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The Day The Music Died

November 30, 2022
winter dance party poster from 1959 starring buddy holly, the big bopper and richie valens


‘The Day the Music Died’ are lyrics from Don Mclean’s 1971 song American Pie, his greatest hit. But this isn’t about a song; it’s about a piece of memorabilia found after the tragedy that occurred on February 3, 1959, referenced in the song. “The music died” the day musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper, were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Buddy Holly and his band, which included Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch, were headlining a tour across the Midwest called the “Winter Dance Party.” Also performing were new artists Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and the group Dion & the Belmonts.

As several people on tour came down with the flu and some with frostbite, Holly became uncomfortable on the bus and decided to charter a plane for his group to their next stop in Moorehead, Minnesota. But Carl Bunch had been hospitalized with frostbite and could not join the group for the next concert. Jennings decided to give his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper, who had the flu. Meanwhile, Allsup and Valens flipped a coin for the last seat – Valens won the toss… “won” may not be the right word.

The weather conditions were poor that night, and the pilot lost control shortly after takeoff. Tragically, the small plane crashed into a cornfield; there were no survivors.

The concert in Moorehead was the tour’s twelfth performance… surprisingly, the show did go on. The concert promoters asked for help from the local talent and a young Bobby Vee, just 15 years old, along with his rock band, “The Shadows”, volunteered and were chosen to fill in; their performance was a great success and thus started Vee’s career. Bobby Vee knew all the words to every Buddy Holly song and was asked to finish out the next two weeks of the tour with Jennings and Allsup. That said, a poster for the Moorehead show just made history as the most expensive concert poster sold at auction.

This authentic concert poster may be the only one to exist. It is untouched, unrestored and still has some of the adhesives on the back used to paste it to the telephone pole it fell off of. A maintenance man found it and kept it as a sad remembrance of the day. Years later, when music memorabilia became greatly sought after, his family sold it to a poster dealer. The dealer later sold it to a collector, who entered it into the auction along with other concert posters from his collection. Now more than 60 years later, Buddy Holly and the Winter Dance Party tour are in the news again… the poster sold for $360K ($447K w/p), breaking the record set in April when a Beatles 1966 Shea Stadium concert poster sold for $275K.