A tune-filled love story

Bill and Bonnie Hearne are immortalized in new film to be screened in Taos

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 5/1/19

The world swoons at the feet of a great love story. As much as we may be captured by royalty, celebrity or even legend, it's the stories of tenacious love that overcomes the …

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A tune-filled love story

Bill and Bonnie Hearne are immortalized in new film to be screened in Taos

Posted

The world swoons at the feet of a great love story. As much as we may be captured by royalty, celebrity or even legend, it's the stories of tenacious love that overcomes the insurmountable, defied the unthinkable and soared above the impassable that truly hold us in their thrall.

Bill and Bonnie Hearne have earned their place in the love story hall of fame. Both grew up physically challenged -- he, declared legally blind since birth, and she, blind since the age of 9 -- and met in college where his guitar strums and her alto voice found a perfect harmony. And, together until her death in 2017, it was a union that would imprint the landscape of country folk music for decades to come.

On Sunday (May 5) the Taos Community Auditorium (TCA) will be the venue for the Taos premiere of the documentary "New Mexico Rain: The Story of Bill and Bonnie Hearne." Produced by Windswept Media, the 30-minute film captures not just their compatibility as a musical team but also the profound connection of their married life.

"This is their love story," said Bunee Tomlinson, founder of Windswept Media and the documentary's director and producer. "It's a never-before intimate look into their music, their home life, their complete support of and regard for each other," noting there's been nary a dry eye at the film's Santa Fe screenings.

Doors at TCA will open at 4:30 p.m., and the documentary will begin at 5 p.m. In a very special postscreening event, Bill Hearne will be on stage to perform an hourlong set of his most popular tunes, accompanied by a number of surprise guest artists. Afterward, he will be available to meet and greet with audience members, answer questions and sign a commemorative poster of the film.

It promises to be a stellar evening in Taos, for even for those who don't follow the music scene closely are familiar with the Hearne name and its indelible mark spanning Northern New Mexico into Austin and Dallas and beyond. The Big Barn Dance Music Festival hosted here in town each year by Bill and Bonnie's nephew, Michael Hearne, is an autumn must-do for country fans from across the country.

The Hearne's legacy began in the 1960s at the University of Texas-Austin, from which the couple launched themselves into the local folk music scene. In 1979, they moved to Red River, playing in its handful of venues and then expanding their presence into Taos, Santa Fe and the Colorado ski town circuit. Their cover of "New Mexico Rain," written by Michael, became their anthem. And with their 1990s move to Santa Fe, they took up residency at the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel, where Bill continues to play weekly.

Their first major label album, "Diamonds in the Rough," was released in 1997 to wide acclaim and climbed the Americana music charts. It remains to this day their high point, recorded before Bonnie's health issues thwarted her ability to maintain a rigorous touring and performing schedule.

Lyle Lovett, an early fan of the couple and an occasional collaborator with them, says in the film, "They're so powerful in their presentation and in their interpretation of songs," noting the Hearnes never wrote their own music but instead relied on the archives of their favorite performers.

The documentary "New Mexico Rain" grew serendipitously out of the New Mexico Music Commission's recent establishment of the Platinum Music Awards. Ned Jacobs, treasurer of the NMMC Foundation, explained how it all came together.

"The Platinum Music Awards ceremony, held each year at the Lensic [Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe], honor those who have had a lasting influence on the direction of music in New Mexico," he said, "and we present a short video clip about each honoree before having guest artists perform the honoree's most iconic works."

"When Bill and Bonnie were honored, the video clip received a standing ovation and was in such demand by their fan base that Bunee [Tomlinson, producer of the movie] believed it was something that could be expanded."

Tomlinson subsequently amassed 400 hours of taped interviews, archived material, photographs and memoirs, some from fans who responded to his social media promotion of the project. Fellow musicians such as Michael Martin Murphey and Robert Earl Keen, were anxious to weigh in. "I was completely unprepared for the outpouring of support for this project, and for just how strong a fan base the Hearnes had," he said. His last interview with the Hearnes was two weeks before Bonnie passed away.

Now, the screening raises funds for the NMMC Foundation's investment in music and art programs in public schools. "We host visiting musician programs geared toward students from four years old through third grade," Jacobs said. "It's been proven that exposure to music and learning how to play instruments increases the overall cognitive abilities of children and their chances of achieving educational excellence."

There's no doubt Bill Hearne is on board with that, and one can only think Bonnie is smiling down. Music, after all, has always been their own salvation.

The Taos Community Auditorium is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Tickets for "New Mexico Rain" are $20, and may be purchased by contacting the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052, by visiting tcataos.org (fee applies), or at the door as available. Autographed posters are $10 at point of sale.

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