Michael Lazaro can still remember watching a parade in Carpinteria when he witnessed a group of donkeys march down the street — promptly followed by a group of dancers.
“I talked to the city manager and said ‘Why wouldn’t you switch them?’ ” Mr. Lazaro said during a recent interview outside El Mercado de la Guerra – where he now presides as the site manager for the annual Old Spanish Days celebration. “And he said ‘You think you could do a better job?’ and I said ‘I know I could.’ “
On that same day 30 years ago, Mr. Lazaro filled out a business license under the name of “World’s Safest Beach Productions.” He submitted a payment of $25 and took the reins of the parade — nd he was just getting started.
Those who have enjoyed local events such as the California Avocado Festival, the annual Summer Solstice Celebration or the “Rods and Roses” car show in Carpinteria should be well-versed in his work.
Mr. Lazaro serves as president of Carp Events, an event management and production company. He is also a consultant for a company called “Centerplate,” one of the nation’s largest hospitality and catering companies.
Just last month, Mr. Lazaro was flown to New Orleans to coordinate the Delta Sigma Theta Convention. He was part of a crew that help plate lunch for 12,000 people and had been slated to provide a dinner for 16,000 two days later. The lunch went “flawlessly,” Mr. Lazaro said, but as the crew was setting up the venue for the next day, Hurricane Barry came rolling in and the group was sent scrambling.
Some of the managers and chefs who coordinate the event are flown in, but many of the people who serve the meals are locals who rely on mass transit to get to and from the event, Mr. Lazaro said.
Rather than a sit-down dinner, the group decided to make it buffet-style. As they started to prepare the meals — 17,000 total for the guests and the workers – the event was cancelled.
The sorority and Centerplate made the decision to donate the meals to a local food bank, and Mr. Lazaro and the other event planners went to work to transform the dining hall to a command center for the American Red Cross and the National Guard.
“In one minute, you’re like ‘Clear all the tables, break everything down and now set up for the National Guard,'” he explained. “And then they called a curfew and half the people tried to get out, half the people were stuck in New Orleans. But we wound up navigating through that … It was community and people pulled for each other.”
Mr. Lazaro has been involved with countless local celebrations. He created “Glow in the Park” for Doctors Without Walls and served as the site manager for the One805 Kick Ash Bash to celebrate first responders in the wake of the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow disaster.
Mr. Lazaro said his father was always big into logistics, and would test him and his siblings growing up.
“It just seemed to be in my wheel house,” he said.
He has helped make the California Avocado Festival the largest free food and music event on the South Coast. The event has grown from 3,000 attendees to 80,000 and is one of the few zero-waste events held locally.
“I love it. You know when you just love something and it just seems to work for you? It’s always been with me,” he explained. “I think if people sit down and you can find a common denominator – whether it’s music, children, or food or dreams – it creates community and it works.
“We always try and have a positive message to whatever we’re doing,” he said. “They’re all different, but the common denominator is the love for the community.”
Mr. Lazaro said he tries to look at every event through the guest experience – such as ensuring there is plenty of shade or water, enough spots to sit or adequate restrooms for the attendees.
“I made the mistake early in my life to cheap out on the service and I would never do that again,” he said. “I put a rock band in front of a bed and breakfast when I first started.
“Now I vet my music and you learn,” he said with a laugh. “You don’t always get it right, but you always keep trying. You create friendships with people you work with and they become your family. It’s just been a really cool journey.”
His journey has taken him around the country. From large, formal conferences for companies like Microsoft or LinkedIn, and even the Super Bowl and MLB All-Star game.
“Every day is an adventure,” he said with a smile. “Everything is timing and everything is quality control and detail. Every event I do is for the client – it’s their Super Bowl – that’s how I look at it. And even if it’s a booth, it’s their Super Bowl. That’s the microcosm of the gig.”
Mr. Lazaro, now in his late 50s, said he hopes to continue to coordinate for Old Spanish Days and other festivals for the next 10 years or so. After that, he intends on becoming “a spiritual consultant.”
“I’ll probably move down to Mexico and start a something-festival,” he said. “I can’t stop. I’m always going to shake the tree, and if you prove yourself they allow you to keep going.”
While he has been a key cog in the Fiesta wheel for more than 20 years, he admits the festival would still go on whether he was involved or not.
“It would just have a different look,” he said. “This car will be on the track. It might hit some rocky roads, but it’s going to say on track.”
Twenty years ago, Mr. Lazaro underwent brain surgery and said he made a deal with God to stick around a bit longer.
“I told Him to give me a shot and I wouldn’t let him down,” he said. “He’s held up His end and I’ve held up my end.”
Mr. Lazaro is quick to point out the hundreds of people who help make Fiesta a reality.
“All I am is the guy in the background,” he said. “I’m like the guy behind the curtain. But I don’t want to take away from any of the associates. I’m just the guy that tries to glue it all together.”