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The Party Goes On: Santa Barbara's 90+ Year Old Fiesta Celebration Goes Viral Because Of Coronavirus

One of the South Coast’s oldest and longest running community celebrations is underway, but it’s taking on a very different look this year because of the coronavirus crisis.

The traditional parades, and shows which attract hundreds of thousands of spectators have been cancelled, but Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days is still taking place. It’s gone virtual, with a series of live webcasts.

The Friday night shows feature traditional dance performances highlighting parts of the region’s heritage, as well as concerts.

Eric Davis is “El Presidente” of Old Spanish Days for 2020.  He may the right person at the right time for the honorary volunteer job of heading the celebration, since his day job is Executive Director of TVSB, Santa Barbara’s public access broadcast system. 

Davis knows a thing or two about how to do live streaming events. He says that by staging live webcasts, they are trying to bring the spirt of the nearly century old celebration safely into the homes of the community’s residents.

Still, not having a traditional celebration is a blow for the community.  It’s unprecedented, because even after the community was hard-hit by the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake, they still had Fiesta.  Erin Graffy is a Santa Barbara historian who’s been involved with Old Spanish Days for decades.  She says in 1925, they couldn’t have Fiesta’s traditional historical parade because rubble still blocked the streets six weeks after the quake.  But even then, they still had parties and dance performances

Old Spanish Days is one of the biggest events of the year for tourism, with hotels booked, and bars and restaurants swamped.  It’s also a huge fundraiser for non-profits which have food booths at some Fiesta event.  The loss of visitors is a major blow for sectors of the local economy already walloped by coronavirus.

There’s only about three dozen people on hand for this Friday night Fiesta celebration at the Santa Barbara Carriage and Western Art Museum.  Coronavirus safety doesn’t allow it.  But thousands are watching the webcast at home.

One of the stars of the show is an 18-year-old Lompoc woman who is performing some traditional dances.  Alena Velasco trained for years as a dancer, and is putting on a big show for the TV cameras.  While getting her big moment as “Spirit of Fiesta” isn't the same without the chance to dance for big crowds, she says she’s grateful for the opportunity to take part in the virtual celebration.

Old Spanish Days is planning to do the live webscasts for the next few Friday nights to give people a taste of the tyhe traditional celebration.  Organizers say while it’s certainly not the old Fiesta, they are doing their best to keep its spirit alive.