Two former, and sometimes current, self-described ski bums Dan Irion, co-founder of Taos Mesa Brewery, and web developer Howie Roemer, are members of the local band Last to Know. For the past 10 years, Roemer has been coordinator of the upcoming Taos Feeds Taos benefit concert and an integral part of the organization it benefits.
He said the concert, featuring Last to Know, combines his altruistic sensibilities with his musical interests. The name for this jam band, who play their setlist on the fly and directly respond to the audience for what to play next, came to Irion one night when he was hanging out at a local pub. Irion and his musician friends were introduced as the opening act over the sound system, but they had no name. At which point, Irion mused “I’m always the last to know,” and the name has since stuck.
“The Aristotle quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” just about sums it up,” said Roemer, about the benefit concert and food drive which is planned Friday (Dec. 8), from 7-10 p.m. at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west.
The concert and food drive this year will honor the late Amy Ray, a staunch supporter, board member and activist in the Taos Feeds Taos organization. Ray and her daughter manned the door of the event each year and kept an inventory of the donations. Roemer said she will be missed this year.
Taos Feeds Taos, the event’s beneficiary, is a non-profit corporation in its 32nd year. Every year the group calls on volunteers to help pack and distribute food baskets to over 1,100 Taos county families who are in need during the holiday season. The Taos National Guardsmen collect donations of nonperishable foods and cash to purchase and distribute hams, fruits and vegetables before Christmas.
The annual event has a long history of tenacious and passionate volunteers making it happen. In the mid-1980s, Taos resident and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jim Ulmer wanted to do something for the less fortunate members of the community around the holiday season. Ulmer asked First Sergeant Francis Córdova at the Taos National Guard Armory for help finding space to stage the distribution of food baskets. Córdova and Ulmer then went to Gen. Edward Baca with the National Guard in Santa Fe to ask for the use of their facilities and equipment. Baca said he was proud that one of his units would want to undertake the task of such a noble cause, and agreed.
In the first year 300 baskets were given, and by 1988, the numbers of baskets nearly doubled. To date, the numbers have increased every year.
In 1992, Ulmer’s health was failing, and Felix Trujillo of the Kiwanis Club took on the project along with his wife Alice and many other volunteers who would stand in front of Taos grocery stores in sub-zero weather to ask for donations. By 1997, the Trujillos were not able to continue the mission. Gustavo Córdova, then the town manager, stepped in and called on a committee of passionate citizens to take over the project. By 1998, Taos Feeds Taos officially became a 501c(3) nonprofit organization.
In 2000, the Taos Unit of the New Mexico Armory National Guard moved to its new facility in Ranchos de Taos, and Taos Feeds Taos moved right along with them. The newly formed board of directors started looking for ways to expand the operation. Local schools were tapped for musical inspiration, a mariachi group was found to entertain the volunteers, and a culinary class to provide delicious food for the volunteers on the first day of distribution.
This year, for the 30th anniversary, a school chorus class will participate and sing the National Anthem. It’s now become a tradition that Taos Feeds Taos has mariachis and participation from local schools and businesses.
When the National Guard was deployed in 2004, Kit Carson Electric Co-op stepped up to the plate to help by preparing boxes and picking up groceries. That tradition continues every year with the company playing a crucial role in the holiday activities of Taos Feeds Taos.
Roemer, the coordinator for the concert, said he has friends in Taos who have been on the receiving side of the baskets, which sometimes exceed 40 pounds. He knows first-hand what the boost of food and warm cheer around the holidays can mean to people in need and sees it as a way to build a stronger community. His band is asked to do benefit concerts all year long, and he said this is “the one we do every year, no questions asked.”
In addition to Roemer on keyboards and Irion playing mandolin and vocals, other members of the “Last to Know” include Randy Morris the drummer, Marissa Ireland on acoustic guitar and vocals, Scott Bardy, percussion and Tom Pryor on pedal and steel guitar. Roemer said that the band’s “on-the-fly” nature and the support it receives from the community for “feel good” events like the upcoming benefit could only be found in someplace like Taos.
For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-1900.