This weekend, Buddy Holly would have celebrated his 77th birthday.
But after performing his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, he boarded a plane on a bitterly cold night. Holly, 23, died when that plane crashed in an Iowa farm field on Feb. 3, 1959.
His musical success lasted for only a year and a half of his life. But his influence is felt to this day.
Villager Richard Wood was a 16-year-old when he witnessed Holly’s final performance.
“It wasn’t a concert so much as it was a teen dance,” said Wood.
In addition to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the bill featured the Big Bopper, Dion and the Belmonts and Ritchie Valens.
Back in those days, teen dances in Clear Lake (known as the Vacation Capital of Iowa) brought out all of the young people. Admission that fateful night was $1.25.
“I had no idea how that concert would continue to play such a role in American pop culture,” Wood said.
Wood’s father, a rural mail carrier, happened upon the crash site the day after the concert.
To this day, Buddy Holly fans from all over the world travel to Clear Lake to visit the crash site and the Surf Ballroom.
Later in life, Richard’s mother and father worked at the Surf Ballroom.
“It was the place to go,” said 94-year-old Theone Wood who makes her home here in The Villages with her son.
Back in the day, another famous person liked to visit the Surf Ballroom — Harold Schwartz, founder of The Villages.
Theone Wood met Schwartz when she and her husband moved to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown 29 years ago.
“Harold would always tell me how much he liked to go to The Surf and dance,” she said.
But attending Holly’s final concert wouldn’t be the only time that Richard Wood would find himself on the eve of a tragedy. In 1985, he attended a Ricky Nelson concert in Orlando, just before Nelson also died — in a plane crash.