Pano: Old Santa Barbara Days and Other Beach Town Traditions

Digging Into the Fiesta’s Rich Cultural History

Spirit of Fiesta Ysabella Yturralde | Credit: Fritz Olenberger


The ongoing challenges to reopening posed by the Delta variant have struck Santa Barbara where it lives, in the food court/dance venue known as the Mercado de la Guerra. Although the Fiesta performance festivities will continue, what for many was the heart of the event — seeing old friends at the Mercado and enjoying a taco, a tamale, a churro, or all three — has been curtailed once more. Please patronize the establishments that would have fed you on site. This is a crucial weekend for them and for the various community organizations they support. Also, check out the wonderful exhibits at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, which I write about in this week’s Fiesta cover story.


Marin Alsop conducting at MAW. | Credit: Courtesy

Thanks to Santa Barbara’s rich cultural history, there’s still plenty of ways to dig into our heritage that don’t necessarily involve Old Spanish Days. For example, there’s a century of tradition behind orchestral performances in our city, and, thanks to the Music Academy of the West, there’s an opportunity to see a concert on Saturday, August 7 that will display classical music at its best without the high ticket prices that often accompany such endeavors. The world-renowned conductor Marin Alsop will lead the Academy Chamber Orchestra twice, once at 2pm and again at 7:30, and all tickets are just $10. Alsop has a terrific program scheduled, beginning with Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Common Woman, then Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, and winding up with everyone’s favorite, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.  Even if you have not made it to any of the Music Academy’s splendid offerings thus far you’ve got no excuse for missing this doubleheader of a show


Nicole Strasburg’s “Wild Gift.” | Credit: Courtesy

Another Santa Barbara specialty with roots stretching back over a century, plein air seascape painting is back in two major shows this month. At Santa Barbara Fine Art (1321 State Street), John Comer has more than two dozen examples of his mastery of the classic West Coast tradition associated with his former studio mate, Ray Strong, on display. Comer’s work can also be found at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, where he’s part of the exhibition Heritage, Craft, and Evolution: Surfboard Design 1885-1959. Comer’s extensive ocean voyages inform the paintings from a global perspective, and his mastery of the craft delivers consistent insight into the specifics of our region. 

Down the block and around the corner at Sullivan Goss, Nicole Strasburg has a show called Sea Change. Like Comer, Strasburg has lived with and evolved in her relationship to the idea of a “Santa Barbara school” of plein air painting, and this exhibit is titled as a reflection not only of her oceanic subject matter but also of her shifting approach to it. In addition, both these artists are concerned about climate change and capable of capturing its impact in ways that can only be achieved through this precious medium.

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on September 22, 2023. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


The Ojai Playwrights Conference has created its own kind of tradition over the past two decades by turning the east side of that town into a mecca for cutting-edge theater. This year’s edition has been conducted online, which means that access to the annual festival of new works has only gotten easier. From August 5 through August 15, will be streaming some of the hottest new dramatic properties anywhere in fully cast and directed readings. To read about one of them, check out this preview, and to register, go to their website,


As a teen growing up in Santa Barbara, Jeffrey McMillan played trumpet and learned from a whole range of local jazz musicians and educators. At UCSB, he majored in Physical Anthropology while continuing to pursue his interests in jazz and classical music. At Rutgers, he earned a master’s degree in Jazz History and honed his skills as an archivist and database designer. This training, combined with his scholarly work ethic, led to an extraordinarily successful 14-year stint with the Metropolitan Opera, where he steered the award-winning MetOpera Database project. 

Now with the San Francisco Opera, where he is Public Relations Director, McMillan continues to contribute to the field of jazz scholarship. His biography of Lee Morgan, Delightfulee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2008. Now comes the long listen part.

On August 20, 2021, Blue Note Records will release Lee Morgan: The Complete Live at the Lighthouse in two boxset formats–a 12 vinyl-LP version and an 8 CD version. Jeffrey McMillan and Michael Cuscuna contribute essays to the extensive liner notes, and there’s all kinds of new documentation from this historic series of concerts at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, July 10-12, 1970. If all you know about Lee Morgan is “The Sidewinder,” and that he died too young, you are in for a revelation. Strongly influenced by the modal playing of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, these sets are among the most fiery and instructive hard bop sessions ever recorded. Morgan stretches out on such tracks as “The Beehive” in a way that even now, fifty years later, sounds entirely fresh and without direct comparison among other bop trumpeters. Thanks to McMillan, Blue Note, and wizardly engineers Zev Feldman and David Weiss, this mostly unheard classic is now available at its majestic full length. 

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


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.