Confessions of a Convert

by Josef Woodard

SOUNDTRACK FOR THIS COLUMN: Spencer the Gardener’s newly
released CD, Fiesta. (Column soundtrack idea stolen from former
Independent columnist Mark Fahey.)

Yes, there are some of us left in that fringe group of People
Who Actually Grew Up in Santa Barbara, locals long before the place
got Rob Lowed, Oprah-fied, and otherwise turned into an exorbitant
playground of the moneyed and of urban escapees. We’re an
increasingly marginal bunch, perhaps elite in our way, or perhaps
hapless and hopeless, unable to imagine a better place on the
planet to call home.

Many restless natives have had an evolving relationship with the
longstanding Santa Barbaran bacchanalia of Fiesta. This columnist
grew up on the south side of Goleta, home not of the blues, but
Sprouse-Reitz, and has gone through the varied stages of Fiesta
response over the years. As a kid, with few questions about
authority or the state of things, Fiesta seemed innocent enough, an
excuse to go downtown and bask in the glow of celebratory hoohah.
In adolescence, alerted to the sociopolitical conscience through
sources like the lefty rag, the News and Review (this journalist’s
first gig), and satirical parade coverage by Proctor and Ward on
the old KTYD, Fiesta took on a whole other flavor. Suddenly, its
dark side became clear: Why were we celebrating the Spanish
imperialists, and what’s with all those fat white guys on

Fast forward to now, and Fiesta seems once again enchanting. If
you can get past the dubious underpinnings and quell such questions
as, “Where is Old Chumash Days or Old Mexican Days?” the five days
in August is a savory guilty pleasure.

Even the parade seems better than remembered. Paraders came in
many colors and concepts, from the Royal Presidio Soldiers group,
the Rotary Club’s Mission-themed float, and the float featuring the
Castro family, involved since the first Fiesta, 82 years ago. The
properly named Black Cowboys of the Golden West defied the
stereotype that the parade is about fat white guys trotting up
State Street.

As usual, some Fiesta highlights are off the beaten path. The
11th annual Mariachi Festival, Saturday at the Bowl, was
exhilarating, begging the case for greater appreciation of this
noble, Jalisco-born music. And the most soulful mercado outpost is
tucked away on the Eastside, at Our Lady of Guadalupe. A packed
house on Sunday evening plunged into scrumptious food, ring toss,
lotería booths, and the two-beat spices of a norteño band

At the risk of impinging on Barney’s beat, this columnist was
easy prey to the concept of “eating through Fiesta,” a proper
ritual for anyone seeking a highly personal relationship with
Fiesta. Plus, there’s just something heart-warming (and
belly-warming) about eating Mexican in De la Guerra Plaza while
watching Spanish-style dancers over lunch.

Here’s a short list of consumed foodstuffs: downtown, there were
the three tacos/$5 at the San Nicolas Soccer Club booth, hard-shell
tacos at Special Olympics, and a “world famous torta” at La Casa de
la Raza; at El Mercado del Norte: carne asada super chips at Club
Social Santa Rita; and at Our Lady of Guadalupe: assorted tacos and
a tamale served by a nun.

After Sunday’s Mexican gastronomic and musical feast on the
Eastside, the official Fiesta finale at the Sunken Gardens was a
trip back to Europe. Flamenco and other dancers moved stylishly,
confirming that this is a strong dance town — one of the morals of
the Fiesta story.

Closing out Fiesta under an August moon peaceably dangling over
the Courthouse, Father Virgil, from the Mission, spoke. He rightly
noted that music and dance speak to the idea of “a spirit or soul
clamoring to be awakened.” But he also noted that while “here we
are, celebrating the arts, there are dissension and warring
factions among us. God is a creator of differences. Let’s love
differences, sing, and dance. Amen.” Hear, hear, and viva la. (Got


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.