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Judy Foreman: Claudia Bratton Has Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice at the Top of Its Games

June 21 extravaganza leaves nothing to chance while simultaneously creating an atmosphere that encourages playing around

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery from the 2013 Summer Solstice Parade.]

I love a parade!

Pharrell Williams must have had Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration executive director Claudia Bratton in mind when he wrote his mega-hit song, “Happy.” Bratton has been throwing one of Santa Barbara’s most colorful and creative community events for more than a decade and loves every minute of it!

Smart, funny, dedicated, creative and “telling it like it is” are all adjectives that can be used to describe this “can-do” person.

Seated in her garden-level Anacapa Street office, we shared a cup of Handlebar coffee surrounded by colorful art, furniture and upholstery. Feeling like I was somewhere between the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, it was hard to not feel euphoric.

I soon discovered that Bratton had her own career in the arts as a printmaker and painter, and she recently began working in mosaics. She’s also made television commercials and worked in the broadcast business at many local radio stations, to name just some of the past occupations of this tireless mom and grandmom.

Coming on board as executive director 14 years ago, Bratton followed in the footsteps of her predecessors who nurtured the Summer Solstice Parade since it started in 1974 as a birthday celebration for Michael Gonzales, a popular local artist.

“From the beginning,” Bratton said, “Michael’s first parade permit said, ‘No words, no signs, no symbols.’

“Since he was a mime, that wasn’t a problem,” she added with her infectious laugh.

“We continue to follow that tradition because as an artist it spurs one’s creativity to make something without the use of words, signs or symbols. It’s more powerful!”

“Games” is the theme for the 2014 Solstice parade, which starts at noon June 21 and runs up State Street between Cota and Micheltorena streets before ending up at Alameda Park. All year, the nonprofit Summer Solstice Celebration raises money to pay the tech people, mask makers, artists and costumers who work to make the weekend event happen.

Each year is entirely different.

Artist Pali-X-Mano’s official 2014 Summer Solstice Celebration poster features a sun and moon playing hopscotch.
Artist Pali-X-Mano’s official 2014 Summer Solstice Celebration poster features a sun and moon playing hopscotch.

“Creativity is not about repeating itself,” Bratton explained. “This year’s parade theme lends itself to creative costumes, floats and masks. The mind boggles with possibilities: arcade games, board games, casino games, lawn games, playground games, video games and game shows.”

Since 1990, artist Pali-X-Mano has designed the large inflatable creation ― complete with an aerial artist inside ― that traditionally closes the parade. Using bowling as his inspiration, Pali has rolled another strike this year. He also designed the 2014 Solstice poster of a sun and moon playing hopscotch, which is emblazoned on collectible T-shirts, tank tops and hats.

Under the supervision of artistic director Ricardo Morrison, parade prep has been going on at the Solstice workshop since early May. This year, the first-ever King and Queen of Solstice will ride in a float. Their coronation will be held June 13 at Santa Barbara Art Foundry, 120 Santa Barbara St.

The 40th annual Summer Solstice Celebration weekend officially opens at 4 p.m. Friday, June 20, at Alameda Park, where nonstop musical entertainment will continue until 9 p.m. The lineup covers a range of tastes, from Gypsy to pop, reggae, rock, hip hop, surf grudge, Macedonian folk and alterative music. Local favorite Raw Silk with Leslie Lembo kicks off its soul/funk/jazz set at 7 p.m.

The next day, the Solstice Parade lasts more than two hours, with the final entry usually arriving at Alameda Park after 2 p.m. But once at the park, the party really gets started, with 70 booths, 25 food vendors and live entertainment on the main stage and DJ stage. The Children’s “Mini- Bowl” will provide young performers with a professional stage experience. Throughout the afternoon, parade floats are parked along Micheltorena Street for convenient close-up inspection.

Meanwhile, Bratton boasts that Ambrosia will be performing on the Alameda Park main stage at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 22. The 1980s rock band is known for such hits as “Biggest Part of Me,” “How Much I Feel” and “You’re the Only Woman.”

This year’s parade is expected to include more than 1,200 people with music, drumming, choreographed dancing ensembles and more than 100,000 enthusiastic spectators.

“It’s a weekend of outstanding entertainment for the community, and it’s free,” Bratton said.

Although the parade is free, VIP parade seats are available in a canopied, shaded area between Canon Perdido and De la Guerra streets. Call 805.965.3396 for more information.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration, or call 805.965.3396.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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