The Renegade Rip

REVIEWThe day the music returned

Jeff Eagan

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The Bakersfield Business Conference presented attendees with an impressive blend of both serious speakers and lighthearted commentators. And after the speakers left in their stretch limos, the wine flowed freely under the soft glow as listeners watched the premier rock ‘n’ roll cover band, Winter Dance Party.

After a lengthy shower of patriotic fireworks, the resurrected souls of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper appeared onstage, but not before a tribute with the song “American Pie,” which chronicles the tragic loss of three of rock’s brightest stars.

Instantly, Valens burst onto the stage screaming “La Bamba” at the top of his lungs. Valens, played by Ray Anthony, was dressed in a flagrantly silky red shirt with suffocating black pants laden with silver buckles. He urged the mostly silver-haired audience to stir themselves from their seats and participate in all of his classics.

The dance floor, barren at first, quickly swelled with the young and old wishing to catch a little nostalgia. Though most of the music dated half the crowd, it couldn’t keep them from swaying their hips and bobbing their heads to classic hits like “Summertime Blues.”

After Anthonymade a short farewell, the changing of the guard saw Jay P. Richardson, son of the real Big Bopper, saunter onstage.

With flair and gusto, Richardson warmed the audience to memories of a simpler time, where all the cars were cool, sexually transmitted diseases hadn’t become a reality and soda cost a nickel.He moseyed and head bobbed to his own songs in a leopard-print jacket. And weirdly enough, out of the three, Richardson failed to capture the soul of the late Bopper. Or maybe he didn’t want his performance to look too contrived, and thus tarnish the memory of his father.

But he addressed those couples approaching their 15-year anniversaries with the first slow song of the night, “For Eternity.” He also sang some of the hits penned by his father, including “Chantilly Lace” and “Running Bear.”

The crowd continued sweating to the oldies. Prepubescent girls, giggling at their parents who gingerly embraced childhood memories, imitated their dance moves the best they could.

Probably the most awaited act was Buddy Holly, as played by John Mueller. The physical similarity of Mueller to Holly was eerie, his onstage tenacity unparalleled by any imitator to come before. And personally, it was his songs I was looking forward to the most. “Peggy Sue,” “Donna” and “That’ll Be the Day” were beautiful compositions penned in an era where few performers wrote their own songs.

Mueller imitated Holly’s humble demeanor perfectly, except for his anachronistic writhing onstage and guitar banging. But the Winter Dance Party gave older conference patrons a chance to relive their malt shop fantasies, even if just for one night.

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REVIEWThe day the music returned