The 31st annual Santa Barbara French Festival returns to Oak Park, 300 West Alamar Avenue on July 13 and 14 to celebrate Bastille Day and French cultural history. Admission is free and the festival is a non-smoking event. The Santa Barbara French Festival is a community event that draws people from corners near and far. It’s a Dance Festival, a Music Festival, an Arts & Crafts Festival and, of course, a Food Festival. This community fun supports Center Stage Theater and Speaking of Stories, two wonderful non-profit organizations fostering the arts in Santa Barbara.
For two days Santa Barbara celebrates its nickname “the American Riviera,” as the French Festivities transform Oak Park. Our little French village comes to life at 11:00 am when the entertainment kicks off on three different stages and continues non-stop until 7:00 pm both days. The stages will be filled with dance and music from more than 30 different acts including performances, audience participation and instruction. The favorites return every year: Tango, Django Reinhardt tributes, and the Femme Fatales Drag Revue, the Can-Can and French Polynesian dancers, and West African Belly dancing. Fans also return every year to peruse over 60 booths that offer everything from delicious French food and wine, phenomenal art and photography, to French conversation, Pétanque, face painting, French tablecloths, Fairy wings, and the official French Festival booth that sells T-shirts and Berets.
Santa Barbara has a history of outdoor festivals celebrating various cultures. Through the years, in addition to Old Spanish days there has been the Greek Festival, the Italian Festival, Jamaican Festival and so many more. In 1988 long time Santa Barbara resident and Francophile, Steve Hogerman, turned his passion for all things French into the Santa Barbara French Festival.
Incorporating food, entertainment, arts and French themed vendors the Festival grew to be one of the largest of the Santa Barbara cultural festivals. Bringing the Festival to life each year is a huge undertaking and after helming the ship as largely a solo operation for more than 20 years Steve began looking for someone to take over and carry on the legacy of this great community event.
In 2011 the Festival actually had a one year hiatus, but in 2012 Center Stage and Speaking of Stories stepped forward to bring it back. The two local non-profits bring their theatrical and performance knowledge to the operation and things have been going strong ever since. I’m told that you can still see Steve Hogerman each year hosting the performances on the Moulin Rouge stage and manning his Journeys to Hidden Provence Booth.
All proceeds from the Festival now support Center Stage Theater and Speaking of Stories, forming a strong foundation for their annual fundraising efforts.
Photos by Steve Sherrill