It was indeed, absolutely different this year. The large tent was gone. There were two dance floors instead of one. Socially distanced pods took the place of rows of folding chairs. There were masks and hand sanitizers everywhere.
Yet, it was absolutely the same. The spirit of Michael Hearne’s three-day music festival was alive and well. The energy of the crowd and musicians was palpable. For some, it was better than before.
“I’m so glad I came this year, I almost didn’t,” explained Christine Lapierre of Taos, as she stopped to catch her breath between dances. “I don’t miss the big tent; it was too confining. And I don’t miss the people with their ‘Please Be Quiet’ signs. It’s better than ever, I don’t have to be quiet.”
The vibe felt freer this year. Dogs had room to sprawl and play. Kids had space to romp and roam. Adults tossed frisbees. Everyone seemed to appreciate having more legroom as they sat and enjoyed the stellar lineup of Grammy-winning and notable musicians.
The Big Barn Dance is a lot of things to a lot of people. The family-like camaraderie backstage amongst the musicians and crew was similar to the family-like camaraderie of the audience and vendors – many who return year after year.
Nattily attired and enjoying two-stepping to Rick Trevino and his band, this was John and Elisabeth Shippey’s 14th Barn Dance. “We’re from Colorado and once we started coming, we’ve never missed,” shared Elizabeth, “even last year’s virtual event.”
Michael Hearne makes it clear that for him, there’s more to it than musicians playing on stage.
“The Big Barn Dance is a family affair and I’m talking about everyone here," he said. "This is a family that comes together every year. My family is here on stage with me, this wouldn’t be happening without them.”
Despite being eight months pregnant, Michael’s daughter Sarah juggled the pandemic uncertainties with seeming ease and orchestrated a smooth and successful show.
Hearne was right about the festival being a family affair. As Maddy Cross sat with their oversized 105-pound yellow lab, Frankie, she nodded at her pod of family members. “This is our family reunion. We come every year. We drove down from Denver, and we have family here from Chicago and Houston. It’s the one time of year we all get together.”
The crowd, as one security guard described, “is mellow, a really good mellow.” However, each evening as the sun gave way to the rising moon, the dancers filled the floors and every band received enthusiastic standing ovations, perhaps none more so than Michael Martin Murphy’s rousing, "Star-Spangled Banner."
The Big Barn Dance brought what it brings to Taos. The spirit and camaraderie of a community coming together as one. Austin-based honky-tonker, Dale Watson, summed it up, “We all love what the Hearnes do here, let's just make sure they keep doing it.”