Kylie Rae Harris, Taos NM, and An Unspeakable Tragedy

This story has been updated.

Whenever a songwriter sits down to write a song, their sincere hope is they will conjure up something that will stir the human soul in such a manner that it leaves an indelible mark upon listeners lasting well beyond the moments in audience with the song itself. Sad, happy, nostalgic, or tragic, as long as it awakens a keen sense of being alive, a songwriter’s efforts are fulfilled. Kylie Ray Harris accomplished this many times in her career, and most recently with her song “Twenty Years From Now” written for her six-year-old daughter, Corbie. Listening back to the song now after digesting the news of Kylie Rae’s unfortunate passing in a car accident in Taos, NM, it’s nothing short of soul crushing how the song yearns for twenty more years of breath to atone for all of her mistakes and prove that her crazy dream of making music was not all for naught.

This whole thing unfolded like a story, and one that if put into song as a work of fiction, would fall apart as too impossible to believe. Kylie Rae’s teary-eyed Instagram post recorded mere hours before her death—where she talks about all her family members that driving the roads of Taos reminded her of that have now all died—it was almost like Kyle Rae Harris knew those same roads would eventually take her life too. The death of Kylie Rae is an unrelenting tragedy that needs no previous knowledge of her music to feel inconsolably. And now it will not just be her songs that will forever touch many fans of country music and beyond, it will be her story too. Just like a great song, the biography of Kylie Rae Harris will linger as a lasting reminder of the preciousness of life. Her passing was like her final piece of performance art.

Every death is a tragedy, especially one cut so short at thirty years of age, so full of inspiration and motivation, and brimming with life and a mother’s love. But it’s especially tragic for Texas country where Kylie Rae was one of the very few main stage performers of the female persuasion. Just a few short weeks ago, she was taking the stage at KOKEFest just outside of Austin as the only woman performer in the entire two-day lineup. She had recently released an EP, which was meant to be a precursor to a proper relaunch of her career with a new, top level manager behind her in Alex Torrez. Kylie Rae Harris had been traveling to Taos for years to be a part of Michael Hearn’s 17-year-old Big Barn Dance event, but only as a guest participant singing with others. This was the first year Kyle Rae was scheduled to be a primary performer herself. She never made it to the stage.

Taos has a town population of only 5,700 (there’s a few more in surrounding areas), but the Northern New Mexico hamlet has played a magical role in country music for many decades. The ancient pueblo standing just north of town, the mysterious legacy of the “Taos Hum,” the archaic adobe buildings which constitute some of the oldest structures in North America, Taos is like something out of an oil painting as opposed to real life. Waylon Jennings recorded the song “Taos, New Mexico” in 1967, instilling the mountain town sitting at 7,000 feet with a feeling of magic in the mind of many country music listeners. Country legend Liz Anderson considered Taos her hometown. Willie Nelson once bailed an inebriated Dennis Hopper out of jail in Taos in the 70’s. Songwriters have been going to Taos for decades to not just perform, but to be inspired, and bask in the spirit of the area. Kylie Rae Harris passing away in Taos feels tragically poetic—just another unbelievable and poignant characteristic of the story of her life, and of Taos.

Somebody else died in Taos on September 5th, 2019 in the same accident that took the life of Kylie Rae Harris. A 16-year-old girl from San Cristóbal named Maria Elena Cruz also passed away. She wasn’t famous (though neither was Kylie Rae until her death), but her life was just as significant, and just as precious as Kylie Rae’s or any of ours. Her family and friends mourn and grieve similar to country fans, but there’s no national community like country music to come together to morn her loss, and fill up the coffers of a GoFundMe campaign. Maria Elena’s father is Pedro Cruz, the deputy chief of the San Cristóbal Volunteer Fire Department, who responded to the crash. Alcohol has been cited as a factor in the accident, and Kylie Rae Harris has been found to be at fault, though officials are waiting on a toxicology report to make a final determination. The roads around Taos and Northern New Mexico have taken many lives due to poor conditions, dangerous curves, and intoxicants. And they will take more. Taos is a wild place full of wonder, but one where danger lingers near. That’s one of the things that makes it so magical.

Kylie Rae Harris is gone. She never received the recognition she deserved in life like she has in her passing. The death of Kylie Rae Harris reminds us all to cherish life, to hold our loved ones that much closer, covet every breath, live for today, and follow our dreams. Because just like a good song, the story of Kylie Rae Harris touched us deep down somewhere in a way we can never forget, and despite the pain of the memory, never want to. Because that pain is the sensation of being alive.