Michael Hearne's Big Barn Dance
For several years fellow music fans have been telling us that we need to go to Michael Hearne's annual Big Barn Dance in Taos. So after 5 years of hearing this we packed the RV and set off for Taos - "the music is calling and I must go!" But wow, it's a long ways from Austin - but well worth it! This was Michael's 15th year for the Big Barn Dance and we loved it! Some of what makes this a fantastic music festival includes:
- small older mature crowd who love Michael Hearne and are respectful of the musicians - when the music starts the talking stops and the Festival has gained a reputation as the "music lovers music festival"
- a big dance floor was set off to the side of the main tent which has lots of room for two stepping without blocking the view of the music stage for those not dancing
- the majority of the artists ask other artists to sit in and pick or sing with them during their set
- there are 50 RV sites for dry camping within a 3 or 4 minute walk to the stage
- the fans are friendly, outgoing, and love Michael and his fellow musicians
- there are lots of nearby hotels, several of which are within walking distance to the stage and a couple of RV parks within 5 miles
- it's a great lineup and the acoustics are outstanding
- it's in a magical place called Taos
The festival is held in Kit Carson Park which is a couple blocks from the infamous Taos Plaza which is home to several unique restaurants and shops - art galleries, outside patios for dining, small boutique clothing stores, ice cream parlors, and more. In the center of Kit Carson Park two huge white tents serve as the music stage with rows of chairs starting 3 feet in front of the stage. Another white tent set off to the side of the main tent covers a large dance floor that always had couples dancing. Around the perimeter of the tents are food, drink, and merchandise vendors.
If you like Michael Hearne the Big Barn Dance is your opportunity to listen to a lot of his signing and picking. During the Festival Michael and his band South by Southwest played twice, Michael had a set with Shake Russell, twice he played during the Art Gallery stroll and probably one third of the artists invited Michael to pick and sign a couple songs during their set - loved it!.
Wednesday afternoon and evening was the Art Walk where several musicians strolled from one art gallery to another and played for awhile. We missed the Art Walk but were able to catch Susan Gibson and some fellow musician playing the cozy and intimate Adobe Bar at the historic Taos Inn. A great way to start the festival and enjoy the evening (and cold drinks!) after a 11 hour drive from Austin.
The Art Gallery Stroll started in the Taos Historic District and included:
- Michael Hearne & Bill Hearne at David Anthony Fine Art Gallery
- Michael Hearne & Special Guest at Wilder Nightingale/Ranch at Taos
- Bob Livingston at Michael McCormick Gallery
- Michael Hearne at Ed Sandoval Gallery
- Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines at Seldom Creek Ranch
We've attended lots of festivals over the years and the line-up on Thursday at the Big Barn Dance may
have been the most enjoyable day of music that we have ever experienced - well maybe the Big Sur Concert with Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mamas and Papas and more was our number one - but that was eons ago. We loved every set on Thursday and hated to see it end! Thursday's music was well worth the price of admission. The music started at 1:00, ended around 11:30 and included::
- Michael Hearne and Jimmy Stadler - Stadler is a local favorite, an outstanding keyboard player, adept on the guitar and mandolin, and voted "Best Singer-Songwriter" and we all know how great Michael Hearne is with signature guitar playing and songs and stories that are rich in lyrical prose, imagery, and humor
- Jed Zimmerman -a troubadour talent comparable to the best songwriters in country music - we can't wait to see him again
- Dana Louise & The Glorious Birds - Dana brings her vibrant, melodic vocals and finger picking to a body of complex songs that draw from jazz and bluegrass
- Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin and Todd Phillips - their records have established them as leading performance artists and creative lyricists with a particular interest in the Southwest
- Eliza Gilkyson - is a two time grammy nominated singer, songwriter, and activist and one of the most respected musicians in the folk, roots, and Americana circles - we hated to see her set end
- Bill Kirchen - a Grammy-nominated guitarist, singer, and songwriter known as the "Titan of the Telecaster" with a music tradition that embraces rock 'n' roll, blues, bluegrass, Western swing, and honky tonk - it is hard to beat his trademark "Hot Rod Lincoln"
- John Fullbright - John has a keen ear for memorable melody and a unique approach to harmony, moving through chord progressions far outside the expected confines of traditional folk and Americana - you've got to find a way to see him live
- Red River Songwriters (Walt Wilkins, Kelley Mickwee, Susan Gibson, Brandy Zdan, Drew Kennedy & Josh Grider) - an excellent song circle by some of the best singer songwriters in Texas
- South by Southwest - a fantastic set with a talented band playing country swing and southwestern Americana music using a vibrant mix of guitars, dobro, hammered dulcimer, steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and stand-up and electric bass
Friday's lineup was just as good at Thursdays - we enjoyed every set. The line-up included:
- Songwriters Round (Rex Foster, Tommy Elskes, Gerry Spehar) - some excellent songwriters singing songs and playing music that is haunting and evocative
- Lari White - with three Grammies and an RIAA Gold, Lari crosses all creative boundaries as a recording artist, hit songwriter, producer, indie record label owner, and actress
- Bob Livingston - a veteran songwriter and a master storyteller who captures his audiences from the first notes played and he offers you an irresistible invitation to travel down the cosmic musical highways and rutted back country roads where fate has taken him over the years
- Terry Allen - Terry has received numerous awards and honors and his songs have been recorded by Guy Clark, Little Feat, Robert Earl Keen, David Byrne, Lucinda Williams, and more
- Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines - one of our favorites because Terri makes music from the heart and has a warm and sincere connection with her grassroots fan base and Lloyd is an Austin City Limits Hall of Fame guitarist, and pedal steel player
- High Plains Jamboree - it's been said that High plains Jamboree is a bluegrass band west of the Mississippi and country band east of the Mississippi and their vibe is a modern country-western style, where song composition, lyrics, and virtuoso performance takes them to a different plane than any other string band
- Shake Russell and Michael Hearne - it just doesn't get much better with Michael and his songs and guitar picking combined with the rich, melodious voice of Shake and his lyrics that are imbued with beautiful imagery, catchy phrases, and inventive similes and metaphors - I wish they had played for another 4 hours
- Joe Ely - found his calling in his home town Lubbock and is music was influenced by the gritty west Texas Plains and the likes of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Delbert McClinton and more
- Band of Heathens - the definition of "duende" applies to the Band of Heathens- a quality of inspiration and passion, a heightened sense of emotions, expression, and authenticity
Band of Heathens - with a unique sound the term "Americana" was practically invented to describe The Band of Heathen's approach which has mutated almost as much as the genre to which they're identified
The music started around 12 and South by Southwest closed the festival with a fantastic set. The line-up included:
- Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne - self-proclaimed "organic song farmers" who serve up songs mixed with fresh harvests of homegrown music in a spirited and soulful genre they define simply as "Texas Folk"
- Pauline Reese - Pauline uses her guitar and sharp-edged lyrics to blaze a trail of outlaw country music and she was the first women to earn the honor of "Entertainer of the Year"
- hONEy hoUSe - a unique acoustic trio that combines the talents of three very diverse and seasoned artists into an unexpected powerhouse force with a genre that embraces blues, soul, folk, gospel, and Americana
Trout Fishing in America - an infectious mix of folk, pop, and gamily music that's as different as the six foot eight inch Ezra Idlet on guitar and banjo and the five feet five inch Keith Grimwood
The Bill Hearne Trio - Bill's husky Texas baritone finds its way into a song's interior with a mellowness of fine bourbon and the warmth of a Sunday picnic" and of course there's also his pickin' which he call cross picking
The Rifters - the group employees a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments combined with soaring three-part harmonies to provide a mesmerizing variety of music that spans from driving blue-grama-grass to ethereal desert beauty with an engaging, toe-tapping rhythm that is undeniable
Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams -rootsy and real, neither revivalist nor retro, the Hi-Beams' brand of country music that is as boundless and electrifying as America itself
Dale Watson - an Austin based honky-tonker and keeper of the true country music flame, Dale has flown the flag for classic honky-tonk for decades and christened his signature sound as "Ameripolitan" to differentiate it from the current crop of Nashville-based pop country
South by Southwest and Special Guests - wow, what a fantastic way to end this outstanding festival - Michael invited any of the artists still around to join him on stage to pick or sing
No coolers or food is allowed to be brought into the festival but there are several choices for food and drink. A large white tent with tables and chairs set at the back of the main music tent was set up to sell mixed drinks, several choices for beer and wine, and sodas. Next to that is a vendor selling some very good BBQ and next to them you could eat some sausage wraps, fajitas, tacos, quesadillas, and more. Some of the other vendors were selling some Asian food including a very good curry chicken salad sandwich on a croissant; a variety of popcorn and kettle corn; fresh lemonade and tea, and some other good stuff. Some other vendors were selling paintings, jewelry, and more as well as CDs and hats, and T-shirts from each of the performing artists.
As Michael stated the Big Barn Dance is a "music lovers music festival" and the attendees are there for the music. It's a small crowd with an average age of around 50 or so and everyone we met was outgoing and friendly - and they love Michael and his festival.
Taos is a unique and interesting town to visit - lots of history, plenty of art galleries, some great restaurants, interesting people, and a few fun bars and breweries. There are several nearby hotels near the Festival, the closest of which is the Taos Inn just a block from the festival. The festival campground is just outside of the music stage. It's a small field for parking around 25 or so campers and there are no facilities (water, sewer, or electricity). There are two RV parks within 15 minutes, one of which we stayed at for a couple days after the festival. - Taos Valley RV Park which has full hook-ups and some great sites with native landscaping.
During our extra two days in Taos, we enjoyed some good Mexican food, walked around the historic Taos Plaza, drank a few craft beers at the local brewery, walked across the bridge that crosses the Royal Gorge, had la great lunch at the Taos Cow and shopped in the quaint Village of Arroyo Seco, and then drove up to Taos Ski area to check out where I got 12 stitches from a nasty ski accident several years ago.
Our thanks go out to Sarah and Michael Hearne and all of the volunteers who spent lots of hours making sure Big Barn Dance is fun for the attendees and loaded with world class music.