The Summer Solstice Parade has grown over the 45 years (2019) to an organization that works year-round to put on the colorful parade with over 1,000 directly participants and a attendance of more than 100,000 on the streets of downtown Santa Barbara. The parade is since while ago a popular event and directly connected with the summer’s grand opening in the California Riviera.
Started by a man named Michael Gonzales, actually for his birthday, which was on May Day, he decided to have a parade. He was part of the Mime Caravan, a group of mimes from San Francisco. After a couple of years, he and his friend Michael Felcher decided to join forces to include a musical performance following the parade. This was stage at the sunken gardens, at the Country Courthouse in Santa Barbara. The date was the Summer Solstice and then they used that date ever since.
In past years, the production had to search for a new location to build the parade each year and sometime did not find it until almost one month prior to the event. Finally, in 2008 they got a permanent wherehouse shop that is open year-round for use by all sorts of performing arts groups during the time people are not making floats for the parade. They offer a community arts workshop for the two months prior to the event where the entire community is invited to join in the making of the event parade. As support, they hire a staff of artists, costumers and mask makers to help people make their creations.
A great show on the streets of Santa Barbara
Today, the summer celebration has evolved into a creative and original display of floats, giant puppets, whimsical costumes and masks worn by the more than 1,000 parade participants from all ethnic backgrounds – including many Brazilians who reside in the county and others who arrive from places like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
The festival is marked by lots of dancing, music, drumming and staging, which enchants spectators of all ages. Each year there is an art competition that awards the best “Solstice T-shirt” and the best “Poster Design”, which is sold to raise funds for the event. In the year 2024, the festival will turn half a century old. The 2-day event usually takes place on the first weekend of the “Californian summer” (which is usually between June 21 and 22). The route of the parade remains the same – down Santa Barbara Street, ending at Alameda Park on Sola Street. The festival after parade also keeps the tradition – between the intersection of Ortega Street and Santa Barbara Street.
Many of Santa Barbara’s local dance companies participate, including Brazilians Vanessa Issac’s/Hip Brazil and Mariano Silva/Capoeira 805. The Brazilian music is represented by local Brazilians musicians and drummers coming from different cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego as well the capoeiristas from the two groups of Santa Barbara, Sul da Bahia and Capoeira 805. The Brazilian groups are always a big hit and one of the main attractions. The Santa Barbara Solstice Summer Festival usually kicks off in the park featuring live bands, dancing groups, a fine art section of people selling their arts & crafts, booths of foods and beverages, and a Kids Festival with their own stage.
The event executive director, Claudia Bratart told us that the Festival attracts many Brazilians as it has a similar feel to Carnaval, and add, “The event does not have the corporate look like many other parades. It is very original and the creativity, music, and passion of the people, attracts folks from around the world. Perhaps, it has to do with climate and the attitude. People are friendlier and the pace is not as hectic as some other cities in California”. The Solstice Wherehouse is open Wed to Fri. from 3pm-8pm, Noon to 6pm on weekends, and is located at 631 Garden Street, downtown Santa Barbara – www.solsticeparade.com.