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Over 60 years ago, a plane crash in the Iowa cornfields claimed the lives of three rock stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) all died when their plane crashed following a performance at the “Winter Dance Party” tour. While I’ll provide Buddy Holly Crash Site directions, I’ll also provide you with some information about them!
In the middle of a cornfield, the Buddy Holly Crash Site stands about a quarter of a mile off a gravel road. It’s a few miles off Interstate 35 near Clear Lake, Iowa, about 120 miles south of the Twin Cities and 90 miles north of Ames, Iowa. Here’s a link to an older post about the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake that hosted their appearance the previous evening of the infamous crash date. Actually, the crash date is February 3rd, shortly after midnight.
Here’s a link to a Roadside America post about the Buddy Holly crash site. It gives detailed driving descriptions. However, Google Maps will also give you the correct instructions. It’s about 3 miles north of Clear Lake.
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More about the Buddy Holly Crash Site
As you walk up to the site, it appears underwhelming until you get closer and view the memorials left by recent visitors. A local person regularly cleans the site, removing many of the objects left there to keep the site attractive.
You’ll see more details in the next picture group, but it attracts mementos, some of which don’t appear to fit a memorial. But I’ll also explain that a bit.
Continuing about the Buddy Holly Crash Site
The Buddy Holly Crash site attracts visitors regularly. I spent about 15 minutes at the site. The walking and parking time increased it to about 30 to 40 minutes. One car drove away as I entered the parking lot, two people met me at the glasses icon, and another met me as I headed to the site.
As I returned, I met three more groups. I visited on a Sunday, so maybe weekends draw more people. Still, that’s a lot of visitors for rock stars who died over 60 years ago.
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Many people consider Buddy Holly one of the most innovative rock music artists. He died at the age of 22. Ritchie Valens died at the age of 17. He recorded 29 songs in his short life. The Big Bopper wrote songs for other artists and pioneered music videos in 957! Although Chantilly Lace became his only hit, he became a songwriter, DJ, and pioneer in the music industry.
Closeup of the Buddy Holly Crash Site
People leave many items to celebrate their life. Although the beer and whiskey containers seem out of place, they are meant as a “Here’s To You” for the departed singers. More on that in the next section.
Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holly), born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, became a young star. In 1955, at the age of 18, he opened for Elvis! Later that year, he decided to go on his own and recorded “That’ll Be the Day” in 1956 which became a hit in 1957. He recorded many songs after that, and many recognized him as a writing and performing genius. He impacted Rock ‘n’ Roll nearly as much as Elvis and The Beatles.
Ritchie Valens (Richard Stephen Valenzuela), born and raised in California, started recording at the age of 15. Many of his 29 records became hits. His most remembered recordings were “Donna” and “La Bamba.” Interestingly, La Bamba became one of the first Spanish language rock hits, although he grew up as an English speaker and barely knew any Spanish.
J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, became a DJ and songwriter in addition to performing. “Chantilly Lace” was his only hit. However, he heavily promoted Elvis during his DJ years early in his skyrocketing popularity. In 1957, he recorded the first music video, pioneering that medium as well. (Personal note: In 1966/67, I saw a video jukebox in an enlisted men’s club in Japan! That device likely evolved from Richardson’s recording device.)
An additional boost to their fame! -And more for a Buddy Holly Crash Site visit
Although the fame of the performers, especially Holly, likely continued anyway, it received a huge boost with the release of the song “The Day the Music Died” by Don McLean. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks and stayed on the chart for 29 weeks. At nearly 8.5 minutes long, it’s one of the few songs of that length to reach the top of the chart.
The song has many interpretations, but February 3, 1959, is still considered “The Day the Music Died!”
Interestingly, in true show business fashion, the show must go on. The promoters of the concert in Moorhead, Minnesota (on the North Dakota border), where they were headed, pulled together the remaining members of the crew who came on the bus and local musicians. That led to 15-year-old Bobby Vee, a North Dakota native, receiving national recognition and becoming a rock star in his own right.
Classic Rock Recollection
“That’ll Be the Day” by Buddy Holly
Well, that’ll be the day
When you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day
When you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave
You know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day
When I die
Written by Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly
Due to the ongoing influence, here’s another Classic Rock Recollection!
Classic Rock Recollection #2
“The Day the Music Died” by Don McLean (Released in 1971)
… Long long time ago, I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
… But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
… I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
… So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die”
This will be the day that I die
Written by Don McLean
Here’s a link to an interpretation of the song. Many years later, Don McLean said, “It’s a song about America… when people attached events, stories, and famous people to the symbols I used, that showed the reasons why I chose those symbols.” He wanted everyone to draw their own conclusions regarding the meaning. Generally, it’s a song about rock and roll history, specifically after the death of the three stars.
In the early years after he wrote and performed it, he said it “means I’ll never have to work again!”
#thedrivebytourist #buddyholly #thedaythemusicdied