Once upon a time, a group of friends and neighbors got together to make music and two-step the night away. Word quickly spread about how much fun was being had, and more and more people wanted to be a part of it.
Soon, it outgrew the neighborhood and had to take place in venues about town until they also became too small for the crowds trying to get in. Everyone agreed there was only one place left to give them the space to listen, sing along and dance for days: the biggest park in town.
They went to that park, erected large tents, filled them with stages and lots of chairs and asked even more musicians to come. What was once just a chill Wednesday night became a three-day-long festival featuring the best Americana and country music one could find.
No, this isn’t a fairy tale, but it is definitely legendary. It’s Michael Hearne’s 15th annual Big Barn Dance Music Festival, and it’s starting today (Sept. 7) in Kit Carson Park.
“How do you say ‘Acoustic Southwestern Americana Musical Guitar Genius’ in just two words? Michael Hearne, that’s how,” says his biography, and anyone who has seen him perform would readily agree. And the multifaceted singer-songwriter has a knack for lining up the best talents with which to complement his own, part of the reason why the festival has become one of the biggest draws in – and to – Taos.
Doors are opening at noon today, and the lineup includes Hearne and Jimmy Stadler, Jed Zimmerman, Dana Louise & The Glorious Birds, Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin and Todd Phillips, Eliza Gilkyson, Bill Kirchen, John Fullbright, Red River Songwriters (Walt Wilkins, Kelley Mickwee, Susan Gibson, Brandy Zdan, Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider) and Hearne’s band, South by Southwest.
Friday’s schedule (Sept. 8), again with doors opening at noon, includes Songwriters Round (Rex Foster, Tommy Elskes and Gerry Spehar), Lari White, Bob Livingston, Terry Allen, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, High Plains Jamboree, Shake Russell and Hearne with Mike Roberts, Joe Ely and Band of Heathens.
Saturday (Sept. 9) gets an early start with doors opening at 11 a.m. because there are only so many hours in the day to not only enjoy the great music, but to put away the chairs and get the two-stepping going. More great performances await you: Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne, Pauline Reese, hONEy hoUSe, Trout Fishing in America, The Bill Hearne Trio, The Rifters, Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams, as well as Dale Watson. As a finale, South by Southwest and special guests will make you glad the chairs are gone at 7 p.m. and you’re free to give your dancing shoes a workout.
Saturday features two special events, too. Free dance lessons will be given at the Big Barn Dance tent from 10-11 a.m., in case you need to dust off your moves. Also, beginning at 10 a.m., a three-hour-long songwriting workshop will take place with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The fee for the workshop is $35 for festival ticket holders; for all others, tickets are $50 and can be purchased at the door.
Multiple food vendors and full bar services will be available throughout the weekend. However, festival promoters want visitors to keep in mind that the bar is cash only, and there will be no on-site ATM. Arm yourselves!
As Michael Hearne’s reputation has grown throughout the Americana and country music world, so has interest in the Big Barn Dance. Hearne’s daughter, Sarah, noted that 3,000 people attended last year’s festival, but what she found most remarkable about that was the geographic diversity of the crowd. “We had people come to Taos from 34 different states, from New Jersey to Montana and everywhere in between.”
The town of Taos also took note. The Big Barn Dance as a 2016 destination filled hotel rooms, restaurants, shops and galleries, creating a shot-in-the-arm revenue exceeding that of the earlier widely hailed Alabama Shakes concert, which had 8,000 attendees. “Because people traveled so far for our event, they stayed on for days and took advantage of all the other wonderful things Taos has to offer,” she said.
“I’d like to think this is a defining event for Taos,” Hearne said. “It’s becoming like a family reunion with all of our followers, who are great people, and for the musicians, too,” noting that everyone wants to come a day early, leave a day late and just enjoy all the galleries and art found in town.
He said his album, “Sight and Sound,” a collaboration between his songwriting and the paintings of 11 local artists, “was a really cool project. It’s a natural thing to hook up music and art.” It served as his inspiration to collaborate on the Gallery Walk events that are now held the day prior to the festival’s start.
Hearne’s affection for Taos continues to live on beyond festival week. It’s present in his extensive songwriting catalog that captures the mood and feel of Taos with an extraordinary breadth of lyrical storytelling and harmony. His latest solo album, “Red River Dreams,” evokes the magic of what all visitors to Northern New Mexico come to know as the Enchanted Circle.
Hearne has been playing guitar since his early childhood, and his path in life quickly became apparent. Since then, his website notes, “Anyone who has ever grooved to one of Hearne’s impeccable guitar leads or kicked up their heels to one of the many two stepping tunes played by him or with his band, South by Southwest, has also probably been caught singing along at some point in the night, note for note, with that beautifully distinctive voice that can never be mistaken for anyone else.”
“The other musicians that will be performing are all excellent, too, and all excellent songwriters. That’s really the core of the festival: the songwriting. You many not recognize some of the band names, but you will definitely know their songs because they’ve been widely recorded by other singers and bands, and you’re hearing them on the radio,” Hearne said. “And the dancing is a big draw. Northern New Mexico has by far the finest waltzers and two-steppers I’ve seen – and I’ve been all over.”
Hearne enthused, “It’s just a beautiful thing.”
What does Hearne advise festivalgoers to do? “It’s a listening room experience in an outdoor festival setting that concludes with the Big Barn Dance, so bring your listening ears along with your dancing shoes. If you’re a local and still haven’t come out for this, please do. Enjoy some time outside in the most beautiful place on Earth, and enjoy the great shows we have lined up for you.”
The three-day festival pass is $130, and individual daily admissions are $50. If you can only make it to the Big Barn Dance, $25 will get you in. All tickets are available at holdmyticket.com or at the door while supplies last. For more information, visit bigbarndance.com.
2017 performance schedule
Today (Sept. 7)
Doors open at noon
Michael Hearne and Jimmy Stadler
Dana Louise & The Glorious Birds
Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin and Todd Phillips
Red River Songwriters (Walt Wilkins, Kelley Mickwee, Susan Gibson, Brandy Zdan, Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider)
South by Southwest
Friday (Sept. 8)
Doors open at noon
Songwriters Round (Rex Foster, Tommy Elskes, Gerry Spehar)
Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines
High Plains Jamboree
Shake Russell and Michael Hearne (with Mike Roberts)
Band of Heathens
Saturday (Sept. 9)
Doors at 11 a.m.
Songwriting workshop with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines (10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Taos Community Auditorium, $35 for ticket holders)
Dance lesson with Rick Lambert (10-11:30 a.m. at the Dance Tent)
Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne
Trout Fishing in America
The Bill Hearne Trio
Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams
South by Southwest and special guests
Tickets: Three-day passes cost $130. Individual daily tickets cost $50. Tickets for only the Big Barn Dance cost $25.