La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow talks about next week’s Old Spanish Days
It’s impossible to experience the Fiesta without a smile.
La Presidenta Stephanie Petlow agrees with that.
“You say ‘Viva la Fiesta!,’ you end in a smile,” she told the News-Press this week outside the Santa Barbara Mission, where Fiesta Pequeña, one part of the mammoth Fiesta, will take place outside after a two-year absence.
Mrs. Petlow sees many reasons for the Fiesta’s everlasting appeal to residents and visitors alike.
“I think it’s the variety that we offer, the community involvement when you have the dance studios working all year long (to prepare for) the Old Spanish Days,” she said. “It’s people running into their old friends they haven’t seen for a long time. You go to the events, and you say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Fiesta is when old friends meet again.
“And it’s people wanting to carry on the traditions our forefathers had,” Mrs. Petlow said.
Fiesta, aka Old Spanish Days, is set for Aug. 4-8 at locations varying from the mission to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse’s Sunken Garden.
Last year’s Fiesta had to be scaled back because of the pandemic, but is coming back with major events except for the parade and the mercados.
“It’s very exciting to be able to bring the community back and have these events,” said Mrs. Petlow, who will appear live at noon today on a Fiesta-themed episode of “Cork And Fork Radio 805 with Drew Wakefield” on KZSB, the News-Press radio station. (See the FYI box.)
The Aug. 4-8 Fiesta events are free and outdoors, where masks are recommended only for unvaccinated people even under the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. Both entities now recommend masks for everyone indoors.
Mrs. Petlow said Old Spanish Days is prepared to adjust to any changes in guidance from county and state public health officials. “We are committed to having a safe Fiesta for our community.”
The Fiesta, aka Old Spanish Days, began in 1924 in Santa Barbara and has featured everything from flamenco and folklorico dancers to mariachi and rock bands.
Mrs. Petlow, who grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and moved to Santa Barbara with her husband Brian Petlow in 1978, first became involved with the Fiesta when her daughter, Michelle, started dancing at it at age 6 and kept with it for eight years. Michelle was a Junior Spirit runner up a couple times, Mrs. Petlow said proudly.
“I was the mom, sewing the costumes and taking her around,” said Mrs. Petlow, who first volunteered for Old Spanish Days to help with its Fiesta Pequeña.
In 2000, Mrs. Petlow was named an honorary Fiesta director and was named to its board the next year.
Since then, she has served in roles such as vice president of entertainment and production, which involved everything from booking bands to taking care of details such as trash cleanup, and vice president of external relations.
Mrs. Petlow, whose children are coming to Santa Barbara for the Fiesta, is looking forward to seeing this year’s flamenco, folklorico and early California dancing.
“It comes from the heart. You see the emotions that the dancers have,” Mrs. Petlow said. She was referring to the joy on the dancers’ faces and in their dynamic movements.
Mrs. Petlow added that she loves the colors in dancers’ beautiful dresses.
For the News-Press interview, Mrs. Petlow wore a colorful Fiesta dress as she talked about the sense of history that comes from Fiesta events such as Noches de Ronda, a variety show at the Sunken Garden at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
“It’s the history of California during the ranchera period. They branded cattle and after working all day with the herds, they would have a Fiesta, a nice party, to celebrate all the work they had done,” Mrs. Petlow said. “It was the camaraderie.”
That spirit lives on today.
“It’s what we want to do for the community,” Mrs. Petlow said, “to have a good spirit and to enjoy being together with family and friends.”