Santa Barbara’s favorite solar celebration began on Friday evening not with a bang but with a steady, escalating drumbeat. Hundreds gathered at Alemeda Park to dance and relish the long, fading daylight of the late June sun, but the sight was a mere precursor to the glitter and mayhem to come. “You have no idea,” Solstice Soul’s Michael Andrews warned the crowd, “what is about to happen to your gypsy soul.”
I have been in Santa Barbara for about two weeks now, and since my arrival I have been trying to get a handle on this place. Maybe it is because of the stunning setting and the consistent daily sunshine, but from what I can gather the city is almost disconcertingly agreeable. The streets are clean, the fish tacos are fantastic, and the people are relaxed and friendly; nothing at all like my hometown of New York. However, every town has a freak flag to fly, and until this weekend I was at a loss as to where it was. Not so anymore.
“The summer solstice exemplifies what Santa Barbara is about,” said festival-goer and Santa Barbara resident Terri Cooper. “It is the ultimate in whimsy and community support. Everyone comes out for it. If it’s good, if it’s awful, it doesn’t matter. It’s ours, and it is the best of what we offer in Santa Barbara in terms of heart and creativity.”
The parade certainly did not disappoint on the creative front. The Carnival theme inspired floats and ensembles ranging from the adorable (Alice in Summerland), to the Brazillian (a giant pyramid preceded by a legion of capoeiristas and dancers), to the satirical (militant dolphins giving humans a dose of their own mistreatment). Most notably, every group was artistic and creative in its own right. The dancing, music, hand-crafted floats, and sometimes outrageous costumes all showed serious effort and originality. It sort of puts that big Thanksgiving parade Snoopy balloon that everybody freaks out over in perspective.
What’s more, the parade is an opportunity for everyone in the whole community to just let loose. People from all walks of life joined in the chaos and excitement. “Everybody here, they have some other life,” said sustainable transportation developer Robert Bernstein, otherwise known as the bearded lady on the unicycle. “There’s people scrubbing toilets, there’s people designing rocket ships, and everything in between. Everybody comes together and everybody’s equal.”
“I think it’s a chance for people to step outside their comfort zone, which they need to do on a regular basis,” said Enrique Kreuter, a member of one of the capoeira groups. “It would be nice to have one of these things once a month, you know, a smaller version just in the park where people can let their hair down. We could show up and have a once a month Mardi Gras.”
A solstice celebration every month could get a little excessive, but it is a nice idea that everyone could come together regularly as a community to celebrate not a holiday, but simply the goodness of life. The solstice festival is so much more than confetti and smiling, waving children. It is above all a chance for Santa Barbara to bear its imaginative, jubilant, gypsy soul.