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Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Festival Overcomes Financial Woes to Host Annual Parade, Celebration

Event organizers say the festival will recognize heroes including local emergency responders and people involved in the recovery effort of the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow

dinosaur parade float Click to view larger
Final touches are made to floats and costumes at the Community Arts Workshop site for Saturday’s Santa Barbara Solstice Parade.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Get ready to welcome the official start of summer — and the longest day of the year — in the city of Santa Barbara’s quirky style at Summer Solstice Celebration on Friday through Sunday.

Despite financial struggles that threatened major changes to the annual event, it will continue as it has for the past 44 years, organizers said. 

“We are going for more and more,” festival Executive Director Robin Elander said of the event, adding that it won’t be missing any of its traditional elements.

“The creativity is robust, and we have been able to keep all three days of the festival. It has been a testament to the human spirit, and people are bringing out their inner heroes to make it possible this year.”

The No. 1 reason cited for the event's online crowdfunding campaign is the economic impact of the Thomas Fire in December and the Jan. 9 Montecito debris flow that devastated the community.

Summer Solstice begins at 4 p.m. Friday in Alameda Park, at Santa Barbara and Micheltorena streets. The event kicks off with music, art and retail vendors, food booths, a craft beer and wine garden and performers.

Friday afternoon’s festivities offer $5 bites at the Solstice Soul Food Court and happy hour revelers can enjoy $4 beer and wine from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

The parade kicks off noon on Saturday, beginning at State and Cota streets and ending at Alameda Park, where there will be entertainment, food booths and activities until 8 p.m.

The theme for this year's parade is heroes, which will be on display in the decorations, floats handmade by community members, giant puppets and costumes throughout the parade.

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The Community Arts Workshop is nonstop action in the days leading up to the Santa Barbara Solstice Parade.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Local emergency responders, donning Solstice Celebration garb, will lead the parade, followed by numerous community members that were nominated by residents for their recovery efforts in areas devastated after Santa Barbara County's twin disasters.

More than 500 free-spirited parade entrants are expected to flood State Street, according to Riccardo Morrison, the parade’s artistic director.

“It’s going to be a lot of dance and music,” Morrison said. “One thing unique is that we are going to have a huge amount of dance in the parade. We always have a lot of dance, but this year we have one of the biggest varieties of dance ensembles that we have had in a few years.”

Morrison noted to look for the “pass the hat” float (a giant sun sporting a black top hat) that collects monetary donations for the parade.

A crowd of up to 100,000 is expected to attend the popular parade and the three-day festival in Santa Barbara. Parking is limited, and some downtown streets may be closed for the event, according to the city.

The large floats will be on display in Alameda Park for spectators hoping to get a closer view when the parade wraps up Saturday.

The free festival gathering in Alameda Park is family-friendly and features a special kids area open from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. During this time, offerings include free games, face painting, as well as art projects and craft stations.

Saturday boasts nearly seven hours of music in the park, with live performances on the Main Stage and Youth Stage (closest to the Kids World playground). There will also be music on both stages on Sunday.

parade float Click to view larger
Local artists and volunteers get floats ready for Saturday’s Santa Barbara Solstice Parade.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The children's parade will take place at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the children's area of the park, near Kids World.

The celebration wraps up at 6 p.m. Sunday. 

Victor Elsey, an art director whose creative career took him from London and New York City to Santa Barbara and San Francisco, designed this year’s Summer Solstice poster and shirt.

“In my painting, I wanted to capture all the excitement, color and spirit of the wonderful solstice parade of carnival characters,” Elsey said in a statement.

“This has been a year of so much tragedy in our small community, so this year the solstice theme is heroes — paying tribute to all the courageous men and women who came to our rescue." 

The first Summer Solstice Parade was held in 1974, as a birthday celebration for artist and mime named Michael Gonzales, according to event organizers.

Summer Solstice Celebration, a nonprofit, is responsible for carrying on Gonzales’ multicultural performing arts gathering.

Click here for more information about the Summer Solstice Celebration, including activities, music lineups, the parade route and more.

GoFundMe donations can be made online here.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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