Sunday, July 27, 2008

Greek Fest rocks Oak Park


Thousands of curious onlookers, hardcore festival goers, gyro enthusiasts and lovers of all things Greek flocked to Oak Park over the weekend for the 35th Annual Greek Festival.

With abundant food vendors, adult Greek beverages and music and dance, the festival at times looked more like a family reunion than a community-wide cultural celebration.
On a raised wooden stage near the boulder-lined dry creek bed, a raucous crowd clapped in unison during a rendition of The Table Dance, a traditional Greek dance, during which dancers use a glass as a prop.
Aris (The Greek) Mlkelatos wooed the crowd when, for several minutes, he balanced the glass on his head as he danced.
James Stathis, whose mother helped organize the first Greek Festival 45 years ago at Earl Warren Showgrounds (he said the current anniversary system is tallied by the number of years the festival has been held at Oak Park), said you can tell it’s a good year when the pastry tent sells out halfway through Sunday, as it did yesterday.
Stathis and his wife, Cynthia Daddona Stathis, wore Greek costumes and danced through the crowd.
Daddona Stathis said the Greek Festival is not only successful in raising money for Saint Barbara Orthodox Church, but organizers and volunteers do a good job of bringing a touch of Greece to Santa Barbara.
“You can come to a festival like this and you feel like you’re in Greece,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
For Daddona Stathis, that feeling comes across most in eating the food, dancing and sharing in what she calls the “zest for life.”
The Greek Festival is the last of two cultural festivals held at Oak Park, which was once home to as many as 11 festivals. The other remaining event is the French Festival, which wrapped up its 21st year two weeks ago.
Stathis, who runs the Web site, which among other things features video of the couple’s wedding on a Greek island, said the Greek Festival has managed to remain viable because it’s sole purpose is to raise money for the church. As a result, he said dueling interests don’t often conflict with the purpose of the event.
When asked if this year’s festival was shaping up to be the best yet, he said it’s difficult to tell, and hesitated to rank it.
“I think we out do ourselves every year.”

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