CONFESSIONS OF A LATE-BLOOMING FIESTA SPIRITUALIST: People ’round these parts tend to be of two or three minds when it comes to Fiesta. Some dive in, soaking up the eats and music and dance and other celebratory activities, enthused and proud of the Old Spanish Days as if by birthright and zip code-right. Others scurry to find excuses to be out of town. Yet others follow the happenstance plan, experiencing as much as they come into contact with in the course of normal affairs. And there are some on the fence, who might lean either pro or con, depending on the weather, mentally and otherwise.
But there is much to be gained, gastronomically and atmospherically, from seizing the Fiesta spirit rather than deflecting it. Take it from me, a former skeptic and longtime Santa Barbaran (more years than I care to admit) who used to smile and nod to KTYD‘s old irreverent Fiesta parade coverage by Procter and Ward, snickering knowingly at their commentaries about the symbolic resonance of fat white men on horseback representing “Fiesta” culture. For whatever reasons, I saw the light a few years ago and have had a richer, brighter life ever since. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but I did find myself suddenly magnetized by the various mercados dotting the landscape for a few August days (including the super-cool model at Our Lady of Sorrows on the Eastside).
Yes, stubborn questions remain about the cultural gist of celebrating the Imperialist Spanish while ignoring the strong Mexican and Chumash elements in this area’s history-a not-so-distant history, at that. But our lazier midsummer mindset allows us to keep sociocultural hobgoblins at bay and enjoy the parade, so to speak. For a few days, bands keep the stages buzzing in the mercados-in De la Guerra Plaza, MacKenzie Park, and at Our Lady of Sorrows-in the strongest and longest public musical display of the year in our town. That alone should make Fiesta a calendar-marker for friends and foes-and foes in rehab-alike.
Related to, but off to the side of Fiesta proper, the Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival makes its perennial appearance at the Bowl on Saturday night, in its 14th annual edition. For those as-yet not hip to this great tradition, listen up. This year’s festival features the noted Mariachi Sol de Mexico as headliner, along with singer Angeles Ochoa, and the groups Mariachi Estrella de Jalisco and Mariachi Reynas de Los Angeles, the first of the now several all-female groups making the mariachi scene. For anyone curious about the joyous and secretly sophisticated aspects of mariachi, one of the great musical forms born in the Americas, there’s no better, more compact (well, five-plus hours) way to discover the music’s raucous and folkloric splendors.
SHOW OF THE WEEK: Santa Barbara’s grandest opera moment each year lands at the Lobero, midsummer, courtesy of the Music Academy of the West‘s annual staged production. This year’s model, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, is Ambroise Thomas‘s Mignon. Under voice program head Marilyn Horne‘s inspired guidance, the last several seasons have produced off-the-radar, lasting operatic memories, including, last year, William Bolcom‘s frothy-modern opera, A Wedding, Benjamin Britten‘s spicy Albert Herring, Georg Friedrich H¤ndel‘s Rodelinda, and Richard Strauss‘s Ariadne auf Naxos.
GOSPEL ACCORDION TO THE ACCORDIONS: Hopeless lifer accordion fans in town (present company included) can be thankful for the presence of the Santa Barbara-based Accordion International Society, which celebrates squeezebox players, both locals and out-of-towners. This Sunday at the Valle Verde Center, at 1 p.m., the spotlight goes to the Martin Accordion Ensemble. This Orange County-based group of young players has won kudos far and wide, and its resume includes gigs at the Kennedy Center, the White House, and the Accordion World Championships-the upcoming event in New Zealand being the next big show on their agenda. Accordionists, like accordion fans, tend to travel in packs. Check out santabarbaraaccordions.com.