El Presidente David Bolton Primer Caballero Gonzalo Sarmiento Spirit of Fiesta Jack Harwood and Junior Spirit of Fiesta Olivia Nelson. | Credit: Gail Arnold

On May 13, 250 enthusiastic supporters of Old Spanish Days in Santa Barbara (OSD) gathered for La Primavera, an annual pre-Fiesta event to celebrate what’s to come in August and to raise funds for the free, public events that will take place then.

The well-curated event began with a reception in the historic Casa de la Guerra courtyard, where guests in formal Fiesta attire mingled and enjoyed performances of early California and regional Mexican folklórico dances with live music. There was also a creative tableau vivant of the Theodore Van Cina painting Fandango, which depicted a scene from a De La Guerra wedding.  

Mayor Randy Rowse, who did not participate in last year’s festivities because of a positive Covid test followed by a negative one right before Fiesta, greeted the crowd. He confided to guests that “I’m not taking any tests this year, not going to do that again, I will be there…. Viva la Fiesta.”

The party then moved to El Paseo Restaurant, where El Presidente David Bolton served as emcee and guests enjoyed a “Four Nations Meal,” in honor of the Chumash, Spain, Mexico, and the U.S.. A flamenco show starred world-renowned dancer Patricia Guerrero and included the Spirit of Fiesta Jack Harwood and Junior Spirit of Fiesta Olivia Nelson. 

Bolton, a longtime Santa Barbara resident, has a distinguished and varied career. For the past 11 years, he has been the CEO/Executive Director of the CA Missions Foundation, which seeks to preserve the California Spanish Catholic Missions, buildings that he asserts are the state’s most historic treasures. Bolton served on the Washington DC-based U.S. – Spain Council for six years. Mainly because of his work with the Missions, in 2019 he was knighted by Spain’s King Felipe VI as a Commander of the Royal Order of Isabel la Catolica. 

Bolton is the founder and owner of Cultural Global Media, where he has produced and directed thousands of live sports broadcasts, including eight of the last nine NFL Super Bowls for Fox Sports Latin America.

In an interview, Bolton shared that everyone seems ready for Fiesta and he’s hopeful that the vibe and good feelings about Fiesta carry over into the workplace, schools, and our homes. The events, Bolton related, provide entertainment and history for everyone and serve as networking opportunities for business people.

He  is excited about Fiesta Ranchera on June 15 in Goleta, where so much of the history that Fiesta celebrates took place. Then there is La Recepcion del Presidente at the Santa Barbara Club on July 30 to kick off Fiesta Week. Bolton is pleased with the relocation of a mercado to a beautiful beach front location, having the Historical Parade on Cabrillo Boulevard, like last year, and welcoming the replica Spanish Ship San Salvador, which will be greeted by Chumash in a tomol and be open for free public tours.

Regarding his chosen theme of “Let’s Fiesta,” Bolton remarked, “After so many years of restrictions, it’s definitely time to “Let’s Fiesta”.  . . .  “Let’s Fiesta” . . . means family and friends, it means traditions, it means fun, and it means community.”

First held in 1924, Fiesta celebrates a period of romance and hospitality through pageantry, dance, music, costume and cuisine. Fiesta 2023 is full of novelties — the first male Spirit of Fiesta, the first openly gay El Presidente that anyone seems to recall, and the first Chumash elder as Grand Marshall in the Historical Parade. Events have also been relocated to more scenic venues than in the recent past, with La Primavera at Casa de la Guerra and El Paseo instead of the Carriage Museum, La Recepcion del Presidente at the Santa Barbara Club instead of the Hilton/Fess Parker, and a mercado at La Playa Stadium SBCC parking lot, instead of MacKenzie Park. 

Funds raised at events like La Primavera cover about half of the expenses OSD incurs in putting on all the free events. OSD is run by volunteers, with just one year-round staff person. 

El Segundo Vice Presidente Fritz Olenberger and Gretchen Olenberger | Gail Arnold
 Former UNICEF executive director and former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Henrietta Fore with 1965 Spirit of Fiesta Marta Babson | Gail Arnold
Former la presidentes Barbara Carroll, Stephanie Petlow, Rhonda Ledson Henderson, and Denise Sanders | Gail Arnold
Patricia Guerrero performs. | Fritz Olenberger
Guests enjoy dance performance. | Gail Arnold


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