The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
As part of their ongoing Pops Series, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) hosted the Winter Dance Party this weekend. Under the baton of conductor Stuart Chafetz, the orchestra backed the recreation of what was the last tour of breakout pop stars Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The trio died tragically in a plane crash known as “The Day the Music Died,” which curtailed both the rising stardom of the crash victims and the '50s Winter Dance Party tour through the Midwest.
The crowd was on its feet for Anthony's rendition of Richie Valens' "La Bamba."
Since 1999, John Meuller—who is renowned for his portrayal of Buddy Holly on the concert and theater stage—has led the '50s Dance Party Band in a recreation of the thwarted tour, playing at as many of the original 44 ballrooms as remain (not including the DSO’s current home at the Max M. Fisher Music Center). Meuller is clearly a Holly-fanatic and, in the words of J.P. Richardson Jr., “the closest you’ll find to Buddy Holly here on this Earth.”
Meuller's connection to his part is deeply felt, and he closed the show with a ballad of his own creation entitled, “Hey Buddy.”
The crowd was near capacity and highly enthusiastic for the show, which featured, in addition to Mueller’s Buddy Holly, Ray Anthony’s as Richie Valens, and the part of the Big Bopper taken up by his own son, J.P. Richardson Jr., born just three months after the plane crash that took his father’s life. As for the DSO, there was perhaps less opportunity than usual for them to demonstrate their musicianship, relegated largely to back-up orchestration that at times seemed to pale in comparison (or at least in amplitude) to old fashioned rock-and-roll. The orchestra was best availed of during three Buddy Holly tunes that were rendered with the original orchestral backing they received during their recording in New York, “Moondreams,” “Raining In My Heart,” and “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”
Ray Anthony turned in a high-energy portrayal of Richie Valens, demanding the crowd make a dance party out of the sit-down event.
Overall, a fun night at the DSO, punctuated by the rare sight of patrons dancing in the aisles.
Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-576-5111; detroitsymphony.com.