Last week I headed down to the Santa Barbara Solstice workshop to meet the people behind this year’s parade, and to get a firsthand glimpse at the vibrant floats due to roll down State Street next Saturday. This annual “celebration of summer” has always been one of Santa Barbara’s most colorful attractions, and through the continuous hard work of volunteers and staffers, it appears this year will be no exception.
The festivities offer an opportunity for artists—both local and international—to exhibit their mobile masterpieces, and gives anyone wishing to participate a chance to show off a little flare. The theme for this year is “The Jungle,” and after walking through the converted parking lot where dozens of workers were busy climbing over floats and shredding fabric, I immediately felt the effect.
Among the works being prepared are “The Zany Zebras,” put on by a Santa Barbara mentor program, the “Mayan Wonders” float, complete with ziggurat and jaguars, and a showdown between King Kong and Godzilla over a water tower—which will double as the festival’s beer dispenser.
I spoke with Anando Mclauchlin, the artist behind this year’s Quetzalcoatl float. “Because of my visage, they call me ‘the Jungle Santa,’” he said through his beard while putting the finishing touches on the serpent’s eyes. A respected artist and resident of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Mclauchlin is one of many who has traveled from afar to contribute a unique craft to the festival.
Members of the crowd helping to prepare for the festival demonstrate the irresistible nature of Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice celebrations. By the mask-painting table I met one volunteer, Joana Morgan, who drove down to see the festivities with her boyfriend in 1986 and has been coming back ever since.
In the middle of the workshop lot, several volunteers were laboring over a towering “tree of life,” the centerpiece of the parade. Serving as the event’s sole donation receptacle, its hollow core is intended to safeguard the crucial cash offerings that keep the festival afloat year to year. (Checks also to be accepted.) Members of the community painted all 200 of the vibrant leaves that adorn the tree’s branches; they came in from senior citizen residences and children’s camps alike.
I later stumbled across the workstation of Pali-X-Mano, a Santa Barbara resident of Hungarian origin whose inflatable creations have seen the likes of Burning Man. His latest work, entitled “Sundance of the Magical Jungle Parade,” is a massive bug-like creature of his own design, inspired by a painting he had proudly displayed over the worktable. Though sporting a paint-splattered vest and cap, he showed me pictures of his previous works with the solemnity of a professional, a trait I found to be ubiquitous among the crafters behind this spirited event. Pali-X-Mano has been participating in Solstice since 1990.
But a shadow hangs over this year’s preparations. Despite the wealth of creative talent, the Solstice crew is in desperate need of volunteers to help the parade shine with all the splendor it has to offer. “We still need a lot of help,” said Anita Ho, a festival coordinator. “Just come on down,” she said.
Located on the corner of Garden and Ortega, the workshop is still active—so whether you can sew or hammer, or simply want to lend a hand in adding papier-mâché to a 15-foot zebra, there are plenty of opportunities to be had. In the wise words of one volunteer, “If life is a parade, why are you sitting on the sidewalk?”
But if you simply cannot find the time to make it, the event staff is always thrilled to receive old clothes and raw materials for costume creation. A note to the environmentally conscious: the Santa Barbara Solstice was, and remains, the first ever fully green parade—every costume and float will be scrapped to the bone to be recycled or reused in years to come.
The Summer Solstice Festival will take place June 24, 25, and 26, and will feature over 40 musicians and 70 dancers. The parade is set to begin at Cota Street on the 25th, and will make its way up State Street to Micheltorena.
So don your wife’s leopard print sweats, get out there, and be ready to rumble in this year’s jungle-themed Solstice celebration.