In the song “American Pie,” Don McLean wrote:
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
The day he was singing about was February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash shortly after a show in Clear Lake, Iowa during their Winter Dance Party Tour. On Saturday, May 14, 2011, performances from that tour will once again come to life on stage at the Lester Centre of the Arts when the Buddy Holly Story comes to Prince Rupert.
The Winter Dance Party Tour was a lot like the “package tours” put together in the 1950s that played halls and ballrooms across America. They would assemble a few stars who were popular on the radio to play short sets to their legions of teenage fans. Unfortunately, this particular tour ended in tragedy, but the artists live on in the performances of Zachary Stevenson as Buddy Holly, Bill Culp as the Big Bopper and Ben Kunder as Ritchie Valens.
Stevenson is a musician in his own right, who plays piano, guitar, bass and saxophone. He started his performing career as an actor, doing a little music on the side, and eventually the two worlds began to come together. He got cast in a production of the stage play “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” in 2006 and he has done a production every year since then. He has also been cast as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and this summer, he will be doing Jerry Lewis in Victoria.
“I love acting and I’m meticulous with details as I strive to be as authentic to the character as possible,” he says. “Learning the physical and vocal mannerisms but also trying to understand what makes them tick. What shapes the man and his music. I think approaching these characters from the observational eye of an actor has greatly enhanced the musical performances. Because it’s not just about the sound and the moves, it’s about the essence and the inner drive. The impersonation performances are simply a result of having developed the characters and satisfying a demand from audiences.”
Stevenson says he did not really choose Buddy in particular, Buddy kind of chose him, but his music does resonate with him.
“My own songs have now been influenced by Buddy: the spirit, the simplicity” he says. “But also the cleverness and authenticity in his melodies and lyrics.”
Stevenson also plays in a duo called the Human Statues, who play pop, rock and folk. On top of that, he writes solo acoustic songs and is arranging a new musical about protest-folk artist Phil Ochs. He says he has performed in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” nearly 300 times now.
“This ‘in concert’ Buddy Holly tour is even more exciting because we get to focus more on the music,” he says. “Bopper and Ritchie get to flesh out their sets and I get to play some of my favourite Buddy Holly songs that are a little more rare as well, on top of all the classic hits like ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ ‘Peggy Sue,’ ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Rave On.’ So far we’re two for two on this tour with audiences roaring for more.”
Just like in the days when the music was still very much alive.
The show begins at 8 p.m. May 14 and tickets are $38.
~Written by Gina Clark. Photo submitted