La Fiesta Pequeña in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night took a little different path this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and strict public health directives.
The coronavirus modified the popular gathering that kicked off Old Spanish Days, and event organizers did what they could to keep the city’s summertime celebration alive.
“For me, it’s the signature event of Old Spanish Days,” El Presidente Erik Davis told Noozhawk before La Fiesta Pequeña. “I love the music and dance, and we could do it. We found ways to bring joy, hope, dance and music forward. We can do it.”
The “Little Fiesta” has been celebrated on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission since 1927 with traditional music, singing and dancing, including the styles of flamenco, classical Spanish and Mexican folklorico.
Pre-pandemic, thousands of spectators crowded onto the lawn for a nighttime show of live entertainment.
This year’s community event, however, adapted to the coronavirus pandemic since local public health officials banned gatherings.
“Nobody is going to be gathering at the (Santa Barbara) Mission steps, but we are still going to be able to bring forward this historical showcase,” Davis said, adding that the health and safety of the community are top priorities.
Wednesday’s televised event occurred on the patio outside the Central Coast news station KEYT in Santa Barbara.
The night featured dazzling performances by 2020 Spirit of Fiesta Alena Velasco and 2020 Junior Spirit of Fiesta Alexandra Nocker — both traditionally dressed in white-colored dance costumes of Spanish style.
Television cameras captured dancers’ solos against a view of Santa Barbara’s picturesque mountain and ocean backdrop.
Eighteen-year-old Velasco graduated from Lompoc High School in June, and 10-year-old Nocker will be going into fifth grade at Vieja Valley Elementary School in Santa Barbara. The Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta represent the beauty and charm of Old Spanish Days.
Other musical acts — including Santa Barbara native Eduardo Villa, an internationally renowned operatic tenor — graced the intimate, makeshift stage.
“We have been able to bring a little bit of joy through innovative ways,” Davis said.
Viewers captured the Fiesta flavor as they watched the performances from home on their screens.
“With people staying at home, I hope this is the television spectacular of the year,” Davis said. “I hope all of Santa Barbara is tuning in.”
The livestream broadcast included commentary, pre-recorded segments, historical vignettes and a salute to the late Father Virgil Cordano, who spent his career at the Santa Barbara Mission and died in 2008.
Many Old Spanish Days events have been canceled, including the caravan parade planned for Friday afternoon.
There will be a livestream of entertainment from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday as part of OSD’s summer concert series “Fiesta Music and Dance Fridays.” The virtual event will occur on the organization’s Facebook page, YouTube and online at sbfiesta.org.
The online event can reach distant audiences, and that’s a positive outcome in the age of COVID-19, Davis said.
“The beauty of that is we have people from all over the world watching now,” he said. “There are opportunities to expand and bring Fiesta to more people, and that has been a nice outcome of this that we weren’t expecting.”
In addition, an online auction is open until 6 p.m. Sunday. The items up for bid will benefit Old Spanish Days.
The official theme of this year’s Fiesta is “¡Vamos a Bailar!” Click here for more information about OSD.
Old Spanish Days is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to honoring and preserving Santa Barbara’s history, culture, spirit, tradition and heritage.
“The spirit of Fiesta is alive,” Davis said.
The annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo also has canceled its events this summer in Santa Barbara because of the pandemic. The gatherings were planned to run Thursday through Sunday at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
With the beginning of Old Spanish Days Fiesta in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reminded community members and visitors that a local health officer order prohibits gatherings of any size because of elevated disease transmission of COVID-19.
The county remains on the state’s coronavirus monitoring list because of continuing high rates of COVID-19 and hospitalizations. The risk of contracting COVID-19 significantly increases in crowded places, enclosed spaces and close contact with others, according to Public Health.
“This year will have to be different for every person hoping to celebrate,” Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said in a statement. “The decisions we make in the next few days will set the course for what the transmission of COVID-19 looks like in the weeks to come.
“Please wear a face covering, avoid gatherings, and maintain your distance from those that do not live in your home.”