BASTILLE DAY BASH
Despite Santa Barbara’s Spanish roots, the French took over Saturday and Sunday with the 31st annual Santa Barbara French Festival at Oak Park.
The festivities were organized by the Center Stage Theater and Speaking of Stories. The festival was originally organized by Steve Hogerman, who founded the festival in 1988 before it was taken over by the two groups in 2012.
Bastille Day celebrates the Storming of the Bastille, which is considered the start of the French Revolution and French Independence Day, Mr. Hogerman said.
The main organizer of the festival is Teri Ball, executive director of Center Stage Theater. She told the News-Press that about 10,000 people were expected to partake in the two days of festivities, and she estimated about 5,200 came on Saturday.
The festival raised $22,000 last year and Ms. Ball expects it to be around the same this year.
“We deeply appreciate the Santa Barbara community,” she said. “The money we raise is for the theater and all the groups,” Ms. Ball said.
One of the things Ms. Ball likes about the festival is that not everything comes from France itself. The celebration included French-influenced performances and food from other parts of the world, such as the Polynesian dancing and Cajun food, which shows how wide an impact France has had around the world through colonialism and trade.
“That part of [the festival] is really fun,” Ms. Ball said.
This year’s festival came with some new acts. The Santa Barbara Jazz Collective and the Santa Barbara French Collective made their first appearance at the festival, as well as Malie Kai Merrick from the Adderley School, who sang songs from “Les Miserables.”
The festival always had something going on. Near 1 p.m., the singer Johnny Hollywood was crooning American songs in French, while members of the Dzhamala Ensemble were showing off their belly dancing skills at the Moulin Rouge stage on the other side of the creek.
Zach Rengert, a Santa Barbara native, was attending the festival for the second time and was sipping his drink as he watched Johnny Hollywood’s performance.
“I love it. I go around to all the different vendors and food,” he said. “It’s cool.”
One of the unsung themes of the French Festival is the longevity of the people who staff and perform in it. Some have been performing and volunteering at the festival for years.
Susan Alexander was one of the volunteers who spent the better of the weekend ensuring that the festival runs smoothly and everyone knows what is going on.
Tucked in an information booth, Ms. Alexander expressed her love for the French Festival. Having spent 23 years in Paris, she said that the fest allows her to stay connected to French culture.
“I love the French culture and this festival allows me to keep in contact with the French,” she said, adding that she originally got into it as part of a French club in Santa Barbara. “It’s really fun!”
The Guilde de Saint Marie is another example. The guild is a group of historical re-enactors from Redlands led by John Bloom-Ramirez, who serves as guild master and president.
Guild members have been coming to the festival on and off for the past 10 years, according to Mr. Bloom-Ramirez. The group portrays life in the court of Francis I, king of France from 1515 to 1547.
Mr. Bloom-Ramirez, who claims to be the descendant of an illegitimate son from the royal Valois family, praised the festival and said that the group was proud to be a part of it.
“We love it. We’re having fun portraying French culture,” he said.
James Zimmer and Cynthia Harper have been teaching dance for more than two decades and have been coming to the festival for the past 12 or so years.
They performed as part of the Ballroom Dance Club from UCLA, performing the can-can, the Charleston and waltzes, along with historical dances such as the renaissance era “La Bataille” or “The Battle.” All of them have a “French twist.”
“It’s heavy on audience participation,” Ms. Harper explained about their dancing during a break in their scheduled performances.
The two are dedicated to the festival. Mr. Zimmer cut his vacation to Israel short and flew straight from Tel Aviv in order to get to the festival in time to perform. The long-time dancer and teacher did not let 20 hours of flight nor a broken-down car stop him from attending.
“I was going to be there no matter what happened,” he said.
“I love it. The celebration of French culture, the food ? I’m smiling all day,” Ms. Harper saidl. “It’s about the joy of dancing and celebrating Bastille Day.”
Mr. Hogerman praised the work of Ms. Ball and the other organizers. The “semi-retired” French Festival founder was in a booth promoting his private custom tour of the French region of Provence when he said he was glad the theater groups took it over.
“I’m so glad that it’s continuing on! It feels like France,” he said before toasting Santa Barbara and France.
“Viva Santa Barbara! Vive la France!” he roared.