CLEAR LAKE — Winter Dance Party crowds paid tribute to Tommy Allsup Thursday at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
Austin Allsup, 32, of Fort Worth, took the stage in place of his father, who died at 85 Jan. 11, and was originally scheduled to perform this weekend.
“It’s obviously an honor with the event itself, the historical importance, the personal value that I take with this venue and with my dad,” Austin said. “It’s very bittersweet because the reason I’m here is because of my dad.”
Austin covered some of his father’s favorites, some Buddy Holly originals and more for the concert.
“That room ... there’s something very special about that room and it feels magical up on that stage,” Austin said. “I’m very humbled to be here today and I hope that I can come every year, it would mean a lot to me to do that.”
Tommy was the original guitarist for the 1959 Winter Dance Party, part of Buddy Holly’s band. He was scheduled to perform Thursday.
It’s been 58 years since the plane crash claimed the lives of Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson. Popular legend has it that Tommy flipped a coin with Valens to see who between them would get a seat on the plane.
Austin was able to meet Valens' sister, Connie, who emailed him after his father's death offering her sympathies. They met for the first time at the funeral.
“I told Connie Valens that now Ritchie and dad can finally finish the tour they started all those years ago with Buddy,” Austin said. “They’re jammin’ and talking about all the stuff that dad got to do and they didn’t get to do because they had to go home early. It was really neat.”
In the years following, Tommy became a frequent performer at the Winter Dance Party.
“For me, I can kind of find comfort and peace in knowing how loved he was by everybody,” Austin said.
This was Austin’s first time performing at the Surf but not his first visit.
“I visited here back when I was 19, with my dad,” Austin said. “He was doing a separate tour and we just stopped in, he wanted to show me the building. It was closed, he called somebody and they came and opened it up for us.”
At the time, Austin remembers, it was freezing and he worried that it would be very cold this time.
“It was snowing, it was like negative-something crazy degrees,” Austin said. “Dad loved it up here.”
Austin gathered up plenty of memorabilia from the Surf gift shop Thursday. He walked through the museum wearing a Surf Ballroom jacket, finding several photos of his father.
“That’s awesome,” Austin said, taking a picture with his phone of a large photo on canvas of his father performing. “That’s my dad, in the middle with the hat on!”
Austin competed on "The Voice” last year, a TV singing competition, where he made it to the top 10.
“My dad got to come out and be part of that which was very exciting,” Austin said. “That’s the last time he got to spend some time with his grandkids. That was real special for him to come and be part of that with us.”