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Surf Ballroom
Surf Ballroom
460 North Shore Drive
Clear Lake,IA 50428
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Visitors have listened to the sounds of the Surf since 1933 when it was already one of Iowa's premier ballrooms. Since then, performers have rehearsed, fine tuned, and presented their programs for hundreds of thousands who have traveled from around the world to hear the likes of folk, country, jazz, blue grass, polka, blues, pop, swing, rock, and big band music. Many people may not realize that the original Surf (pictured above) was destroyed by fire in 1947. The existing Surf was built across the street in 1948. As one of the last remaining Iowa ballrooms, the Surf easily accommodates visitors with its 30,000 square feet of entertaining area, including a 6,300 square foot dance floor. It's often filled to capacity as both internationally known and locally recognized musicians resound from the stage. The Surf got its name - and motif - from the desire by the first owners to create a ballroom that resembled an ocean beach club. The murals on the back walls were hand-painted to show the pounding surf, swaying palm trees, sailboats and lighthouses. The furnishings were bamboo and rattan and the whole ambiance was that of a south sea island. The performance stage still features graceful tall palm trees. The clouds overhead made it seem like you were dancing outside under the stars. To many, the Surf is truly an American cultural icon as well as an important historical landmark. Many were reminded just how important the Surf is around the United States when Garrison Keillor decided to bring his "Prairie Home Companion" radio show to the ballroom in 1992. The live show was broadcast to about 250 American Public Radio stations nationwide. When Keillor came to Clear Lake he fell in love with the Surf. After the show, he stayed for over an hour signing autographs for many of the 1800 people attending that night and kept remarking over and over again what a marvelous ballroom the Surf is and how delighted he was to have performed there. Another measure of the Surf's status as a revered institution is a major 90 minute video documentary which aired on Public Television in 1997. It was produced by a pair of New York film makers - one who grew up on a farm near Clear Lake. The producers feel the Surf is an excellent subject for an American documentary. On one level there is the actual 50 year history of the Surf itself. And on another level the Surf can be used as a vehicle to explore the shifting values, lives and music of four generation of Americans. It is especially fitting that some of the filming for the documentary took place during the Winter Dance Party in 1994 when Don McLean performed live at the Surf. He, of course sang "American Pie", which is a tribute to Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper. It is in this song where the phrase "the day the music died" was first coined. It has become an important rallying cry for the deaths of these three young musicians who performed their last concert at the Surf before dying in a plane crash a few hours later on February 3, 1959. May the music never die!
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