The last Big Barn Dance held in 2019, was overshadowed by tragedy, and I was reminded of it as I was driving north of Taos recently on State Road 522. I was in no hurry as I admired the beauty of the Sangre de Cristos, until I noticed the large truck parked on the side of the road. I saw the young man kneeling on the ground by a roadside memorial. It was on that site where the young man knelt that 19-year-old Maria Cruz lost her life two years ago. As I drove past, my eyes filled with tears - the young man's expression so deeply pensive and sorrowful that I could feel it as I drove by. I wanted to pull over and give him a hug.

It was singer-songwriter Kylie Rae Harris who was responsible for the accident that not only took Cruz' life that fateful day, but it also ended Harris' as well. It was 2019, and Harris was in town to play the Big Barn Dance. She never made it to the stage.

Next week, on Sept. 9, Michael Hearne kicks off his 19th annual Big Barn Dance Music Festival. Because the pandemic stopped the music last year, the three-day festival will be the first since that tragic accident and it culminates on another somber anniversary: 20 years since the event of Sept. 11, 2001, which changed the world for perpetuity.

None of this is lost on Hearne. When asked about the anniversaries of the events, Hearne, being true to the prolific musician and songwriter he is, shared a lyric from his award-winning song, 'The Songwriter':

Is there something you missed, something you didn't say?
Surprised by the angels when they took you away?
I can feel you here with me, close to my heart.
Like this ole guitar that I play.
I'll be your songwriter today.

"We will never forget those tragedies and we are planning to honor those events," said Hearne. Yet, the Hearne's music festival - the show that it is - will play on. Organizers of the Big Barn Dance have taken every precaution to ensure the sold-out show will go on to provide the much-needed solace and community comaradery that can only come from music.

For the first time, Jerry Douglas, the 14-time Grammy winner, is scheduled to play the Big Barn Dance with his bluegrass band.

"Jerry Douglas is the Michael Jordan of the Dobro," explained Hearne, about the resonator guitar that Douglas has mastered. "We are fortunate to have someone of his caliber join us."

Folk rock/Americana singer, James McMurtry, is also scheduled to play. It was McMurtry's father, famed novelist Larry McMurtry, who gave his son his first guitar when he was 7 years of age. Hearne is eagerly anticipating McMurtry's set at the Big Barn Dance, "James McMurtry's lyrics are something I aspire to."

With socially distanced pods rather than the open seating, Hearne's Big Barn Dance will look a bit different this year. On-site COVID testing will be available with results delivered in 15 minutes. There will be free masks and sanitizer stations on the grounds.

"We'll have two big dance floors this year on either side of the stage and Saturday night is going to be special," Hearne noted. "There will be music for two-stepping and the waltz and swing. This year's Barn Dance has taken a lot of extra effort and I think it's going to be great. It's time to come together and enjoy some good music."

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