The Day the Music Died


A long, long time ago…

Fifty years to be exact.

A young singer/songwriter named Don McLean, looking to make his mark on the music industry, penned those words.  Little did he know the impact they would have on the world – and how we’d still be singing them all these years later.

Paramount+ released their documentary, “The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie” on July 19th capturing the essence of McLean’s rise from a young musician to a global phenomenon.  It was riddled with celebrity interviews, of childhood memories and, of course, the Surf Ballroom.

Many people may not have realized the connection between American Pie and the tragedy that shook the rock ‘n’ roll world in 1959.  To them, it was just a catchy tune, one that was fun to sing.

In Clear Lake, it’s a different story.  The Surf Ballroom has worked diligently over the years to preserve the memory of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.  Our children are taught the history of this tragedy, to love the music so it can live on.

It may have been “The Day the Music Died” for the rest of the world.  But that music is very much still alive today.  Inside the Surf Ballroom.  Around the memorial crash site.  At the Three Stars Plaza.

The music lives.

I watched the documentary with goose bumps.  The history.  The meaning.  It was all just so much to take in.  It was the beginning of the end as people said goodbye to simpler times.  Gone were the poodle skirts and saddle shoes.  The age of innocence was over.

Political unrest.  Riots.  The Vietnam War.

America was in turmoil.

And then you’ve got this guy, this unknown singer, who puts out an 8 ½ minute song.  It was unheard of.

Everyone interviewed in the documentary talked about how the song transcends the test of time.  How it is still played on the radio across the globe today. It made me realize maybe this generation isn’t so different than the others.  Maybe our experience is more similar than we realize.

Political instability. Mass Shootings. Supreme Court rulings. Inflation.

Our country has been torn limb from limb in recent years.  And now, with the added element of social media to document our every move, thought and feeling – there’s nowhere to hide.  You can’t get away as it all swirls around and around inside your head.

Until you hear that first riff.

A long, long time ago

I can still remember how the music used to make me smile. 

And it all just sort of…  fades away.

American Pie is the only song in history able to do that.  The only song where all people, young and old, can sing every word and bring the country together instead of dividing it.

I have been writing about Clear Lake for five years.  About the signature events and epic 4th of July celebrations.  How our adorable Main Street is something straight out of a Hallmark movie.  I’ve captured the spirit of the Surf Ballroom time and time again as we celebrate the Winter Dance Party.

But watching this documentary?  Well, I guess you could say “something touched me deep inside.”

When Don McLean stood on the stage of the hallowed Surf Ballroom before his show during the 2022 Winter Dance Party, that’s when my eyes began to leak.  The implication of what such a moment meant in music history was a lot to take in.

It all came full circle.

You can catch “The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’” on Paramount+.  It’s a fantastic compilation representing one of the most iconic songs in music history, written about one of the most tragic instances in music history.

It’s everything the song represents, even after fifty years.

Then plan a trip to Clear Lake, Iowa to visit these impactful sights from the film.  Step inside the doors of the Surf Ballroom, hear the story at the most unique park in the country, Three Stars Plaza.  And head north of town to the Memorial Crash Site.

We welcome you to Clear Lake with open arms as you embark on this musical journey taking a tour of The Day the Music Died.  Pack your swimsuit and stay awhile.  We promise you will love everything this Midwest community has to offer.  Click here to order a visitor guide!

About the film:

The story of America – our past and our future. More than just a song or a man, this film is about a cultural moment in America’s history that has followed us from the 1970s. Featuring a new generation of artists, inspired by the same values & ideas that inspired Don McLean in writing “American Pie” — one of the great musical touchstones of pop music and culture. The new documentary, “The Day the Music Died: American Pie” is streaming July 19th exclusively on Paramount+. Try It Free!