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    A WEEK BEFORE THE MUSIC DIED

    Buddy Holly & The Crickets Stunningly Rare 1959 Winter Dance Party Concert Poster. Heritage Auctions is incredibly proud to present the unquestionable Holy Grail of the concert-poster-collecting hobby: an original, pre-show, vintage Winter Dance Party window card advertising one of just 11 concerts Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper performed live on stage before their plane went down in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, resulting in "rock 'n' roll's first tragedy."

    This poster advertised the ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour stop in Mankato, Minnesota on Sunday, January 25, 1959 - eight days before the final show in Clear Lake, Iowa (for which no poster or handbill was ever made). It was pulled off the wall by a female teenager as she filed out of the ballroom after the last song. See her compelling Letter of Provenance attached here, the hard copy of which is included in this sale.

    Also note the wonderful recent photo of Buddy Holly's widow, Maria Elena Holly, playfully holding this very poster we're auctioning off. It does not belong to Ms. Holly, but it crossed her path late last year and she graciously posed with it for Heritage. This was very convenient for us because Ms. Holly actually lives in Dallas, Texas, where Heritage's headquarters are located. We have auctioned off many of the artifacts once owned by Ms. Holly's late husband, including the wristwatch Mr. Holly was wearing on that fatal flight 61 years ago.

    Like most rare and valuable concert posters, this Mankato Winter Dance Party poster has been reproduced and bootlegged ad infinitum over the ensuing decades, usually stripping out the "Kato Ballroom / Mankato, Minn." line. But this is the absolute, genuine, fully authentic Real McCoy, the one true specimen which all those insidious bootlegs mirror. Our poster was printed six decades ago for one purpose only: to get teenagers into that ballroom on a cold winter's night to have a little fun. Little did anyone know the history that was being made at the time.

    This is one of just three Winter Dance Party posters known to exist from before the plane crash. The other two are from other cities - just one of each of those, also - so this is unquestionably the only Mankato poster known to exist. How many did they make back then? Well, first the attractive yellow & black portion was printed up in quantity in the fall of 1958, leaving a blank white box up at the top. Then the local promoter for each stop on the tour, if they even wanted them (many opted for only newspaper ads or radio spots), would print in their own information up top.

    How many for Mankato, a city of about 25,000 people back then? Two dozen? Fifty? Hard to say, but 25-50 does seem logical. That light-blue venue information was probably added in the earliest days in January, but possibly in December. And then many were surely eaten up by the snow, ice and horrible weather conditions in the dead of a Minnesota winter.

    We don't need to tell you how incredibly special the music was behind this poster. It is so fortuitous that the national tour promoter, General Artists Corporation/Super Productions, and the poster's graphic designer and printer, the Murray Poster Printing Co. (both located in New York), chose to list a big hit single for each artist on the poster. Quite often with old posters, the tour promoter would instead list each musician's current single, which might or might not turn out to be a hit. Now, we don't mean to disparage the legacy of J.P. Richardson or anything, but how less cool would this poster be if, below his name it said, "Big Bopper's Wedding"? Yep, that was the Bopper's current single in January 1959. Instead, wonderfully, we get the timeless classic "Chantilly Lace." Hel-lohhh, baby!!

    Likewise for Buddy Holly and the Crickets - how fantastic that it says "Peggy Sue" instead of the very respectable but much less dramatic "Heartbeat," his current single (Billboard magazine peak: #82). "Peggy Sue" is just such an iconic song, it practically carries the poster by itself. I'll go as far as to say that the hypothetical six-inch square containing Holly's picture, name and "Peggy Sue" might be the most important and compelling half-foot square of cardboard real estate in the 100-year history of concert posters. And only three still exist (from when he was alive).

    On the other hand, Ritchie Valens wasn't old enough to have a recording history to draw from. Richard Valenzuela was a crushingly sad 17 years old at the time of the accident, and yet he was the hottest pistol on this poster. "Come On, Let's Go" had been a minor hit the previous fall - and a much bigger hit for Los Lobos decades later - and thankfully gets a mention here. But is there any more compelling single from the 1950's than Ritchie's current disc at the time, "Donna" b/w "La Bamba"? The A-side a remarkably moving, plaintive ballad about love lost (and the #3 record in the country the week of this concert), and the B-side a timeless Spanish-language rock 'n' roll evergreen that we'll continue to hear several times a year for the rest of our lives. I'll take this 45 to a desert island any day over you-know-who's "Don't Be Cruel"/"All Shook Up."

    Dion DiMucci was a rocket ship on the launching pad with his backing singers the Belmonts, and is a tremendously strong fourth talent in the rookie position on this poster. "I Wonder Why," given on the poster, had been his charting debut the previous summer, peaking at #22. Before you could blink, however, "A Teenager in Love" would come along that spring and catapult Dion into a career that landed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame... just like Buddy and Ritchie. Only Dion lived to enjoy it.

    Singer Frankie Sardo is truly the low man on the totem pole, squeezed into a little strip scarcely over an inch tall. Adding to the ignominy was the listing of his recent single, "Fake Out"... which was butchered into "Take-Out" on the poster. Perhaps they thought he was just the caterer? (I actually tracked down the song and found it pretty catchy, staying in my head for days. But nobody in 1959 noticed it.)

    It's absolutely flabbergasting when you consider that in today's big-money rock world, if the drummer for U2 or the Rolling Stones catches the flu, dates are postponed and schedules moved around. If Bono or Mick get a bad sore throat, the tour could be canceled. But with the Winter Dance Party in 1959, you had the top three headliners killed in the middle of the tour, and the show still went on. Through substitute talents such as Bobby Vee and Frankie Avalon, the mortally wounded Winter Dance caravan chugged its way through its remaining obligations, with all post-accident punters watching a shell of a show through moist, mournful eyes. In retrospect, it defies belief.

    But it was all happy and fun times before then, as the venue box of this poster makes so abundantly clear. "Teen-Age Special," it proclaims right across the top. "Sunday, Jan. 25, 7:30 to 11:00." Who needed the year on there? Remember, this advertising placard was designed to have a shelf life of just 4-6 weeks - or less. Everyone certainly knew what year it was... just tell us the date and time, please.

    Actually, it's always amused me how parents would let their teens stay out so late on a school night (remember that term?) for this occasion. Any guesses as to how many times on January 25, 1959 a Mankato parent said to their kid, "You'd better be home by midnight!" Like, every one of them?

    Then we have the aptly named "Kato Ballroom, Mankato, Minn." It's great, by the way, how the local printer on this occasion used a light-blue ink for the venue-box info. The other Winter Dance Party's used black ink up there. That makes this Mankato example the only four-color Winter Dance Party poster extant (yellow, black, white and blue).

    And then the real fun starts. "$1.50 a person. Parents invited, no charge. Dress right to feel right."

    I could write a big paragraph on each of those three little sentences. But really... "Parents invited, no charge"? Are you kidding? How many 1950's parents were actually hip, open and curious enough to want to check out what was going on, and how many wouldn't be caught dead inside? (A hint: the ratio was probably 10-90.) Perhaps it could've more suitably stated, "Parents invited to witness music history that they could brag about for the rest of their lives, make their friends sick with envy over, and regale their grandchildren with stories about... no charge."

    And then we have the poster's other typo, which is fun and welcomed because after all, what's a vintage rock 'n' roll concert poster without a typo or two? "This 5 Great Attractions - In Person." That's OK Murray, we love and forgive you.

    The tragic and untimely death of Buddy Holly on this tour was immortalized forever in Don McLean's famous song, "American Pie." McLean's poignant lyrics included the line, "Something touched me deep inside / The day the music died." So touched were music fans around the world that the original manuscript of Don McLean's handwritten lyrics to "American Pie" sold at auction five years ago for $1.2 million.

    A genuine Winter Dance Party poster is so rare, and so highly coveted, that this is the first time in the history of the world that one is being sold publicly. First time auction, first time set-sale, first time advertised, in the United States or anywhere else. On the once-in-a-decade occasion when a Winter Dance Party poster changes hands privately, it's usually hush-hush among the world's most elite and wealthy collectors. One high-end investor has a public posting where he discusses paying $175,000 for his Winter Dance Party poster - and it's from after the plane crash.

    At long last, welcome to the party.

    Measures 14" x 22" and in Very Good condition. LOP from Poster's Original Owner and COA from Heritage Auctions.

    Pete Howard, Consignment Director
    Heritage Auctions, Entertainment & Music


    More Information: Professionally restored to Very Good condition, with several repaired tears and creases. One major horizontal crease halfway down the poster, fortuitously falling above the Big Bopper's and Ritchie Valens' names and below their pictures. Repaired two-inch tear top center through "Special" and "25." Repaired three-inch tear above Valens' head up to the "Y" in party. Repaired two-inch crease or scratch above the word "Donna." Repaired/filled-in staple holes to the upper left of "Sunday," above "to," to the lower left of "Winter," to the right of Holly's snowflake, to the upper left of "Extra" and over "New Hit." Top of the venue box, in both upper left and upper right, has also been carefully repaired and restored, but all lettering and ink is original.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2020
    4th-5th Saturday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 56
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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    The movie quite literally changed my life. I have included a pic of me in Sly's Rocky 3 Cashmere overcoat, would much appreciate if it is possible for you to forward this email to Sly to let him know the overcoat is in good hands, and will be well taken care of, (as will be the Rambo knife forging tools, the other lot I won!) Wish you very happy holidays and a great 2016!
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