On February 2nd, everyone was “rockin’ to the rhythm of the blues” at Bethesda’s Rock Creek Mansion, celebrating the music of 1950’s rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.  February 3rd marks the anniversary of the three musicians’ deaths in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959 while on the Winter Dance Party tour, a tragedy memorialized in Don McLean’s 1972 song “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died.”  Having attended another tribute for the three stars, Hollyfest, at the Star Bar in Atlanta, it was intriguing to find out how the D.C. area does it.

The genteel Rock Creek Mansion, home of the Rock Creek Knights of Columbus, contrasted greatly with the PBR-coated, Elvis-lampooning, country-punk atmosphere of the Star Bar, where Atlanta’s Hollyfest takes place.  The Rock Creek venue offered two floors of live music with tables, bars, and plenty of varying atmosphere.  The upstairs almost felt as though musicians were rocking out in someone’s formal living room (a neat contrast of wildness and civility), while the downstairs basement featured colored lights, a long bar, and more of a nightclub feel (a nightclub with portraits of Knights of Columbus on the wall).

The fancy environs of Rock Creek Mansion and the Winter Dance Party theme inspired me to don period-appropriate garb in the spirit of ’59.  I caught a picture downstairs with Sarah Bonner of the Crayfish Sisters (far right), yours truly (center right), and my gals Madeleine (far left) and Berkley (center left) who work at the Newseum with me and came along for the fun:




Throughout the night Colin Davies, the emcee, provided a thoughtful touch with his genuine recordings from renowned figures about the three honored musicians, including monologues from members of The Beatles and how the Three Stars inspired them.  After his introduction, the first of the nine bands began to play: The Crayfish Sisters, followed by the The Rock-A-Sonics with Jason “Hoss” Hicks, DeDe and the Do-RightsJelly Roll Mortals, and The Grandsons.   The Flea Bops rounded out a night filled with rousing rhythms.

Enjoy the videos below!

The Crayfish Sisters began the show with “We Belong Together,” a hit for Valens in 1958:


The Rock-A-Sonics started off with the Jerry Lee Lewis version of one of my favorites, The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace”:

A very fun and less commonly-heard Buddy Holly number, “Rockin’ Around with Ollie Vee,” from 1958:

And the Buddy classic “Oh Boy!”


Jason “Hoss” Hicks joins The Rock-A-Sonics on Ritchie Valens’ best-known song “La Bamba”:

“Come On, Let’s Go!” by Ritchie Valens


DeDe and the Do-Rights’ take on Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy”


And downstairs….it was a whole different world.  Ruthie and the Wranglers gave a slow, tripped-out version of Buddy Holly’s “Well Alright” that really suited the colorful lights and dreamlike atmosphere of the downstairs stage.  Groovy!

A Western-swingin’ version of “Blue Days Black Nights.” I dig it!


Back upstairs, David Kitchen joined the Jelly Roll Mortals for “I’m Gonna Love You Too.”


Last but not least, I captured the oh-so-rockin’ Flea Bops:

Upright bass player Wendy LaBeau’s turn on vocals with “Little Baby”

Another Buddy classic, and one of my favorite driving tunes “Down the Line”:


What a diverse group of artists; so many different interpretations in one night!  The D.C. area proved it keeps the spirit of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens alive with renditions of their tunes that had the crowd singing and swinging along.  The ambiance of Rock Creek Mansion gave the night a more formal feeling and the between-set vintage recordings discussing the artists lent an authentic and moving touch.

-Emily Morris