In 1958, Buddy Holly Stopped in Rhinelander on the Summer Dance Party Tour

Jun 26, 2019

Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings photographed in a photo-booth in Central Station, in New York City in January of 1959.
Credit 8tracks.com/markymark25 / Wikimedia Commons

During the summer of 1958, Rock and Roll pioneers Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured the Upper Midwest as part of the Summer Dance Party tour. The tour passed through Wausau and ended in Rhinelander.

Gary Entz has the story for this week's A Northwoods Moment in History.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets are considered among the pioneering figures in 1950s Rock and Roll, and in 1958 Holly’s music was in heavy demand.  The world of Rock and Roll was a bit different in the 1950s than it became in later years.  Other than Elvis Presley, who was already playing in stadiums in the late 1950s, most rock bands still performed in smaller auditoriums and arenas.  In 1958 Buddy Holly appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and performed internationally in both Australia and Great Britain.  He was a recognized musical star, yet domestically he maintained a grueling schedule that had him playing in smaller venues across the country.  In 1958 one of those small venues was the Crystal Rock in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

In July 1958 Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured the upper Midwest with the Summer Dance Party, a tour that started on July 4 in Angola, Indiana, and ended on July 13 in Rhinelander.  For this tour the Crickets consisted of Holly on lead, Joe Maulden on bass, Jerry Allison on drums, and Niki Sullivan on rhythm guitar.  For most of the stops, Tommy Allsup’s Blues Band was the warmup act.  They played every day in a different town or city, except for July 7.  On July 12 the band was scheduled to play two shows in Wausau, Wisconsin.  The afternoon performance at Athletic Park was cancelled because of inclement weather, but the evening show at the Rothschild Pavilion went as planned.

Holly’s time in Wisconsin could not have been overly memorable for him.  The band spent the night in Wausau, and Holly woke up to find that someone had slashed the tires on his Lincoln Continental.  After getting the car repaired, the group drove up to Rhinelander for the July 13 show at the Crystal Rock.  In Rhinelander a local band, the Runabouts, and twin sisters Judy and Joan Bender, who performed as the Jayettes, opened for Holly.  As the headliners, Buddy Holly and the Crickets gave a memorable act and played all their hit songs for a capacity crowd, and most people in attendance were thrilled by the opportunity to see one of the greatest Rock and Roll acts of the day.

But not everyone attending was a fan.  In 1958 a 17-year-old Bill Knutson was at the Rhinelander concert, and he recalled being in the rest room during a break when Buddy Holly came in and took the urinal next to him.  Another burly fellow in the restroom started to threaten Holly and physically shoved him.  Knutson intervened and allowed Holly to duck out before anything worse could happen.  Back on stage, Holly dedicated his next song “for the guy who just saved my life.”

Holly and his band slept in their cars that night in a parking lot across the street from the Crystal Rock, after which they returned home.  Holly passed through the Northwoods again for 1959s Winter Dance Party tour but never performed in Rhinelander again.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear.