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Monday, December 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Overcast with Haze
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Buddy Holly's last days in Wisconsin

Buddy Holly's death is usually associated with Clear Lake, Iowa, where he played his final concert on Feb. 3, 1959. The pioneering rocker chartered a small plane to get to his next date, bringing along tour mates Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. They went down in a snowstorm a tragedy known as the Day the Music Died.

Though the crash site is in Iowa, Wisconsin plays a big part in this story. Buddy headlined a tour called the Winter Dance Party, which began in Milwaukee's Million Dollar Ballroom. It included stops in Appleton, Green Bay and Kenosha, along with small towns in Iowa and Minnesota.

The Wisconsin portion of the tour was brutal. The booking agent scheduled dates haphazardly, so the musicians had to travel hundreds of miles between one-night stands in a blizzard. On the way to Appleton, their bus died on Highway 51 in the middle of the night. They set fire to newspapers to stay warm in the minus-30 temperature.

A couple days later, as the replacement bus drove from Green Bay to Clear Lake, Buddy had a brilliant idea. He would charter a plane for a hassle-free trip to the next gig. That would give him a chance to do his laundry and get some rest.

On the 54th anniversary of the Day the Music Died, here's a commentary about Buddy's fateful decision. It originally aired on Wisconsin Public Radio's Wisconsin Life.

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