The Best Big Rooms in America

Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa
CC Image courtesy of delius98 on Flickr20/20

20. Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa

The Surf is written into rock history for one reason: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played here on February 2nd, 1959, before the three young rock stars boarded a plane and crashed in a nearby cornfield. Many live-music theatres are older than this no-frills 1934 dancehall with a wooden floor surrounded by Fifties-style diner booths and (for some reason) palm trees. But few other clubs have booked rock & roll since the beginning, from the Everly Brothers and Little Richard to Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd to, today, Willie Nelson and Cheap Trick. The plain-looking brick building with the rickety old marquee received landmark status from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

Capacity: 2,100


Fun Fact: Dion DiMucci won a coin toss in 1959 to join the others on the doomed plane, but the price was $36 – too high. He gave his seat to Valens, who said, "Thanks."