The sound of silence

Taos faces a summer without concerts, but some bright spots for September

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Taos in summer is a living pageant of near weekly concerts and events, centered around Kit Carson Park. This summer, of course, will be different. Town Manager Rick Bellis said, "Nothing is happening till at least Labor Day."

Director of Marketing and Tourism Karina Armijo confirmed, "There will be no large concerts hosted by the Town this summer. All of the main promoters have canceled large music events for 2020."

Town Council member Pascual Maestas spoke about the long-term ramifications of the cancellations. "It is my opinion that COVID-19 will force a hard look at the tourism industry and the dire need to diversify, localize food and become more sustainable and resilient. The economy hasn't bottomed out yet, and tourism is always hard hit during recessions. Tourism will be hit even harder during a pandemic-caused recession, because fewer people will be willing to risk travel for a concert or event (especially at-risk populations, which are a large share of the visitors Taos gets). There is a push from some (or maybe all?) of the Council to support local businesses when the economy begins to open back up. Direct funding through grants is difficult and unlikely. It is unknown what kind of emergency reimbursement municipalities will receive for states of emergency. I think we have to plan for the possibility that there isn't any. One possible solution is looking at code regulations and allowing for some flexibility, or making changes in zoning ordinances."

Two events that are not town-sponsored are both scheduled toward the end of the summer: The PASEO arts festival, and the Big Barn Dance. Their fate is yet to be determined. We got in touch with the leadership at both events.

Said PASEO co-creator J. Matt Thomas, "The only thing we know for certain, is that everything is uncertain. The PASEO team is putting our heads together to determine how best to still light up our streets on Sept. 18 and 19. We'll make a public announcement as soon as we have details! We are weighing all options."

We asked how he felt that the quarantine was impacting local art and culture.

"The PASEO Project has been asking that same question, and we've reached out to a number of local artists through our limited series podcast, 'Art in Quarantine.' This is impacting us all in different ways and it's helpful to hear from each other. You can access the full lineup on our homepage, paseoproject.org. We are already working with partners in Taos and across the region to ensure that artists and our creative community aren't left behind as things reopen. We currently have an open call for our Windows on the Future project, which puts money into the hands of artists in Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, while drawing attention to shuttered and vacant storefronts in our community. This project is generously sponsored locally by the LOR Foundation. As disruptive and devastating as this pandemic is, we believe we must deploy creative, community-oriented solutions and paths for moving ahead into the new normal. The PASEO Project hasn't stopped functioning. We've been working remotely on new projects and collaborations."

Sarah Hearne Naftis, daughter of Big Barn Dance founder Michael Hearne, gave us an update.

"As of now, we still have approval from the Town to move forward and we have a full lineup of artists confirmed. If the festival happens, we will take extra precautions such as selling fewer tickets and putting safe distancing measures in place, along with plenty of sanitation stations etc. We want everybody to feel comfortable, and we believe it's possible for the event to coexist in today's world if we all work together and follow the rules. We are prepared to do whatever we have to do though, and if it's safest to cancel all together, we have a plan for that too, including a virtual concert of sorts," Hearne Naftis said.

"Taos is strong! The economy will no doubt be impacted, it already has. The cancellation of the summer music events in the park is heartbreaking, as I know there were some incredible acts lined up that would have kept a steady flow of tourists in the area and in the shops and restaurants throughout the summer," Hearne Naftis said. "There is really a lot of momentum going, and Taos is definitely finding its place on the map of top music destinations. I hope we can somewhat pickup where we left off once this is further behind us and continue bringing the music, the arts and good tourism to this enchanting little town.

"We are just taking everything a day at a time and not letting ourselves get too attached to any plans we've made, knowing that this is changing so quickly. My dad, Michael Hearne, is quarantined just up the road in Red River. He's fishing a lot and working on recording a new album that will be released late summer/fall. He also performs a Facebook Live concert every couple of weeks which is helping him pay the bills for now.

"We appreciate everyone's patience while we assess the situation with COVID-19. We know that everyone is eager to make plans and get their tickets to the Big Barn Dance, but we are going to continue to postpone sales until later this summer. At this time, we are in a holding pattern, but are still hopeful that the Barn Dance will go on this September in some capacity. The safety and health of our attendees as well as the local community of Taos is our main priority. We're finding ways to adapt to this new world, and keep music festivals alive! Stay tuned to the Facebook page, and BigBarnDance.com for updates," Hearne Naftis concluded.

Matt Thomas ended with an uplifting note, "I truly believe that 'this is what artists train for,' and now more than ever we need the arts to keep us together -- to keep us sane."

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