CLEAR LAKE - Mike Welch of Des Moines brought his “Buddy” to the Surf Ballroom to celebrate the 2013 Winter Dance Party.

The life-size cardboard cutout of Buddy Holly was given to Welch by his wife, Chris, several years ago.

Saturday marked the final night of the 2013 celebration. The event celebrates the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, who were killed along with pilot Roger Peterson when their plane crashed north of Clear Lake on Feb. 3, 1959.

The Welchs have been coming to the Winter Dance Party for 28 years.

“It’s about the love, the music. It’s a reunion. That’s what it is,” Mike said with a voice hoarse from lots of singing along with the bands Thursday and Friday nights.

“Everybody is so friendly and there’s no fussing and fighting. There’s just kindness, happiness. We love it,” Chris added.

People kept stopping to say hello to the couple and grab a picture with the Holly cutout.

“It’s amazing that the whole town gets together and accepts you for who you are. It’s just wonderful for a small community. They are outstanding that they put up with this,” Chris said.

The couple said Holly would be up on stage at some point during the evening.

“He has to make it every year,” Chris said.

Doug Thompson and dancing partner Lori Heebl, both of St., Louis Park, Minn., dress in 1950s garb as a way of getting into the spirit.

They have been Winter Dance Party guests off and on since 1987.

“The one thing that I really like is coming down and seeing the people that I’ve met over the years and because we get dressed up, it’s fun to see the other people that get dressed up,” Thompson said.

“What it boils down to is you are able to leave everything behind and just be someone else for a weekend and that’s kind of a fun thing.”

Heebl was dressed in a dark poodle skirt and saddle shoes.

“I love that you see the same people here every year. You get to be friends with them. I love it here,” she said.

“I got the shoes at a Branson, Mo., American Bandstand gift shop in 2008.”

Clear Lake Mayor Nelson Crabb was busy greeting guests.

“I just met a couple from England, from Somerset County,” Crabb said. “It so happens we are going there this summer. That’s where my grandpa came from. We had a wonderful conversation with him and his wife.

“There have been people from all across the United States, some of them first time. One guy I met, its 23 years he’s been here. It’s very interesting,” Crabb said. “There’s a good cross-section from the United States and people who really love the music of the 1950s and a little bit of the 1960s in there.

“It’s been a great week. You hate to see it go.”

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