When Dan Barrone was elected Mayor of Taos in 2014, the rumblings began even before the dust had settled!
Who are these guys? People started to wonder about the new management in charge of the town.
Town Manager Rick Bellis in particular was routinely and unfairly picked on by ill-informed council members and private citizens alike. Blamed for everything from hotly debated, controversial developmental projects (four story hotels), to the pot holes on our streets, Bellis was soon viewed as a divisive personality in Taos town politics.
Mayor Barrone was accused of being incompetent by more than a few ignorant and disgruntled naysayers (many of whom voted for him in the first place), but nothing could have been further from the truth regarding both men.
Dan Barrone knows what it means to work hard. He has owned and operated Olguin’s Sawmill for the past twenty-five years with his wife Della and twelve years prior to owning the mill, the couple managed several rental properties in seven states with the majority of them being affordable housing units.
Five years of Business Administration (NMHU), and hands on work made Barrone an outstanding candidate for Mayor. Olguin’s has been the recipient of several Forest Service grants so grant management, along with Barrone’s practical experience in most duties of the public works department, along with eight years as a Taos County Commissioner (where he was a part of managing a $48 million budget, along with being a member of the NCRTD for five years and chair for two of those five years overseeing a $14 million dollar budget), renders those myths null and void.
As for the man he chose as his Town Manager, Rick Bellis (the preferred scapegoat of those aforementioned myth mongers), was raised in the working class township of Old Bridge, New Jersey. Rick attended the University of North Dakota where he earned a master’s degree in planning and economic development. (He played goalie with the University of North Dakota ice hockey team.) After graduating college, Rick married and started a family, taking a job with a rural development corporation of New Jersey, where he helped start and run a shelter for the homeless.
A great delegator, Rick has surrounded himself with a stellar group of people, including Mitch Miller (Special Events Director), and Ana Karina Armijo, encouraging a spirit of team work and professionalism. His longstanding altruistic values are evident in his commitment to the Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, where he volunteers to walk the dogs and has adopted several rescue dogs of his own. He is also an avid supporter of the Youth and Family Center where he can often be found attending events. Due to Rick Bellis’ expertise we have not only recovered from our $800,000 inherited deficit, but we are now operating with a reserve of more than $2.5 million.
After a few early false starts and personnel changes, the Town team settled into its groove and with another election behind them, now runs like a well oiled machine. No one needed to worry in the first place; these guys and (gals), come with some serious cred, but that still hasn’t been enough to silence or satisfy the naysayers.
Their biggest point of contention it seems are the Concerts (and permanent stage), in Kit Carson Park.
“We want our park back.” They complain. Well I’ve got news for you. I walk in the park weekly and no one is telling me I can’t. I see people with kids in the playground and sitting beneath the shady trees. I see others like me, walking alone or walking their dogs, and frankly, the park is cleaner and feels safer (fewer miscreants hanging about), than it has in years.
As for the concerts? Taos has had a long history of great music. From the early Boogies at Old Martinez Hall (now Martina’s), to John Brown’s fabulous shows at the Kachina Lodge, there’s always been a healthy, thriving music scene in Taos. I know, because for a time I too booked some great live music here; at the ill-fated Ramona’s (which I was brought in to help keep afloat, but unfortunately too late), and independently, at the Angladas building before Tom Worrell bought it.
The late, great Solar Fest which was an annual event for several years (without complaints), set the precedent for the current series of Concerts in Kit Carson Park, as well as the ongoing Plaza Live events. Once Dawn Richardson tested bigger waters by partnering with the Town (and AEG), to bring acts like the Kongas and Mumford & Sons, it was clear that Taos had a future as a major music destination.
From classical to Jazz and all points in between,Taos has long been a music lover’s paradise, with live music happening somewhere in town every night; performances by local musicians and those passing through are well attended and supported by a large and diverse demographic.
A few years back when the Town team began to plan these shows in earnest, I began jokingly referring to “Barrone & Bellis” as if they were a Rock Duo. The reference was made even more apt by Rick’s long hair which kept getting longer (and blonder.) One day my daughter Genevieve suggested I should have Heather Lynn Sparrow photograph them at her studio all dressed up like a couple of Rockers. I thought the idea was brilliant and contacted Heather immediately.
“Yes!” She responded. “Let’s make it happen!”
I was having lunch with Town Marketing Director, Ana Karina Armijo one day shortly thereafter and suggested the idea to her. “Go for it!” She said. “Send him (Rick), an email and see what he says.”“You’ve got nothing to lose!” She laughed.
As luck would have it, a few days later I ran into Rick outside Smith’s (as he was rescuing a stray dog), and asked him point-blank if he was up for the laughs.He laughed. Then he said that yes, he’d do it but he needed to ask the Mayor.“I’ll get back to you,” he said.Back and forth we went. The best laid plans…
Tragedy struck; Heather lost her teenage son. “He went inter-dimensional,” she says now, three years later, after the shock and grief and an extended mourning period that has included her two older daughters needing their mother more than ever. The worst possible scenario for any mother had happened.
The project got put on hold. Then I got sick.Time passed, I got better, Heather’s hair grew long again (she cut it all off when her son died), and Rick’s hair too, got longer and blonder, I ran into him at a Mainstreet meeting that I went to with (coincidently, Genevieve). Mitch was there too, and Karina. A light bulb went off. I approached him again, but this time I wanted to include the others as well. Make it a full on band, not just a duo. I told him I’d call Heather and set it up.
Heather teaches at the Taos Academy so her schedule was pretty tight. She responded that she’d love to do it but could we wait until late spring. Back and forth I went between Heather and the Town until finally I found my true ally in Mitch. My persistence and Mitch’s help enabled this pipe dream to become a reality!
I work with a few incredible photographers on stories for taoStyle, including Zoe Zimmerman, Bill Curry, Derek Hart Lee Clockman and even Geraint Smith’s extraordinary work has appeared here, but for this gig I knew that nobody but Heather would do. And i am so glad I waited for the time to be right. For her, for the Town’s rockin’ team, for the magic moment where it all came together.
Backstage, last weekend our homegrown Rock Stars (Barrone & Bellis Band), kicked back before sound check while Heather (a Rock Star herself), clicked and clicked and got the shots you see here!
Mitch catches a well-earned breather by the stacks with his fabulous assistant (no she’s not a groupie, just posing), Carla Murphy, while Barrone & Bellis warm up their act (and the Mayor gets a smooch from his wife, Della.) As you can see once onstage (with lead singer, Karina), all bust out some serious moves!
Three amazing shows (more photographs by Heather and a story from me Monday), an enthusiastic and very happy crowd, even in the pouring rain, proved that music in Taos is here to stay!
And needless to say, the Town of Taos Rocks! For more about the Town of Taos team and what they do, please visit the site linked below.
For more on the great Concerts in Kit Carson Park all summer long, please visit Taos.org for more information and to purchase tickets.
Editors Note: I want to thank Mayor Barrone, Rick Bellis (even with shorter, no longer quite as blond hair), Ana Karina Armijo, Mitch Miller (and Carla Murphy), for being so accommodating and such good sports! I’d like to thank Heather Lynn Sparrow for being the very best partner in crime an old Rock journo could wish for. I also want to thank Genevieve and Aly Hyder for keeping this under wraps as long as they did. Besides all involved, they were the only two who knew about this plan!
All photographs by Heather Lynn Sparrow