Santa Barbara’s annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta will kick off its 88th year today with La Fiesta Pequeña, a celebration of traditional Spanish food, dances and songs.

The fiesta made its Santa Barbara debut in 1924 as a means of attracting summertime tourism and business; this year, the festival will run until Aug. 5 with scheduled tours of historical Santa Barbara sites, Mexican open- air markets, rodeos and parades. The event is hosted by Old Spanish Days Fiesta, a non-profit corporation whose Board of Directors is composed of about 50 community-based volunteers and just two full-time staff members.

This year’s elected “El Presidente,” Ricardo Castellanos, has chosen the fiesta’s theme — “Viva la Familia” (Long Live the Family).

Tomorrow evening, Old Spanish Days will host Celebracion de Los Dignatarios at the Santa Barbara Zoo, with prominent guests including Mayor Helene Schneider and members of the County Board of Supervisors. The event will feature appetizers, wine and live music by local band Soul City Survivors.

Old Spanish Days Director of Public Relations Jennifer Jimmerson said the event, commonly referred to as the ‘dig party,’ is a longstanding tradition in the area.

“It’s funny because some people will see each [[other]]and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you since last year!’” Jimmerson said. “It’s becoming a great spot to reconnect with people you might not see otherwise between busy lives and work schedules. I think it is probably the largest community party Santa Barbara has.”[[ok]]

Old Spanish Days also inspires similar events throughout the city, including tomorrow’s unofficial kickoff performance by heavy-metal mariachi band Metalachi at the Velvet Jones on State Street. The five-piece ensemble group of traditionally skilled rock-influenced mariachi musicians features Vega De La Rockha on vocals, Maximilian “Dirty” Sanchez on violin, Poncho Rockafeller on guitarron, Ramon Holiday on guitar and El Cucuy on the trumpet.

According to Metalachi Manager Eric Travis, the group is the world’s first and only heavy metal mariachi band and aims to encompass a diverse combination of genres. “It’s an overall rock stage show with traditional mariachi music, but we do covers of classic heavy metal music,” Travis said. “It’s ‘polarizing’ types of music. People who listen to heavy metal don’t necessarily listen to mariachi and people who listen to mariachi don’t necessarily listen to heavy metal, but [Metalachi] makes it really accessible.”

According to Travis, the band captures the essence of what the Old Spanish Days Fiesta is all about — a celebration of different cultures coming together.

“It just makes for a wild stage show that people get really into,” Travis said. “It’s just a big party. It’s a really eclectic mix of people just out in the streets having a good time.”

On Friday, the festival will feature the El Desfile Histórico (Historical Parade) complete with floats celebrating Spanish culture, spirit dancers, horse-drawn carriages and marching bands. According to Jimmerson, the event features 500-700 horses and is the country’s largest equestrian parade.

This year, one horse will ride with an empty saddle in honor of late Santa Barbara resident Hattie Feazelle, who participated in every Fiesta parade since its inauguration and was honored with the title of Grand Marshall at last year’s parade.

The festivities will continue through the weekend with a children’s parade, musical performances and other celebrations downtown. See http://www.oldspanishdays- for further details.