Paisley mermaids? Prancing ovens? It has to be Santa Barbara's Summer Solstice Parade

Sheila Schmitz

Every June, Santa Barbara celebrates summer with a spectaclethat invites you to check your adulthood at the door. The SummerSolstice Parade, held on the Saturday closest to the longest day ofthe year (June 21 in 2003), is the city's homegrown freewheelinganswer to Mardi Gras.

The parade has decidedly iconoclastic rules: No vehicles ormotor-powered floats. No animals. No corporate logos. Deprived ofthe usual parade standbys, participants must rely on eye-poppinginvention: paisley mermaids in place of a homecoming queen, awhale-size goldfish for the mayor to ride in.

One year, a pink oven the size of a small house wobbled up StateStreet, stopping now and then to release dancing baked goods ontothe pavement. This year's theme is "Silly," but to be honest, thatcould pretty well describe every parade since the event began in1974.

A long, carefree day

The day is a triumph of collaboration as well as creativity. Forsix weeks, artists and volunteers work to turn donated wood,cardboard, paint, and fabric into mobile art and performancepieces. The sense of communal participation continues even afterthe parade has begun its 90-minute march along State Street. Massedon the sidewalks, spectators cheer on friends dressed aspapier-mâché zebras and whack on a truck-size percussioninstrument made of salvaged metal. Sidewalk vendors sell garlands,fairy wings, masks, and festival posters.

By the end of the parade route, the distinction between paradersand spectators has almost disappeared. The crowd funnels intoAlameda Park, where food, music, and festivities await. High above,the sun hangs in the sky, motionless. With so much light comes timeto soak in the day. Grown-up concerns can wait until later. Muchlater. After the sun goes down.

SOLSTICE STRATEGY

Summer Solstice Parade. Runs along State Street from Cota toMicheltorena Streets. Bring a blanket and secure a place on thecurb by 10 a.m. (Many veterans claim territory the night before.)Seniors and those with disabilities may arrange for limited freereserved seating by calling (805) 965-3396. A $50 donation canreserve a spot ($100 for two spots). Jun 21, noon.

Parking. City lots off Santa Barbara, Anacapa, and ChapalaStreets charge $1 per hour after the first 75 minutes; free parkingis available on side streets.

Alameda Park Festival. The parade ends at Micheltorena andAnacapa, but the party continues. Floats stick around until 4:30,and live bands play until 8.

Float-builders' workshop. Arrive a day early and you canwatch participants put finishing touches on their creations. Jun20, noon-9. Location not set at press time.

Information:
www.solsticeparade.com or(805) 965-3396.

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