Friday, January 30, 2009

Surf's Up

Groundhog day is quickly approaching. Its a very significant day, February 2 is. Not only is it the birthday of yours truly, but it has great historical significance as well. On that early morning in 1959, a plane crashed in Mason City, IA. All four passengers aboard were killed. Among the dead were Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. They had just finished a concert hours earlier at a place called the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, just outside of Mason City.

I've been fortunate to have played the Surf. A couple of times, actually (most recently on a double bill with my boss, Lonnie Brooks, and Delbert McClinton). Now, I've got to say, I'm not easily intimidated, but the spirit of those guys and what they did is strong and very much alive. Walking into the Surf is kind of like walking into an old European cathedral. You can feel the spirits tickling the tips of the goosebumps on your arms. The hair on the back of your neck stands up a little, and you just know that its an important and magical place. I've gotten that feeling before in some other places. Sun studios in Memphis and Hitsville, USA (Motown) in Detroit are the most notable for me. Temples, all of them.

The main stage in the ballroom is large. Huge even. It is situated at one end of the room, with a dance floor extending from the front of the stage to the back of the room. There is a big, pro sound and light system, and a crew that really knows what's goin' on. Good people to work with, for sure. There are several dozen booths on the stage right side of the room, and they are arranged in tiers, so that everyone can see the show if they don't feel like dancing. Ultimately, the Surf has been maintained in its original style and decor as an actual ballroom, down to the phone and phone booth that Buddy Holly used right before the flight. The wood flooring is original. The ceiling is painted to look like the sky, and they even have the original "cloud machine" in working order. Capacity is in excess of 2000, so it can fit a lot of people.

Its now the 50th anniversary of the "day the music died", and the Surf is alive and well. Though the days of the sock hop are mainly long gone, there are still all sorts of acts that come through Clear Lake, mostly national touring acts. On this anniversary, the show that will be presented is called "50 Winters Later" and will feature many groups, including Los Lobos, Graham Nash, Big Bopper Jr., and the Crickets. This humble scribe will not be there in person, unfortunately, for the event. Hopefully, though, I'll get to perform at the Surf again, feel the goosebumps from the spirits, and let it loose like those before me have done.

So it goes...

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