Romance in the Air: Sunday’s Fiesta Party welcomed this year’s El Presidente, Cas Stimson

2015 El Presidente Cas Stimson, second from left, greets guests at Fess Parker's DoubleTree Resort for the annual La Recepción del Presidente to celebrate the upcoming Fiesta week. MICHAEL MORIATIS/NEWS-PRESS

2015 El Presidente Cas Stimson, second from left, greets guests at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort for the annual La Recepción del Presidente to celebrate the upcoming Fiesta week.
MICHAEL MORIATIS/NEWS-PRESS

A perfect late afternoon turned into a warm Sunday evening, the right weather to unofficially kick off the 91st annual Old Spanish Days, La Recepción del Presidente.

This event, a gala dinner with entertainment at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, honored the current El Presidente, Cas Stimson, as well as past Presidents, board members, donors and sponsors. Around 450 were in attendance, with many turned away at the door, and El Presidente himself alluded to this as a sign of a very successful Fiesta to come. There’s never been as many Flower Girls as this year, ticketed events are sold out, and other indicators are looking toward a very busy year.

“This year is on fire!” Mr. Stimson said.

Mr. Stimson may be new to some, as this was his formal introduction, but for years he’s been working behind the scenes at Old Spanish Days and was instrumental, along with last year’s Presidente Dennis Rickard, in getting our city’s most famous festival into the Rose Parade on the first day of 2015. The green carriage from the parade was parked near one of the walls at the DoubleTree’s Plaza del Sol for photo opportunities.

The evening began with a fanfare played by the trumpet section of the New York Philharmonic, who play the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight.

The fact that Mr. Stimson met his wife, Kathy McClintock, in 1989 at Old Spanish Days and fell in love has inspired this year’s theme, “Fiesta Romantica.” Their wedding had a Fiesta theme as well, and among the many family members he recognized, Mr. Stimson pointed out his mother, who was also instrumental in getting the Old Spanish Days float in the Rose Parade. He also thanked his family for support, as working on Fiesta involves long hours and not a lot of home time.

“Santa Barbara is full of passion and heart, and ultimately that’s what Fiesta is about,” Mr. Stimson noted. He then introduced opera star Eduardo Villa to serenade Ms. McClintock with “Besame Mucho.”

Father Larry from the Old Mission gave the official blessing.

“That romance of love is a unity between people,” he said. “We all want to be loved … so we pray that this spirit of Fiesta Romantica will be a coming together of love.”

Seventeen past Presidentes were present for the evening, the oldest being 1966’s Terrance Daly, and all stood for a photo.

Mayor Helene Schneider read a proclamation opening the festivities, and then the entertainment began, with dancers from Zermeno Dance Studio, along with performances by this year’s Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta, Alexandra Freres and Ysabella Yturralde, respectively. There was a surprise performance by the La Boheme dancers from Solstice, and a reunion concert by Jana and the One to send everybody to the dance floor and to finish off the evening.

The event also featured a silent auction, with the grand prize being two seats in the Friends of Fiesta carriage, which will feature in the Historical Parade on Friday.

Old Spanish Days officially begins this Wednesday with Fiesta Pequeña, the concert of dance and music on the Old Mission Steps, and it will close on Sunday, Aug. 9, with a performance at the Sunken Gardens by the West Coast Symphony.

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