Old Spanish Days El President David Bolton and his husband Gonzalo Sarmiento, OSD's El Primer Caballero, at a 2023 event. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

In November 2019, David Bolton was walking around San Antonio with his husband after eating breakfast at a local Mexican restaurant. They had a late flight so they decided to take advantage of the extra time and explore the area.

While walking around, Bolton came face to face with a billboard that took up the entire side of a building. The billboard read “Let’s fiesta.”

“If I ever become El Presidente I want that to be my theme,” Bolton recalled telling his husband. 

Four years later, Bolton is the 2023 El Presidente for Old Spanish Days and kept true to his promise, making this year’s theme “Let’s Fiesta.” 

“It truly was an honor to be selected to be the El Presidente in 2023,” Bolton said. “It was an honor to have the support of the entire organization.”

Old Spanish Days, or Fiesta, is an annual festival that celebrates Santa Barbara’s history, culture and traditions. Each year the festival has parades, arts and crafts shows, and celebrations of music, dance and fashion. This year’s events are planned for Aug. 2-6.

Bolton has been involved with Old Spanish Days for many years as a board member and Fiesta’s historian, which is fitting with a historical reenactment added to this year’s events.

A Chumash tomol will be greeting a life-size replica of the San Salvador ship, recreating the day in 1542 when explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into local waters. 

The reenactment will happen Friday, Aug. 4 at 10:30 a.m., just west of Stearns Wharf. Bolton collaborated with the local Chumash community, and the maritime museums of Santa Barbara and San Diego. 

“We need to remember history, the good and the bad moments of history,” Bolton told Noozhawk. “All of the events that are part of our history really are parts of all of us today. And they need to be part of all of us as we move into the future.”

David Bolton is Old Spanish Days’ historian and this year’s El Presidente who oversees the year’s planning. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

Other changes to this year’s schedule of events is that Mercado del Norte at Mackenzie Park will not be happening this year and will be replaced by Mercado de la Playa at the Santa Barbara City College campus. The waterfront mercado will be at La Playa Stadium parking lot and will feature carnival rides, food booths, free concerts and other entertainment.

Bolton is looking forward to celebrating with the community, and seeing all the hard work from the past year pay off. 

“As El Presidente, I will have a lot of fun if I know everyone else is having a lot of fun,” Bolton said. “We want everyone to have fun and personally as El Presidente I want that fun that everybody feels at our Fiesta events to also continue throughout their everyday life, whether it be at their workplace, or at home.”

Bolton hopes that attendees take the “Let’s Fiesta” theme and use it as an opportunity to celebrate as a community. 

“Fiesta means an event where you build memories,” Bolton said. “‘Let’s Fiesta’ really embodies more than just ‘let’s party’ but it means ‘let’s fiesta’ and Fiesta has a special meaning to everybody in Santa Barbara.”

Part of Bolton’s responsibility as El Presidente is to select a Grand Marshal for the historical parade (El Desfile Histórico). This year – for the first time ever – the Grand Marshal is an elder of the Chumash community, Ernestine De Soto. 

“Ernestine as the elder of the Barbareño band of Chumash really exemplifies so much of the Chumash people,” Bolton said. “She’s dignified. She’s well spoken and she and her family have worked so hard to keep alive the language and the culture of her people.”

Ernestine De Soto’s family has deep roots in the Santa Barbara area. Her mother, Mary Yee, is known as the last native speaker of the Chumash language. Her family still works today to try to keep the language alive. 

“As Grand Marshal, she will represent not only her people, the Chumash, but also she’ll represent the entire community of Santa Barbara and our historic parade on that Friday,” Bolton said.

For newcomers to Old Spanish Days, Bolton suggests taking time to enjoy an event that is so unique to Santa Barbara.

“Enjoy as much as you can, enjoy the food, enjoy the sense of community that everybody has during that period,” Bolton said. “This town really embraces Fiesta.”

Beginning Tuesday, Old Spanish Days El Presidente David Bolton will share some behind-the-scenes history of Fiesta in an exclusive Noozhawk series.