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Today marks the first day of the Old Spanish Days Fiesta, Santa Barbara’s five-day festival that commemorates the city’s Spanish heritage.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to fill the streets for the 86th annual celebration, which includes 30 events ranging from tours of the Santa Barbara Mission to professional bull riding at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The celebrations continue until Sunday afternoon and conclude with a performance by The West Coast Symphony in the Courthouse Sunken Gardens.
According to Fiesta Director and Press Consultant Kathryn McKee, community support is an essential part of the summer tradition. She said the festival’s theme, “A Gathering of Friends,” was decided by the festival’s El Presidente, Michael Dominguez, to honor those who have supported it over the years.
“The El Presidente gets to choose his theme each year,” McKee said. “For [Dominguez], Fiesta was something he always celebrated with his friends and family.”
McKee said the festival is a vital part of the Santa Barbara community and attracts hundreds of tourists each summer.
“It’s helpful to Santa Barbara because it brings tourists into the area, which helps economically,” McKee said. “The event attracts between 50,000 to 100,000 each year, and we are hearing that hotel bookings are higher this year than they were last year.”
Larry Cook, a Santa Barbara Mason and Fiesta vendor, said the summer gala is a long and meaningful tradition for the community.
“I’m a fourth-generation local, so it’s a real privilege to participate in the fiesta,” Cook said. “As a little boy I watched the grown-ups run things and now I have been working at Fiesta for 12 years.”
Cook and fellow masons will sell ribs during the events, sending all of the money that they raise to charity.
The West Coast Symphony also considers Fiesta part of an annual tradition — they have played free Fiesta concerts since 1966. The symphony, which plans to perform Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, will be conducted by Christopher Story VI and will feature former UCSB pianist William Koseluk as a guest soloist.
According to Cook, Fiesta generates a sense of local pride and unity.
“We have a real community down here in the plaza where different booths have known each other for years and years,” Cook said. “We’re like a big family.”