A sold-out crowd of 500 attendees gathered at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort on Sunday, July 31, to kick off the week of Fiesta events. The event honored current El Presidente J.C. Gordon and past Presidentes and Presidentas, but it was hardly a solemn affair — gaiety prevailed throughout this festive evening.
The event was put on by the nonprofit Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara, Inc., which seeks to preserve and celebrate the Rancho Period of our history (1820-69). In this period of prosperity under Mexican and American rule, people resided on ranches, with cattle-raising being the main industry. The people of this era are known for their beauty, charm, friendliness, civility of manners, and love for fiestas.
Guests were warmly greeted by an official receiving line that included El Presidente J.C. Gordon and his family, members of the Old Spanish Days board, Christine Herrera representing Santa Barbara, and the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta.
During the cocktail hour, guests mingled in the lovely, expansive Plaza del Sol. Many had donned their favorite Fiesta attire including vintage Spanish eyelet dresses and flamenco gowns for the women and traditional Spanish suits and cowboy attire for the men.
When co-emcee John Palminteri greeted the crowd by asking, “Have you been waiting roughly 360 days for Fiesta to come around again?” there were loud, resounding cheers. When he commented on how “it is sizzling hot, the way Fiesta should be,” laughter and applause permeated the Plaza.
Many dignitaries were acknowledged, including the grand marshal for this year’s parade, Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society; Mayor Helene Schneider; former mayor Marty Blum; current councilmember and former mayor of Goleta Roger Aceves; and honorary El Presidente Silvio di Loreto.
Just as music, song, and dance were integral parts of life during Old Spanish Days, so, too, was this evening filled with music, song, and dance. Starting off the entertainment was a surprise performance by Lilly McWhirter and Lauren Holsted, both high school students in Santa Barbara, who beautifully sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a tribute to Gordon’s father.
In describing how it feels to be El Presidente, Gordon remarked that it has been “surreal,” and then after that song, which has very special meaning for his family, it is “beyond surreal, beyond description.” He quickly turned the attention to the contributions of past Presidentes and of the sponsors.
More entertainment followed with Latin vocalist Josue Hernandez, who delighted the crowd with a lively mariachi number. Palminteri and co-emcee Christie Gallagher, 2003’s La Presidenta, called 18 former Presidentes/Presidentas in the audience to the stage, including Terence Daly, who was El Presidente 50 years ago, in 1966. Palminteri noted three Presidentes who passed in the last year and who are deeply missed: Alfred Trembly (1984), J.J. Hollister (1992), and Dennis Rickard (2014).
Father Larry Gosselin acknowledged this year’s theme of “The Coastal Frontier” and asked the audience to embrace the beautiful ocean that “has a depth of mystery and love.” His lovely prayer concluded by saying “may we be a family that is embraced and united in love and in peace and reflect on the great beauty that is here.” The traditional “amen” was followed by an exuberant “¡Viva la Fiesta!”
Guests enjoyed a Mexican-themed buffet dinner featuring tri-tip, salmon, and chicken while getting to experience breathtaking flamenco dance performances. Alexis Simentales, 18, performed a martinete form of flamenco with her group at Zermeno Dance Academy and then, after a quick wardrobe change, was back onstage, performing a solo alegria dance (another form of flamenco). Junior Spirit Sarah Naretto, 10, also chose an alegria dance to perform. It was one spectacular performance after another. During Naretto’s dance, Simentales crouched low between two front-row tables to coach and support her Junior Spirit — a touching display of the “spirit” of Fiesta.
Palminteri led a short live auction before King Bee took to the stage and guests leapt to the dance floor. Then came another special treat — Mayor Schneider joined the group and gave a phenomenal performance, singing the B-52s’ “Love Shack” to a packed dance floor and audience of fans. ¡Viva la Fiesta!
Gordon joined the board of Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara, Inc., in 2007 and has served in numerous roles with the organization before becoming El Presidente. A native of Santa Barbara, he manages residential, commercial, and vacation rental properties in Santa Barbara and Costa Rica for Gordon III Management, a family-owned company.
This fundraising event, which helps make possible many free events during the week of Fiesta, was chaired by boardmember Angelique Davis.
For a complete list of events, go to http://oldspanishdays-fiesta.org
By Gail Arnold