto100921
Howard99021
Montgomery96736
Clarke94720
Keokuk92029
Monroe89428
Adair81028
Ida81032
Pocahontas80919
Davis76323
Monona76327
Greene72910
Lucas71421
Osceola68215
Worth6667
Taylor64112
Decatur5699
Fremont5599
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50520
Audubon4739
Wayne45821
Adams3184
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