Buddy Holly was just 22 years old, but already a rock and roll sensation, when he boarded a four-seater plane with fellow stars Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, as well as pilot Roger Peterson, for the short hop to the next stop on their tour. The plane crashed in inclement weather, killing all four instantly. That date, February 3, 1959, was memorialized as “The Day the Music Died” in Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie.” In honor of the 50th anniversary of the plane crash, the Forestburgh Playhouse is bringing Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story to life June 18-30.
Buddy Holly was born into a musically-inclined family in 1936. He played music with a variety of friends in his teens, and by the time he graduated from high school, he was ready to make it his full-time career. Holly was an instant success, opening for Elvis Presley twice in 1955 and signing a contract with Decca Records in 1956. When his new band, The Crickets, signed with Decca subsidiary Brunswick Records in 1957, Buddy Holly began a meteoric rise to superstardom.
The Crickets released the single “That’ll Be the Day” on May 27, 1957. By 1958, they had songs at or near the top of seven different charts and were touring internationally. Holly married María Elena Santiago, a woman he had just met that year, though he kept the marriage secret to avoid angering fans.
The Plane Crash
Buddy Holly split from The Crickets in December 1958, assembling a new band for the Winter Dance Party Tour. Covering 24 cities across the Midwest, the tour also featured Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), and The Belmonts. Unfortunately, the tour was poorly organized, forcing the musicians to travel together on a single bus that was unequipped for the frigid conditions, traveling a zig-zagging route between cities as much as 400 miles apart.
The tour began on January 23, 1959. By February 2, Buddy Holly had enough. The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were sick. Drummer Carl Bunch was in the hospital with frostbite on his feet. The next stop was 365 miles away. Holly decided to hire a four-seater plane to take himself and his band members to the next stop, giving them time to rest and recuperate.
At the last minute, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens ended up switching with band members Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup, taking their seats on the plane. Pilot Roger Peterson was not certified for instrument flight, and he was unfamiliar with the old-fashioned gyroscope on the small plane. He also received an inadequate weather briefing before takeoff. The flight crashed just minutes later, killing everyone on board.
Buddy Holly left behind enough unfinished material for his record label to spend the next 10 years releasing new albums and singles. His story captivated fans’ imaginations, and artists ranging from John Lennon to Elton John to Bob Dylan to Mick Jagger have all credited him as an influence.
With so much persistent interest, it was only a matter of time before his life would be documented on film. The Buddy Holly Story was released in 1978, and it was both a critical and a commercial success. It remains fresh today, 50 years after the plane crash, with a 100% critic rating and a 77% audience on Rotten Tomatoes.
Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story debuted in London in 1989. A smash hit, the show ran on the West End for more than 12 years, followed by a revival in 2007. It also played Broadway, and it has toured extensively in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The crowd-pleasing musical gets audiences on their feet dancing along, even as it recounts the story of Holly’s last days. It is a true must-see for any fan of 1950s rock and roll.
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Experience the next top 10 musicals at the Forestburgh Playhouse! Our 2019 Season is filled with winning productions--some you may have never seen before! If you and your family are ready to enjoy the oldest continuously operating professional summer theatre in New York State, contact the Forestburgh Playhouse today at 845-794-1194 for more information or to buy tickets.