Buddy Holly Rock & Roller Dance Party – Roseland Ballroom (New York City, NY)
If someone wandered into Roseland Ballroom on the night of the Buddy Holly Rock & Roller Dance Party without knowing what this concert was all about, the confused soul might have had trouble deciding who was being saluted. Sure, there was a giant banner of Holly hanging stage left, but it was balanced on the other side by one of Paul McCartney, who organizes these tributes to Holly each year. And while there were a few Holly T-shirts among the crowd, Beatles and/or McCartney apparel popped up all over the place. There was even a dead ringer for McCartney walking around the ballroom.
Maybe the case of mild Beatlemania that spread through the crowd is why so many people seemed crestfallen when McCartney sang just one song (a loose version of “Rave On”, backed by the Crickets) toward the end of the evening. But the brevity of McCartney’s stage time suggested that Sir Paul knew he shouldn’t be the star of the show.
The first two bands on the bill both tried to keep the focus on Buddy while still showcasing their own skills. Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys delivered entertaining, though slightly hesitant, renditions of Holly’s “Down The Line” and “I’m Gonna Set My Foot Down”. But it was when the band got jumping on “Yama Yama Pretty Mama” and “Blackberry Wine” that they really pulled in the crowd. Departing Fly-Rite Boy Carl Sonny Leyland particularly dazzled the audience with his barrelhouse piano playing.
After Big Sandy finished, Bobby Vee simultaneously wowed some concertgoers and scared others in a set that included most of his golden-oldie hits. Vee threw out beach balls during “Rubber Ball”, ended most of his songs by sticking his thumbs up like Fonzie, and had the crowd swaying during his hits, “Devil Or Angel” and “Take Good Care Of My Baby”. Vee also called Nanci Griffith to the stage to sing with him on Holly’s “Blue Days, Black Nights” and “Tell Me How”, but it was ultimately the versions of his own hits that really made the impression — good or bad — in Vee’s set.
Holly finally got his due, and, not surprisingly, it came from Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and Glen D. Hardin, better known as the Crickets. Curtis deftly led the band through the Holly standards, including “Oh Boy”, “Every Day”, and the evening’s big hit among couples, “True Love Ways”. Midway through the set, Griffith joined the band and provided one of the evening’s best moments with an enjoyable rendition of “Well, All Right”. Curtis also unobtrusively mixed in some of his own material throughout the set, such as “The Real Buddy Holly Story” (a response to a viewing of the Holly biopic) and a snarling version of “I Fought The Law”.
After the Crickets finished their set, the tribute sputtered toward its conclusion. McCartney’s appearance ended up being less of an event than expected, especially since he was only onstage for about five minutes. He gave way to the return of Vee and his band, who joined the Crickets for what passed as the tribute’s raucous All-Star Jam on “Not Fade Away”.
Then, with the crowd still clamoring for its Beatle, Carl Perkins’ son Stan strapped on Curtis’ guitar and sang “Blue Suede Shoes”. As Perkins wrapped up, several necks craned toward the side of the stage, thinking that McCartney, or one of the other “rumored guests,” would emerge. But after the Crickets sang “Think It Over”, the show ended, leaving many people standing around the front of the stage, refusing to believe McCartney was not coming back.
Maybe that was the right way to end it. Though Lennon once said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, perhaps McCartney wanted to make sure, for this night at least, that they weren’t bigger than Buddy Holly.