CLEAR LAKE | As the "Three Stars Memorial Concert" kicked off Saturday night at the Surf Ballroom with Chubby Checker, Los Lobos, Chris Montez, Albert Lee, Tommy Allsup and Buddy & The Boys, three North Iowa sisters were feeling young again as they paid tribute to their teen heartthrobs through special costumes.
Three stars and a motto about rock 'n' roll being here to stay was embroidered in hot pink on the back of Shirlene Vandenheuvel, Ramae Shuver and Rosie Busick's black collared tops, paired with flared magenta skirts they'd made themselves.
Pieces of 45 rpm records dangled from their ears, while homemade buttons featured photos of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper set against an outline of Iowa.
For the past five years, the Winter Dance Party has been at the top of their calendars.
"We'll be here every year, because we love it," said Vandenheuvel, a Klemme resident. "We can't wait until February rolls around again."
After placing second in Friday night's costume contest, they said they were feeling like celebrities. Over the years, they've been lucky enough to rub elbows with entertainers and their families, including the Valenses, Fabian and Montez, who "laid a big kiss" on Vandenheuval after giving her his autograph.
As a teen, she was lucky enough to see Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper at their last concert at the Surf in 1959, she said.
"All three of us grew up with listening to their music, so we were very sad when it happened," she said.
For the sisters, the concert's all about seeing friends, who they were looking forward to cutting loose with when Chubby Checker took the stage.
"We've got to get out on the dance floor and do the twist," said Busick, a Clarion resident.
Denise Saunders, Garnavillo, was looking 1950s from head to toe, from cat eye glasses to a brown flared skirt to saddle shoes signed by Jimmy Gilmore and her high school idol, Jimmy Clanton, who performed Friday evening.
"This is the most exciting thing my husband, Stephen, and I do during the winter," she said. "Our friends might go down south, but we go to North Iowa."
She described this year's concerts as "outstanding."
The musical performances and fantastic friends have kept British couple Dave and Eileen Parsons coming back, year after year.
This week marked their 15th trip to snowy Iowa from rainy Bristol.
"We haven't missed it once," Dave said. "We don't mind the weather, because it's such a good time."
The two were dressed the part for swinging along to the music.
Dave was wearing a shirt with thick, vertical stripes and saddle shoes, while Eileen was wearing a white halter dress she'd sewn herself.
She said she wears it often when out dancing the jive and British stroll back home.
Their love affair with rock 'n' roll began nearly 60 years ago.
Dave discovered Holly in 1957 when "That'll Be the Day" was released in England. After learning Holly's last show was in Clear Lake, the Parsons decided they wanted to visit the Surf during a holiday to the U.S.
"The first time we were here, we couldn't believe the atmosphere," he said. "And we don't have ballrooms like this in England."
He said the Winter Dance Party also serves as a reunion of sorts for the Brits who don't regularly see each other back home.