CLEAR LAKE | Frankie Avalon, who performed Saturday night at the Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake, said those who come to the annual event at the Surf Ballroom are the real deal.

"They are true, true fans," said the former teen idol.

It was Avalon's first visit to the Surf. He came in on Saturday afternoon to tour the historic venue before the evening concert.

"This is quite a site," he said.

He also posed for photos with Winter Dance Party-goers. 

Avalon was one of the replacement headliners for the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour after the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. The performers and pilot Roger Peterson died when their plane crashed north of the airport in Clear Lake on Feb. 3, 1959.

Avalon remembers he had just finished a tour and was back home in Philadelphia when he heard the news.

He said that was a sad day, noting he had worked with Holly, Valens and Richardson many times.

"I knew them very well," he said.

Al and LaRue Dyczek of Omaha were among the Winter Dance Party attendees who had their photos taken with Avalon.

They were not expecting to meet him. LaRue said they happened to walk into the Surf Ballroom Saturday afternoon to spend some time there before meeting friends for dinner "and there he was."

LaRue said she has a lot of memories from the Winter Dance Party over the years but "this is going to be the biggest one."

Al said one of the things he likes about the Winter Dance Party is the opportunity to meet the performers. He said sometimes he and his wife will be in the breakfast room at their hotel and one of the performers staying at the same hotel will sit down at their table to chat.

Also, when the performers are on stage, "you get to see them up close," he said, noting at a bigger venue "you need binoculars."

Avalon began playing the trumpet when he was 9 or 10. By age 11 he was already playing on TV.

Then he switched to singing and acting.

Avalon had 31 Billboard hits between 1958 and 1962. One of his most renowned, "Venus," spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1959.

He starred in a series of popular "beach party" comedies such as "Beach Blanket Bingo" in the 1960s, often with Annette Funicello. He also had dramatic roles in films such as "The Alamo" with John Wayne.

He said his appearance as a singing guardian angel in the 1978 film "Grease" earned him a whole new generation of fans.

Avalon said he feels "absolutely lucky" to still be on the road performing.

"I just can't sit around," he said.

One of the things he enjoys most is "just mixing and milling with the people" and hearing them tell stories about going to one of his previous shows or buying one of his records.

"You can't beat it," he said of the music of the ’50s and early ’60s. "You can understand the words."

 Besides Avalon, the other acts who performed Saturday night were The Crystals, Brian Hyland, Chris Montez and John Mueller's Winter Dance Party.

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