This weekend, Michael Hearne's 17th annual Big Barn Dance Music festival takes over Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, with music, dancing and fun. As always, performers include leading lights and rising stars in the genres of Americana, bluegrass, country and more.
The festival opens at 12:30 p.m. today (Thursday) with a lineup that kicks off with Hearne's own band, South by Southwest, joined by longtime friend Jimmy Stadler. The Thursday slate continues with Kelley Mickwee and Kylie Rae Harris, Zac Wilkerson, Larry Joe Taylor, Max Gomez, Walt Wilkins, Chuck Cannon, Ray Wylie Hubbard and the John Fullbright Band.
On Friday (Sept. 6), the music begins again at 12:30 p.m. with Jed Zimmerman and Jimmy Davis, Beat Root Revival, Trout Fishing in America, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, Dean Dillon, Darrell Scott, Wood & Wire and the Lost Austin Band.
Saturday (Sept. 7) offers a variety of events in addition to the music in the park. A songwriting workshop with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines will be given from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Taos Community Auditorium, which is adjacent to the park at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Two-steppers can enjoy lessons in fancy footwork at the dance tent in the park from 10-11 a.m.
On the main stage, Saturday begins with an 11 a.m. screening of the documentary film, "New Mexico Rain: The Story of Bill and Bonnie Hearne," followed by a live performance from the Bill Hearne Trio. (Americana music legend Bill is Michael Hearne's uncle.) Saturday afternoon continues with music from Max and Heather Stalling, hONEy hoUSe, The Rifters, Shake Russell and Michael Hearne, and the Peterson Brothers.
As always, the festival concludes with the rollicking big dance for which it's named, with music provided by The Derailers, Gary P. Nunn, South by Southwest and special guests.
Michael Hearne first picked up a guitar at the age of 7, and began his career as a touring musician at 16. He has immortalized the Northern New Mexico landscape in songs like "New Mexico Rain" and "High Road to Taos." His compositions have been covered by many other artists, and he has sold out venues around the country performing as a solo artist and with South by Southwest.
Hearne spoke to us about his original inspiration for the Barn Dance, and how it has grown and evolved.
"I wanted to bring together my songwriter friends and introduce the people of Taos to those writers," he said. "Now the event has grown, and it's more about sharing the beauty of Taos with my friends and fans. The Barn Dance started as a pretty small gathering in the courtyard of the Old Blinking Light restaurant. As the years went by, more people brought their friends, who brought their friends, until it grew into the event that it is today.
"It's all about word-of-mouth. Although the festival has grown a lot since those early days, one thing that hasn't changed is the intimate listening room atmosphere. When an artist takes the stage at the Barn Dance, you can hear a pin drop in that tent. I don't know of any other outdoor festival with such an attentive audience. One thing you can be sure of is that whatever changes over the years, the Barn Dance will always be a place for listening -- and of course, dancing.
"Aside from all of the incredible artists that we've had onstage, the part that gets me are the smiles and the love of music from the people in our audience year after year. They all come to listen, to dance and to enjoy the vibe and culture of Taos. We have some new artists this year that I'm looking forward to introducing to our audience, as well as some old friends returning that haven't played in a long time. We're most excited about the incredible response we received this year. Folks are coming from all over the world for this year's festival."
Hearne's daughter Sarah has worked her way up in the family business to become the festival's director and founder of its parent company, High Desert Entertainment.
"I grew up hearing my dad play and have been dancing to his music since I could walk," she said. "The Barn Dance was always a highlight of our year, and it's been amazing watching it grow. My favorite memory is in 2015 when we moved the festival into Kit Carson Park. Looking around at our new setup, and seeing the audience filling the tent, I knew that we had turned a corner -- and that the festival was blossoming into something much greater.
"Having grown up with the festival and this music as such a big part of my life, I found myself working in the music business in Nashville and then Austin. I learned a lot through those experiences, and as the Barn Dance grew, it was only natural for me to take on a larger role in my dad's festival.
"He is still the creative mind and host -- and seeks out new music for us to book throughout the year. This year is particularly special for me, because I'll be bringing my 3-month-old son, Mathew Michael, and introducing him to my hometown of Taos, this amazing music and all of our friends and family."
Musical virtuoso Jimmy Stadler has been part of the Barn Dance from the beginning. "Fond memories," he said, when asked for personal highlights that have stood out to him across the years. "When Mentor Williams was onstage doing a songwriters' section and Lynn Anderson (both of whom have passed on) was in the audience with a wireless microphone singing along and talking to him… very casual.
"The tent back then was weak and we had to push the water off the top with broom handles. Mike has come a long way. Wednesdays before Thursday's kickoff are always very cool at my solo gig at Sabroso -- four years into the Barn Dance, 13 years ago, I started at Sabroso. Chuck Pyle, Gary P. Nunn, of course Michael Hearne, Donny Richmond, Tom Faulkner and many more would come by and sit in and play real and honest music with me. I look forward to hearing and experiencing all of the great songwriters that are coming. It recharges me to write, perform and teach music forever."
Festival ticket sales are limited to preserve the event's intimate feel. As of press time, three-day passes and single-day tickets were wait-listed on the website. Tickets to the Barn Dance only (Saturday, after 7 p.m. at $25) were still available. For complete schedule, logistics and ticket purchase, visit bigbarndance.com.
Big Barn Dance Festival
Today-Saturday (Sept. 5-7)
Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
For info and tickets, visit bigbarndance.com
2019 Big Barn Dance Schedule
Today (Sept. 5)
Doors at 12:30 p.m. (12:10 p.m. for VIPs)
Michael Hearne and South by Southwest with Jimmy Stadler
Kelley Mickwee and Kylie Rae Harris
Larry Joe Taylor
Ray Wylie Hubbard
John Fullbright Band
Friday (Sept. 6)
Doors at 12:30 p.m. (12:10 p.m. for VIPs)
Jed Zimmerman and Jimmy Davis
Beat Root Revival
Trout Fishing in America
Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines
Wood & Wire
Lost Austin Band
Saturday (Sept. 7)
Doors at 11 a.m. (10:40 a.m. for VIPs)
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Songwriting Workshop with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte (fee $35 for BBD ticket holders or $50 for non-ticket holders)
Dance Lesson 10-11 a.m. at the dance tent
Screening of "New Mexico Rain: The Story of Bill and Bonnie Hearne"
Bill Hearne Trio
Max & Heather Stalling
Shake Russell & Michael Hearne
Gary P. Nunn
South by Southwest and special guests