After an all night ride from Kenosha, the Winter Dance Party arrived about midday in downtown Mankato Minnesota, the scene of their next performance. They checked into the Hotel Burton and got some much needed rest before their show which was to begin that night at the Kato Ballroom. The Kato was owned by Herb and Jerry Martinka who had some success in booking many different kind of bands at that time. Of course, they hosted many teen rock and roll dances in 1959 also. These events were watched over with a firm hand back then and like many of the venues the WDP was to play, a strict no-drinking policy was enforced. Policemen were on duty keeping an ever watchful eye on the crowd and parents were admitted free to further keep things under control. As Larry Lehmer's book, The Day The Music Died reports, most of the dances were over by 11:30 PM in those days, which turned out to be a very good thing as most of them were held on weeknights. Weeknights meant school nights for the kids and it's unlikely that much homework got done over the weekend on this Sunday night Jan. 25.
The Kato was going to have an overflow crowd. 1,500 teenagers willing paid $1.50 each to come dance to the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Popular Minneapolis DJ, Bill Diehl not only promoted the show but drove 70 miles to be the emcee that night. Bill had met Buddy Holly a year earlier when Holly appeared in Minneapolis and had this to say about the rock and roll star: "He was very scholarly..I always called him the Glenn Miller of rock. This was not the stereotypical rock and roll star. This was a fellow who made sense." The kids too were looking forward to seeing Holly who most of them had heard only on portable transistor radios, jukeboxes and record players. They pressed near the stage as Holly and his band came on and some even sat on the front of the stage where a large section of the wrought iron railing was missing. Between sets, all the performers posed for pictures and signed autographs. One of the fans, Dianne Cory who attended the show that night said that the members of the WDP seemed to be in a very good mood, especially Ritchie Valens and Frankie Sardo. Typical teenagers themselves, they were having a good time on their first big tour. "They were cutting up and being silly." Dianne said. Drummer Carl Bunch was having fun too. Earlier that day he had met a young lady by the name of Cathy Chatleain at Frederickson's Cafe across the street from the hotel. Cathy was a waitress and working but liked Buddy Holly's drummer and invited him back to her home to meet her parents that afternoon. That night, Cathy would attend the show to watch Carl play drums and even invite him to a late night birthday celebration for friend Judy Peery. After the show, Carl and Dion's Belmonts would take Cathy up on her invitation and show up to help with the birthday party. It must have been a welcome relief to return to just being a teenager that night for Carl, Freddie and Carlo. The next morning they would face another long drive to Eau Claire, Wisconsin some 167 miles to the east. It was a crazy itinerary that would make them drive 5 hours BACK to Wisconsin from which they had just performed. It was still cold too. The Midwest was known for it's subzero winters with the winter of 1959 being no different. Little did they know that night too just how cold it was going to get either. Just three days into the tour, it was to be the last night their journey would be trouble free. They would soon find out just what kind of transportation they had been given to get themselves from date to date and how brutal life on the road could be. But for this night, they would sleep in a warm bed at the Hotel Burton, with the sounds of the crowd and the rock and roll they played drifting through their dreams.
*The facts from the above were taking from several sources. Much of it was gleaned from Larry Lehmer's terrific 1997 book, THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED. This book is a MUST READ for fans and can be ordered through Amazon
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