The Fiesta Parade 2023 | Credit: Josef Woodard

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on August 10, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

A sure way to age yourself, not to mention aligning with a certain alternative-progressive perspective, is to pine for the days when witty troublemakers Proctor and Ward used to offer their satirical services with the cheeky Fiesta Parade coverage on KTYD. This was at a time when KTYD was still the young upstart on Santa Barbara’s radio dial, seeded during the FM alternative radio revolution of the 1970s.

Proctor and Ward (aka Richard Proctor and Mark Ward), taking cues from gonzo radio-based comedy comrades in Firesign Theatre, could still find plenty to jive about. They might have made hay, for instance, about this year’s parade along Cabrillo Boulevard, which included both a float all about the Old Mission and a “Chumash” float — representing the enslaved labor force behind building the Mission — or noted the moment when the Chumash float dreamily passed the site of the memorialized Syujtun village next to the Veteran Memorial Building.

Credit: Josef Woodard

Digging under the surface and cultural implications of “Old Spanish Days” can stir up dubious associations and evasions about Santa Barbara’s tangled root system. There remains no “Old Chumash Days” in this land where the Chumash lived for thousands of years, and the Mexican-American elements so central to the food and mariachi (on the streets and at the Bowl’s Mariachi Festival) fabric of Fiesta isn’t given enough of a spotlight or official nods of appreciation.

But these are familiar kvetches, brushed aside in the thick of the few days of fiestivities. Best not to think about deeper implications in the heat of early August in Santa Barbara. This year, OSD included duly noted signs of progress in terms of institutional inward-reflection, with gestures of Chumash cultural appreciation: Chumash elder Ernestine De Soto served as the event’s first Grand Marshall and Friday’s schedule included a well-intentioned but fraught recreation of a old/new world meeting between a Tomol and the San Salvador tall ship off of Stearns Wharf. Elsewhere in shifting OSD traditions news, Jack Harwood represented the organization’s first “male spirit” of the Fiesta, and David Bolton was its first openly gay El Presidente.

Entertainment at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercado | Credit: Josef Woodard

Many of us have, over the years, gone through stages of Fiesta thinking: basking in younger days, grousing, denial (aka getting outta Dodge) and finally, for some of us, resigning to the sensory overload each mid-summer in Santa Barbara. It is always easy to appreciate the many forums for dancers young and old around town, in flamenco mode and beyond, starting on the Mission lawn on Wednesday night. That same night, our town’s signature thinking-party-band energy source Spencer the Gardener brought down the house and shut down the block in front of the Presidio on Canon Perdido on Wednesday’s “Official Unofficial” opening.

Spencer and co. also played on Thursday night onstage of the newly-launched Mercado de la Playa. This Mercado plopped itself down in the La Playa stadium parking lot, and was a dizzy glut of fun, grub, and amusement ride distractions across the street from the beach, a Coney Island of the mind, 805-style.

On Friday night, roughly 4,000 people swept up out of the official Fiesta zone downtown and up the hill to catch an alternative micro-fiesta at the Santa Barbara Bowl, a gospel-reggae-N’awlins funky soiree with Robert Randolph, Mavis Staples, Ziggy Marley, and Trombone Shorty (see review at

While the city slept in on Sunday, those in the know beat a path to the beating heart of the Mercado Lady Guadalupe, adjacent to Our Lady of Guadalupe church on Sunday afternoon. There, a happy swarm of 11th hour Fiesta-ites flock to the reasonably-priced Mexican cuisine (myself, I gotta’ have the ceremonial and delectable pozole), the chance-taking optimists crowding the Loteria tent, and with Mexican music booming and thumping from the stage, with a Miller High-Life in tow.

In such a ripe and relaxed community setting, thoughts of Spanish land grants or European imperialism are far away, momentarily washed away by the champagne of beers and what it represents. Next up: “Old Spanish Days” reaches the ripe old age of 100. As we allow relaxed standards of behavior and accountability from young and old citizens and family — bring it on!

Going Bowl-ing:

Speaking of Bowl goings-on, the next week’s highlight comes in the form of the Sunday, August 13, return visit from Father John Misty. For historical bearing, the now-semi-mystical character whose past iterations/incarnations in the world and in Santa Barbara have included drumming for Fleet Foxes and appearing as shoe-gazing crooner — at the small but legendary Muddy Waters on Haley Street.

Latecomers to the show will be missing out: openers The Head and the Heart are a true blue indie-folk-pop sensation with their own winning sound. The latest chapter in a five-album discography dating back to 2009 is last year’s Every Shade of Blue: from the Roy Orbison-esque lilt of its title track, the album is tastefully informed by decisions of the head and the heart, and of old school and new attitude musical flavors.


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