(Above) The 2018 Winter Dance Party will pay tribute to Surf owner, the late Dean Snyder, pictured here at the event with his wife, Joanne, in 2008.
On the eve of the 39th annual event, music lovers say it’s still ‘fab’
Paul King probably says it best. When asked how the Winter Dance Party— the Surf Ballroom’s tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, continues to thrive, he pointedly says “because of Clear Lake.”
“I have often said that if ‘The Day The Music Died’ had to happen, then thank goodness it was here in Clear Lake,” laughed King, who will be attending his 21st Winter Dance Party in 2018. “I’ve been to all the locations on the (original) Winter Dance Party and nowhere else compares to Clear Lake. I cannot imagine – and I am not being unkind here – thousands of people going to, say Montevideo or Fort Dodge each year. Because Clear Lake is a resort, there is much to see here anyway, not just the Surf. People become fascinated by Clear Lake— now Dot and I did, and we decide to come back and have a look when the weather is fine!”
King gives huge credit to the Snyder family and Surf staff for continuing to help the Winter Dance Party evolve. That’s a constant consideration for the Surf’s Board of Directors and its Executive Director Laurie Lietz.
“The original performers list gets shorter and shorter each year and we always try to get those acts who have not been here before,” said Lietz. Now days, it is more likely groups who have at least one original member will perform, such as J. Siegel’s Tokens this year.
Lietz said organizers consider Thursday night to be ‘originals night’ and try to bring in that type of performer to play the music from the era. Friday continues to be more of a sock hop atmosphere, with a vintage style show and dance contest. And Saturday is a night for those acts who especially made their mark in rock and roll. This year Brenda Lee, Bobby Rydell, Albert Lee, Linda Gail Lewis and Danny B. Harvey and Annie Marie Lewis will perform Saturday.
“We’ve been trying to get Brenda Lee for a long time,” confessed Lietz. “Some years our February event works into schedules and other times not. For example, some of these performers are typically on cruises or on stages somewhere warm. They have to really want to be part of the Winter Dance Party. Our weather doesn’t do us any favors.”
Next year the Winter Dance Party will be celebrating it’s 40th year, and despite aging performers and their fans, Lietz said the event still continues to be a sellout. (As of presstime Tuesday, only a small quantity of tickets to the three day event remained).
“I would say we have an equal number of new ticket holders— or those who’ve only come five or six times— to those who have been here 10 or more,” said Lietz. “It’s neat to see younger generations from families who are carrying on the family tradition of coming.”