Long, long time ago…Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts played in Kenosha. That show, the second on the Winter Dance Party Tour, was the beginning of the end: The Day The Music Died.
The year was 1959, and it wasn’t yet February [that] made me shiver. It was Saturday, January 24. The tour had started the night before at George Devine’s Million Dollar Ballroom – now The Rave – in Milwaukee, and in what would immediately prove to be some of the worst routing ever, it stopped in Kenosha before going to the Kato Ballroom in Mankato, Minnesota, for a Sunday show.
The tour and the plane crash on February 3, 1959, that took the lives of three of the four stars on the tour – Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” JP Richardson – have been well-documented, and so was the Kenosha concert. Kenosha photographer Tony Szikil was capturing shots at a wedding on the mezzanine at the Kenosha’s Eagles Club, now Madrigrano’s Marina Shores, and he snuck upstairs to the ballroom to make music history. Fast forward to 2022: on Tuesday, June 21, some of the 24 photos he captured will be auctioned off after the unveiling of Kenosha’s own Winter Dance Party sculpture.
“It's past time,” said Kenoshan David McGrath, the champion behind the cause. McGrath and his wife Guida Brown are both music lovers who retraced the steps of the first 11 dates of the Winter Dance Party. Sorta. The official tour was known for crisscrossing the Midwest in winter in a broken down bus with no heat, but a few years ago the couple cut off 1,000 miles with better mapping and did the trip in summer.
A few of the sites have remained nearly intact. Some, like the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last show before the fateful plane crash, have embraced the history of that final tour. Kenosha, however, had no such marker for the public to remember.
After McGrath and Brown provided initial financial backing and secured support from the city, a fundraising campaign began. Donations trickled in, but COVID slowed progress until John Shiely, corporate board member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and former Briggs & Stratton CEO, and philanthropic Kenoshans Mary Tunkieicz and Jennie Tunkieicz stepped in, making up the difference to bring sculptor Martin Antaramian’s design to fruition.
“It took a little longer than we had planned,” said Brown, “but we raised enough funds for a fantastic sculpture!” That sculpture will be unveiled on World Music Day, Tuesday, June 21, at 4:30 p.m., with a celebratory shindig with hors d’oeuvres and cash bar featuring music by Vinyl ReMix beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the Rathskeller at Marina Shores.
The city approved the spot – right across from Marina Shores at the entrance of the Southport Marina, 58th Street and 3rd Avenue – and laid the groundwork for the sculpture. Regular citizens from near and far ponied up the funds. “This is really a public celebration…it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of collaboration,” said Brown. “We want EVERYONE to attend, and we’re selling tickets for $5 each, just so we have an idea of how many will be attending.”
Tickets to the celebration are available through kenoshaentertainment.com. Silent auction and event proceeds will benefit the nonprofit partner, Lemon Street Gallery, which acted as fiscal agent. Items from the Surf Ballroom, the last show of the Winter Dance Party, and items autographed by the lone surviving star, Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts, will be available on the silent auction.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- 58th Street and 3rd Avenue
- Tuesday, June 21 at 4:30 pm
- Free; celebration after costs $5
Submitted by Guida Brown