The Day The Music Almost Died

The following information was gleaned from the Ironwood Daily Globe, Ironwood, MI; January 31, 2009 and Wikipedia.

February 1, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of an unscheduled stop-over in Hurley, WI and Ironwood, MI by The Winter Dance Party, which included Buddy Holly and The Crickets (Waylon Jennings was a band member), Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), and Dion and The Belmonts. It is also the day that the music almost died. Just 48 hours later, on February 3, Holly, Valens and Richardson were dead, killed in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield.

The tale starts with the musicians finishing up their gig in Duluth, MN on January 31, 1959 and boarding an old school bus to take them to Green Bay, WI for their next show. It was snowing heavily and the bus had difficulty getting up a small hill on U.S. Hwy 51 south of Hurley, WI, where it eventually died near Pine Lake in the Town of Oma. Temperatures that night and morning were reported to be anywhere from -24 to -35, depending on the location and time. Tommy Allsup, lead guitarist for the Crickets, reported in a Minneapolis-Star Tribune interview that everyone on board thought they would freeze to death that night. Belmonts band members burned newspapers to try and keep warm. Fortunately, an Iron County sheriff deputy eventually came to their rescue. Crickets drummer Carl Bunch did nearly freeze to death that night. He reported in an interview with the Ironwood Daily Globe that he was delirious when finally taken off the bus. He was transported to the Grand View Hospital in Ironwood, MI where he was thawed out and treated for pain. Other band members were transported by the Sherrif’s Department to the old Club Carnival, a strip club, for dinner. The bus was towed to Hurley where it was repaired at Calvetti’s Garage on Copper Street. Some band members stayed at the St. James Hotel in Ironwood. The group, sans Bunch, took a Greyhound bus to Green Bay the next morning. After the Green Bay gig, it was another bus to Clear Lake, Iowa, where it is said they gave “a rousing performance” the night of February 2. By then Holly had enough of sitting on a cold bus, so he chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him, Valens and Richardson to Fargo, ND for their February 3 show in Moorehead, MN. Wayland Jennings was supposed to be on the flight, but gave his seat up to Richardson, because the “Big Boppper” was sick with the flu. Allsup flipped a coin with Valens and lost his spot for the last seat. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, on February 3, killing all four on board; the day the music died. Bunch learned of the deaths of his fellow musicians and friends, while still a patient in the hospital in Ironwood.

The building that was once Calvetti’s Garage in Hurley is now the home of Art Unlimited, with the remainder of the building being used for storage. Mr. Calvetti recently passed away, on January 25. The Club Carnival in Hurley is relocated further down the block when the original building burned down in the 1970s. The St. James Hotel was torn down in the 1970s. (In 1959, it was also the home to WJMS radio station.) Grand View Hospital still serves the residents and visitors of the area, though in a new building from the one that existed in 1959. People in Green Bay recall band members buying a number of sleeping bags at a hardware store there, because they “never wanted to be that cold ever again”.

Musicians who have lost their life in Wisconsin in an aircraft: Ottis Redding and all but 1 member of this band the Bar-Kays, when their plane crashed into Lake Monona when preparing to land in Madison on December 10, 1967 and Stevie Ray Vaughn on August 27, 1990 when his helicopter crashed on take off into the hill behind Alpine Valley Music Center near East Troy.

The Day The Music Almost Died

AuntieJ

Madison, Wisconsin, United States

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