ROTHSCHILD -- Buddy Holly performed one gig at the Rothschild Pavilion, and stayed in town one night. But his short time here had a huge impact on people who got to know him 50 years ago, and his influence resonates with them today.
"My whole life changed," said Danny Krueger, 70, of Merrill, who spent most of a night with Holly at a bar, then at a house party. "Jeez, I think back, and there's times I almost cry. He had so much left to give."
Holly's performance a half century ago will be commemorated with a 50th Anniversary Summer Dance Party starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Rothschild Pavilion. Johnny Rogers, a Buddy Holly tribute artist, and Tommy Allsup, Holly's former guitarist who played the original gig, will take the stage.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets were supposed to perform twice in the Wausau area on July 12, 1958. Inclement weather canceled the first performance at Athletic Park.
The second show was at the Rothschild Pavilion. A local band, The Runabouts, opened for Holly. The Runabouts were joined, as the band often was, by two singing twin sisters, Judy and Joan Bender, who performed under the name Jayettes.
Judy Bender, now Judy Oestreich, knew that she was performing on the same stage as an up-and-coming legend.
"He was very talented. Very, very talented," said Judy Oestreich, 67, of the town of Ringle. "I think it was the way he presented the music. He wrote it, so he felt it."
Terry Oestreich, 69,Judy's husband, was dating Judy at the time, and was a roadie of sorts for the Jayettes and The Runabouts. His brother Bob Oestreich also was a drummer for The Runabouts.
Holly's music "was just different, you know? And we liked it," Terry said.
The talent was obvious, but everyone who came in contact with Holly that night and the following morning say the same thing. He was quiet, down-to-earth, a nice guy.
Krueger recognized Holly instantly when the rock pioneer walked into Joe's Beer Bar in Rothschild after the Pavilion performance.
Krueger and his friends started talking with Holly, and when the bar closed, the party moved to a house. Krueger rounded up his extensive record collection, and he and Holly talked about music, life on the road and the money.
One of the folks at the party was Bob Oestreich, The Runabouts drummer. He gave Buddy Holly his name and number, and was surprised when Holly called him the next morning. Tires on Holly's Lincoln Continental had been slashed, and Holly wondered if Bob knew anybody who could help.
Bob and Terry made arrangements to get the car fixed, Terry said, and Holly and one of the Crickets ended up buying Bob and Terry breakfast.
Holly and the Crickets had another gig on July 13 at the Crystal Rock Ballroom in Rhinelander, and The Runabouts and the Jayettes opened the concert again. The musicians and Terry Oestreich spent part of the afternoon at a picnic with the band.
Krueger and his wife at the time also attended the concert, and Holly spoke with them and posed for photos. Those photos hang prominently on Krueger's wall.
Terry and Judy Oestreich ended up seeing Buddy Holly once again, on Feb. 1, 1959, before a performance in Green Bay. With them were Bob Oestreich, Judy's sister Joan, and Larry Matti, who played sax for The Runabouts and who ended up marrying Joan.
Holly invited them into the performers' dressing room, and they all met the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and other performers on the fateful Winter Dance Party Tour in the Midwest. Matti took photos.
Two days later, Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. As far as Judy and Terry Oestreich know, Matti's photos are the last known pictures taken of Holly and the others.
When they got the news, "we were devastated. Absolutely devastated," Judy Oestreich said. "I think he would have been huge, if he had lived. Bigger than even Elvis."
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