Dodgers recall Buddy Holly at the Laramar
Wall-to-wall teenagers gathered on the wooden dance floor of the Laramar Ballroom in Fort Dodge during the winter of 1959.
They were there to see a rising rock ‘n’ roll star with big black glasses perform.
“The Laramar was packed,” recalled Rosemary Kolacia, who managed to get a spot in the front row when Buddy Holly took the stage with the Crickets. “He was really hopping around on stage. He had a lot of energy.”
Kolacia, who was a sophomore at Fort Dodge Senior High at the time, used to go dancing every Friday night. But that particular night she considers her first real concert.
“I can remember the feeling and what you felt like when certain songs were playing,” she said. “How lucky we were. I went to the dances every Friday night all through high school. Fort Dodge was a wonderful place to grow up in.”
Kolacia, who was one of six cheerleaders in high school at the time, described life in Fort Dodge in the 50s and 60s as modest.
She, along with all the other cheerleaders, was once called to the office for what was deemed at the time as an inappropriate performance.
“They thought our cheer was too sexy,” Kolacia said. “We brought our knee up and patted it. ‘Be calm, be cool, be collected’ was the name of the cheer. If only they could see how things are now. Our parents thought rock ‘n’ roll was the end of civilization.”
At the concert, Kolacia said boys wore jeans and had their hair slicked back.
“It was greasy hair into a ducktail,” she said. “T-shirts with the rolled-up sleeves and have a pack of cigarettes in their sleeves.”
Drugs weren’t really part of the scene, though.
“In those years, we didn’t ruin things for ourselves,” she said. “There were no drugs, very little alcohol.”
There was the “trap,” though. The trap unique display on the dance floor that people generally enjoyed.
A trap would be set up by three or more girls or three or more boys, who would wander through the dance floor and surround a dancing couple. If it was a guy trap, the girl dancing would choose one of those in the trap or stay with her partner. If it was a girl trap, the guy dancing would choose one of those in a trap or stay with his partner.
“Sometimes you would get stuck with someone you didn’t want to dance with,” Kolacia said. “It was a wonderful way for kids to get to dance with each other. I never heard of another school or town that did that. Fort Dodge High School was bigger than it is today. Hormel was still in town.”
In addition to Buddy Holly, Dion, and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed.
Kolacia remembered Dion very well.
“I was so close to the stage that I could tell how long his eyelashes were,” she said. “Dion had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen. It was very exciting. I had never been to anything like that before.”
Just a few rows back from her was Earlita Bowling-Kahler, who was also a sophomore at FDSH at the time.
“It was crowded,” Kahler said. “I was probably fourth or the fifth row from the front. We were all standing. I remember his big black glasses. Everyone was screaming and clapping.”
Big Bopper’s performance was memorable.
“His head was just wet with sweat,” Kahler recalled. “It was a cold night. And it was hot in there.”
Kahler said the bands played well.
“They put on a very good show,” she said.
Little did Kolacia and Kahler know, it would be one of the last performances ever from Buddy Holly, 22; Ritchie Valens, 17; and The Big Bopper J. P. Richardson, 28.
The three men died in a plane crash near Clear Lake on Feb. 3, 1959, just a few short days after wowing the crowd in Fort Dodge.
“We really thought something terrific had come to town and then to hear he died three days later that made us all really sad,” Kolacia said.
The tragedy made the night at the Laramar even more cherished.
“The whole world was so different then,” Kahler said. “And then of course we couldn’t believe we had seen them Friday night and then by Tuesday they were gone.”