CLEAR LAKE – One of Ritchie Valens sisters says being at the Winter Dance Party is like attending a family reunion.
Connie Valens Lemos was a child when her big brother lost his life in a plane crash, only hours after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake with a group of musicians that included Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Holly, Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson died when their plane went down just north of Clear Lake.
“Coming here is like coming home,” said Lemos on Wednesday, “A home I never thought existed, Iowa is like comfort food, it is so good to be back. Iowa has become an extended family not only to me but also to (her siblings) Bob, Irma and Mario.”
“I guess what makes it so special is that Ritchie played his last concert here and just to be able to walk into the Surf, it’s as if they’re still there.”
“The first time I went in there his spirit was so strong that I kept waiting for him to walk around the corner and say “hey! Where you guys been?’ I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I remember when I first saw the stage I felt like this huge magnetic force just drew me to it and as I put my hands on it I just started to tremble and I just started sobbing. This was the last place my brother was.”
Lemos said she was only 8 years old when her 17-year old brother died. “He was my dad, my brother and my hero. I know this is where his life ended. You know mama always said when I asked her ‘mama why Ritchie?’
She said God needed him more than we did and that’s what got us through.“
Lemos said that her family is currently in talks with a producer who is planning a trilogy CD featuring possibly 10 songs each from her brother, Holly and Richardson.
They would be performed by a selection of current artists. No names are being disclosed just yet.
There is also the possibility of another film project having to do with Valens. Lemos said there is talk of a film about the final 72 hours of the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour before the crash. It would chronicle the many difficulties the performers were having with broken down buses, the promoter and their frantic schedule, which required long rides between shows. Lemos said it would focus not only the hardships but also the relationships between the performers and their stories.
The Valens family was intimately involved in the production of La Bamba, the 1987 film about Ritchie that starred Lou Diamond Phillips
This Friday and Saturday the owners of the Lake Theatre in downtown Clear Lake are planning to show La Bamba at 4 p.m. on those days.
There is a possibility that Lemos may make an appearance and offer a personal introduction at one or both of those screenings.