The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 31, 2013

Help wanted: Makers of Winter Dance Party documentary seeking photos, memories

Attention Mankato: The producers of the definitive documentary film of the fateful Winter Dance Party tour of 1959 that culminated in the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (as well as their pilot) want YOU.

Or, at least your photos and recollections of Jan. 25, 1959 — otherwise known as The Day the Music Stopped in Mankato.

“We’ve had a wonderful time in Mankato, and we’re hoping to talk to more people,” said Sevan Garabedian, who is co-producing “Gotta Travel On: The Winter Dance Party Odyssey” along with Jim McCool. Together, the pair have spent more than six years re-tracing and documenting the poorly conceived tour that prompted the trio of musicians to charter a plane from Clear Lake, Iowa, to the next night’s show in Moorhead in order to avoid sleeping another night on an unheated bus.

As anyone familiar with Don McLean’s 1971 tribute song “The Day the Music Died” will know, the plane never reached Moorhead. Just six miles outside Clear Lake, a combination of bad weather and pilot error caused the plane to hit the ground at more than 170 miles per hour. All occupants died instantly.

“It really was the end of an era,” said Garabedian, who was born more than 15 years after the plane crash but developed a fascination with the giants of 1950s rock n’ roll as a youth in Montreal. “A loss of innocence.”

Garabedian and a film crew stopped in Mankato in 2009 to record at the Kato Ballroom, where the Winter Dance Party remains the venue’s largest-ever concert with more than 2,400 people in attendance. Garabedian said Mankatoans shared more than 20 never-before-seen photos with him during the stop.

Now, with final production phase on the film just a few months away, he’s hoping to unearth a few more.

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