Imagine you’re at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Davenport on a cold January night in 1959.

Buddy Holly — one of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll — is on stage. That his tour was stopping in Davenport, of all places, was a sweet surprise and you had been looking forward to this concert for weeks. You know by the way Buddy is singing and holding his guitar and how your friends are happily dancing that you’ll remember this concert for a long time.

And imagine, five days later, you hear the news on the radio or your parents share it when you get home from school: Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash.

For those who attended Holly’s concert in Davenport, hearing about his tragic death was “a crushing moment,” said Sevan Garabedian, who filmed a documentary about the tour.

“It’s one of the most heartbreaking moments of their lives,” Garabedian said. “They got to see one of their idols, which for many of them was one of the best moments of their lives. And then it was surreal to hear he died just a few days later.”

Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Holly as well as musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. They had just performed at Clear Lake, Iowa's Surf Ballroom and were en route to a show in Minnesota.

“The tour and the crash is an important part of rock ‘n’ roll history,” Garabedian said. “And Davenport is a part of that history.”

Paying tribute in Clear Lake 

Garabedian never saw Buddy Holly perform. The 43-year-old Canadian wasn’t alive for the Winter Dance Party tour in 1959 or the plane crash.

But ever since his go-to radio station abruptly switched to an oldies station, blasting tunes by Elvis and Chuck Berry and other rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, Garabedian has been hooked on Buddy Holly's music and his story.

“I just got addicted,” he said.

Garabedian began researching the tour and wanted to know more.

“One thing led to another,” he said. “And in 2004, I made my first trek to Clear Lake.”

For the past 15 years, Garabedian has joined other fans in early February for an annual celebration and tribute to the lost musicians in Clear Lake, where an eclectic memorial marks the crash site.

“If you come here once, you’re going to want to come back,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a time machine. You just fall in love with the experience.”

On the side of a nearby road, a giant pair of glasses — inspired by Holly’s signature frames — serve as a sign directing passersby to the memorial. The Surf Ballroom is home to a "Day the Music Died" shrine, named after lyrics from Don McLean’s 1972 hit song, "American Pie," which referenced the plane crash and labeled, for many, the day Holly passed as “the day the music died.”

“Rock ‘n’ roll was dormant for a few years after that and before The Beatles came along,” Garabedian said. “That’s what the song is talking about. (McLean) saw that music and the culture had changed and that’s why he wrote what he wrote. There was a longing for innocence of the past.”

The crash, Garabedian said, has become symbolic of those changes.

He has spent years piecing together all of the elements that led to the day of the crash, including this detail: Holly had become frustrated with the winter weather, the zig-zagging back and forth across the Midwest and problems with the bus. So, he arranged the flight.

Waylon Jennings, the now-famous country singer, was part of Holly’s band at the time and was slated to be on the plane. He gave up his seat to Richardson, who had caught the flu, Garabedian said.

Jennings and other musicians continued the tour, and played the scheduled show the next day in Minnesota.

“It would’ve been understandable for them to quit,” Garabedian said. “But they continued on as sort of a tribute to those who had died. They did it for the love of music and the people in the audience.”

At around 1 a.m. on Feb. 3 — the approximate time of the crash — it’s tradition for those who have journeyed to Clear Lake to gather at the memorial, have a few drinks and sing “American Pie.”

“No matter how cold it is, we spend some time there,” he said. “It’s a good way to honor them.”

'You feel the love in Iowa'

Before visiting Clear Lake, Garabedian made a visit last week to the Quad-Cities.

He had previously visited the Capitol Theatre in 2009, when he filmed part of his documentary series, called "The Winter Dance Party Tapes," and interviewed people who attended the Davenport concert. He has released several episodes on YouTube. Garabedian also signed his name on the dressing room wall, sharing space with a signature of famous musicians such as Tommy Allsup, a guitarist who played with Buddy Holly.

He was happy to see the theater again. 

“Not all of the venues from the tour are still standing — some are completely gone,” he said. “The Capitol is still there. It’s still beautiful.”

During this time of year, Garabedian said he always gets chills thinking about Holly. And he feels that especially when visiting Iowa.

“Buddy Holly is more beloved and talked about in Iowa than anywhere,” he said, adding that Holly is perhaps more celebrated in Iowa than in his home state of Texas.

That is partly because eight of the Winter Dance Party tour’s 24 stops were in Iowa.

“60 years later, he is still beloved and celebrated here,” he said. “You feel the love in Iowa.”