(REPRINT FROM NEWS-PRESS MAY 15, 2016)
El Presidente J.C. Gordon wanted this year's La Primavera to be special for his year as the head of Old Spanish Days.
In past years, the official kickoff and major fundraiser to Fiesta has taken place downtown, but on this Saturday evening, hundreds of people dined and danced under the stars and next to the ocean at Rancho Dos Pueblos. The isolated ranch and even more isolated beach was the perfect location for this year's theme: Santa Barbara - The Coastal Frontier.
"There really is no better place to hold La Primavera," Mr. Gordon said. "There is no other place where you can stand in one spot and point out to where Juan Cabrillo anchored and where (Gaspar de) Portol. . . camped on the creek."
Indeed those two events - one in 1542 and the other in 1769 - and the naming of Dos Pueblos for the two Chumash villages on the hills that overlook the beach, make this location "ground zero" for the history of Santa Barbara, Mr. Gordon said.
Where recent Fiesta themes have reflected on abstract ideas of romance and family, Mr. Gordon has chosen to go for the entire history of the region, trying everything to the Santa Barbara Channel.
Fitting in with the seaside theme was the teal color featured on many of the dignitarios' outfits, from teal cravats to full Spanish dresses, chosen by Mr. Gordon's wife, Jamie.
Guests were brought to the beachside party by horse-drawn carriages, and once assembled all eyes turned to the lake that rests under a nearby railway trestle.
A small group of Chumash appeared in a tomol - the tribe's traditional boat - paddling slowly, while men and women in Spanish regalia approached, drummers drumming, and recreating the meeting of the two people. A Chumash elder blew a conch shell in all four direction and Chumash singers sung, all kicking off the event.
Reggie Pagaling, another Chumash elder, reminded the crowd that 1824 was the "last stand" of the Chumash against the Spanish and Californios. This was where the Chumash spiritual leaders rejected being converted to Catholicism.
"But that was a long time ago," he added. "Now is a new time. We're here to share our (tomol) but also we get an opportunity to sing our songs to our elders."
J.C. Gordon then introduced plein air artist Jeremy Harper, who painted the landscape that makes up this year's Old Spanish Days poster. The painting depicts Santa Barbara hundreds of years ago as seen from the ocean, when the Mission was the main defining feature of the area.
At Saturday's event, the painting was unveiled to a three-gun salute. "This was mostly J.C. and Jamie's idea to involve the ocean the way we have," said Mr. Harper. "And I couldn't be happier as I grew up surfing and loving the ocean as much as anybody on Earth. To be involved in this way is a great joy."
There was a slight delay in the unveiling of this year's Fiesta pin, which features abalone, and is an illustration of the Chumash Tabernacle at the Santa Barbara Mission, but by the end of the evening, everybody had one in hand.
Mayor Helene Schneider said this year's Fiesta "is to honor and remember our history, to come together in friendship and in love. And I want to honor and respect the Chumash elders and family members who are here today."
There followed a four-course meal, performances by the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta and live music past sundown.
The next pre-Fiesta event is Fiesta Ranchera, to be held June 16 at Goleta's Rancho La Patera. For more information go to http://oldspanishdays-fiesta.org/events/events-calendar