Montecito keeps Fourth of July celebration alive, transforming “the world’s biggest, little parade” into a road show
Fourth of July celebrations have been canceled across Santa Barbara County as health officials try to keep residents properly physically distanced in response to a rise in local case numbers. However, the Montecito community was not content to let the holiday pass by without a celebration.
The Montecito Association helped keep the community’s Independence Day tradition alive on Saturday, adapting the annual Fourth of July parade into a road show.
Montecito usually celebrates the Fourth with what they call “the world’s biggest, little parade.” Families and friends gather at the top of Manning Park and then march about one block to the lower end. There are typically plenty of participants walking or driving classic cars, and the parade ends with a cookout and live music.
This year’s parade was supposed to be the 25th, a major celebration for the many who have participated every year since its inception.
“It was going to be big this year. Since we didn’t get to do that we thought we should just acknowledge the day and give people something to smile about,” said Kathi King, a board member with the Montecito Association who chaired the event.
Despite the many Fourth of July cancelations, the Montecito community was eager to find a way to keep the celebration going, so the association adapted the event into a road show.
“In Montecito they like their July 4th parade so the community said, ‘can you do something?’” Sharon Byne, executive director of the Montecito Association, told the News-Press.
“We figured this is the way to do it where it’s contactless, you’re not piling a million people on the street in close quarters. The intention is to drive through the neighborhood, wave and people can come out of their houses, wave and go back indoors. It’s a way to keep the community connected.”
Starting at Montecito Union School at 11:30 a.m., 28 first responders and classic cars, including old Ford pickups, Chevrolettes, Jaguars, and a fleet of military vehicles rolled down San Ysidro Road. The route went along Jameson Lane and down to Channel Drive before looping all the way up to Mountain Drive.
Organizers chose to leave at 11:30 a.m. to avoid congestion. When cars passed through Coast Village Road, they were greeted by waving flags and cheers from those who were out to see the parade, as well as locals out at lunch.
The Montecito Association was inspired to change the parade to a road show in April and May by teachers in various communities driving around their neighborhoods waving and saying hello to their students.
“It was a way to stay connected to the community, which I thought was a great idea. Montecito Union School did something like that in May. We looked at their route and we adapted it,” said Ms. Byrne.
“It already had credibility and it was already sanctioned. It seemed like it was safe enough that it would be accepted,” said Ms. King.
“We had all the first responders and elected officials, so it felt like if they were feeling ok about it then we should as well. We’ve been on the fence, especially with the rise of cases in the last couple weeks. But if you look at the very small crowd that turned out, I see 95% have masks on and everyone is standing apart.”
Like every year, first responders from the California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and Montecito Fire Protection District, as well as members of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation participated. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams also attended.
The roadshow allowed the Montecito community to celebrate Independence Day and connect with their neighbors during the pandemic, despite being one of the oldest populations in the county.
“Thirty-five percent of the residents here are over the age of 65, so that’s why the safety thing really has to be at the top of our list because we have a more vulnerable population than the rest of the county. But we’re also a population that likes stuff like this, so how do you do this in a safe way that gives people a chance to come and celebrate? That’s why we were really cautious about this,” said Ms. Byrne.
By helping people celebrate the Fourth of July in a responsible way, the Montecito Association hopes the event is a little shot in the arm for community spirit, despite the pandemic. The need for connection is stronger than ever during these unprecedented times, Ms. Byrne told the News-Press.
“There was a 1918 pandemic, a 1930s depression and a 1960s fight for civil rights and riots. We just lived through that in three months. Those people got 50 years, we got three months. It’s a little intense!” Ms. Byrne explained. “This is just an unprecedented time. No one’s lived through a time like this, and it’s a time for people to feel connected to each other, but what you can’t do in a pandemic is connect with each other.
“You have to find a safe way to do that whether that’s video call or a driving parade or standing separated. It’s a way to keep human connection going while staying safe.”