Fiesta La Ballona celebrates cultural diversity with three days of free music and dance
By Michael Aushenker
A celebration of Woodstock, songs from the musical “Hairspray,” a tribute band covering Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, and multicultural music representing Hawaii, Mexico and Ireland — that’s the score for this weekend’s Fiesta La Ballona, also dubbed Culver City’s annual Party in the Park.
Held at Veterans Park, this year’s Fiesta offers three days of free live music and dance paired with family-friendly carnival games and rides, a petting zoo, dozens of vendor booths, food trucks and kiosks, and even a beer-and-wine garden.
Then called Fiesta La Ballona Days, the event began in 1951 as a celebration of the region’s early settlers, said event organizer Susan Obrow.
“People went to events dressed up as rancheros, señoritas, cowboys and cowgirls. The early fiestas evoked pride among the descendants of the ‘first families’ and offered the entire community a playful opportunity to connect with its history,” Obrow said.
The party has since evolved into a three-day celebration of Culver City’s diverse community. Produced by the city and local sponsors, it also represents the work of nearly 100 volunteers.
“Last year, we had 28,000 people attend — a huge increase from 15,000 to 20,000 the year before,” said Karen Gibbs, vice chair of the event’s organizing committee.
With all the success comes a bump in the number of food vendors.
“We’re improving our social media. We’ve increased size of our beer and wine garden and [the number of] food trucks,” continued Gibbs, who added that an Instagram contest offering prizes for the best Fiesta pics runs through Sept. 5.
Live entertainment begins with ballroom dancing by Pat Ruane & Dancers at 4 p.m. Friday followed by Jimmy Brewster and the Westside Band performing Rat Pack classics a half-hour later. From 6 to 9 p.m., a Fiesta-palooza showcases five local teen bands: Silent Partner, the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts Jazz Combo, Searchlights, State of Panic and Below 51.
Saturday’s entertainment schedule features Mariachi Voces de Mexico de Raul Sanchez (the house band at Casa Sanchez restaurant in Del Rey) and Grupo Folklorico Macias presenting folk dances of Mexico. Jennifer Corday returns this year to perform ‘90s pop rock with Corday Undercover, followed by The Murphy Family Bluegrass Band and the Doo Wah Riders, performing contemporary and classic country favorites. Dee-Lightful Productions — which provides musical theater camps and workshops for children and teens through the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Dept. — performs selections from summer productions “Hairspray” and “Once on This Island.”
Also on Saturday, Fiesta La Ballona celebrates the 45th anniversary of the iconic Woodstock Music & Art Fair with the Woodstock Tribute Band, performing the best of ‘60s-era rock from 5:15 to 6 p.m. Afterward, Grupo Folklorico LaRosa rounds out the evening with lively folk dances from the Americas before Fly Guy and Diva kick off a two-hour R&B dance party at 7 p.m.
On Sunday morning, ukuleles enter the mix courtesy of Cali Rose & The CC Strummers, opening the final day of programming at 11 a.m. Masanga Marimba follows, performing marimba fusion music, and Grupo Folklorico Tzintzuni presents more folk dances of the Americas.
Sunday afternoon features reggae act TalkBack, the Ho’Aloha Polynesian Dancers, and the Latin fusion band Roncovacoco before Shingari’s School of Rhythm performs Bollywood dances at 4:15 p.m. and a 5 p.m. set by Irish rock and folk act Paddy’s Pig wraps things up.
Fiesta La Ballona runs from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and continues from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at Veterans Park, 4117 Overland Ave., Culver City. Free, but carnival rides cost $4 to $5 each. For more information, including parking availability and volunteer opportunities, visit fiestalaballona.org.