Somewhere in between the rodeos, parades, and cascarones, Santa Barbara’s youngsters decided they wanted in on the Old Spanish Days action. And who can blame them? With all that citywide revelry going on, what teen wouldn’t want to dive in? Back in the ’70s, that youthful pièce de résistance took the form of street dances — essentially large groups of kids who would gather on Stearns Wharf, plug their instruments in, and play to their peers. In the ’80s, former El Presidente Roger Perry recalled, these parties moved to West Carrillo Street, just outside the Greyhound bus station.
“They’d close that whole block off from State Street to Chapala,” he said. “It was kind of the magnet for 14- to 18-year-olds.”
As all good, loud, youthful party stories go, the authorities eventually came in and shut the music down — though, Perry points out, not because of any legal issues. “It was just a man-power thing. There weren’t enough people to police it.”
Lucky for us, though, Perry’s not a man to easily forget, so when he joined the Fiesta board back in 1991, he came in with goals in mind. “I wanted to change the face of MacKenzie Park,” he said, “and I deliberately wanted to revisit the street dances because it was such a meaningful element of Fiesta when I was growing up here. It was part of what I talked about when I was presidente, but it was also one of the key elements of the festival for me as a 16- and 17-year-old.”
And for the past three years, Perry has done just that. In step with his year-round championing for young area music acts (e.g., his Santa Barbara Youth Battle of the Bands and summertime Skater’s Park Music Series), Perry began to build up MacKenzie’s Mercado del Norte as not only a locals’ spot but also as a great place to catch tunes.
This year, he’s programming four days worth of music there and 60 sets of music by kids coming from as far south as San Diego and as far north as San Luis Obispo. On Wednesday night, nine S.B. bands man the stage for Locals’ Night. Come Thursday, Santa Barbara Sings offers up an all-female singer/songwriters revue atop the Main Stage. And on Friday and Saturday, Perry is playing host to a wealth of young talents from up and down the coast, including 805-ers Stolen Thunder, False Puppet, Bad Jack, and 2014 S.B. Youth Battle of the Band winners Galvanized Souls. In other words, if you’re looking for somewhere to rock out, Perry’s got ya covered.
“Santa Barbara really is doing a fabulous job of fostering and helping young, budding musicians,” he says. “Through our festivals, we’re giving these kids the opportunity to play to a meaningful audience on a professionally set stage, and they’re not paying to do any of it.” I’ll raise a “¡viva!” to that.
For the full rundown of bands taking the stage at Mercado del Norte, as well as all of the 2014 Old Spanish Days locations, visit oldspanishdays-fiesta.org.