Las Damas lets good times roll to raise money for art

Sunset Beach celebrates art in 56th annual festival

With songs like “Born to be Wild,” and “Proud Mary” roaring behind them, the Sunset Beach GoGo Girls, (left to right) Boots, Pinky and Liberty Lane brought enough flower power for the entire festival Sunday as the 56th Annual Las Damas Art Festival roiled through the entire Sunset Beach community. Photo by David N. Young

With Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” blasting from the speakers, the Surf City GoGo Girls were kicking and twisting like flowers in the wind while the overflow crowd enjoyed every minute of it on this lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon.

Sunset Beach in many ways, at least for two days, partied like it was the 1960s all over again as thousands flocked to the green belt of this sometimes-eclectic community for the Las Damas 56th Annual Art Festival.

“We work very hard to make this festival a real part of the community,” said Natalie Vaughn, a board member and spokesperson for the group. “We are very careful about the bands, the food and we insist on our vendors selling only hand-made arts and crafts,” she said.

According to Vaughn, more than 15,000 people strolled peacefully along the green belt’s curved sidewalks, sometimes stopping along the way dotted with white tents containing artisan vendors of all types selling items they had made themselves.

For sure, Sunset Beach is a community that loves its rock and roll, and while it is perhaps an exaggeration to say it was a reboot of the Sixties generation, what is true is that the Las Damas annual event is a chance for free spirits and friends to gather and raise money for various schools and art programs.

“We’ve been coming here for the Mother’s Day festival for as long as I can remember,” said Italian-born Stephan Basi, a leather craftsman, as he sold yet another black leather wristband.

Basi, who travels to Sunset Beach once a year from Mission Viejo with his wife Mary, said by Sunday he had almost sold out of the leather bracelets and other items he made for the event.

According to his wife Mary, there is a strong bond between many of the vendors and the Sunset Beach community that goes back many years.

“We have regular customers from here(Sunset Beach), and so do the other vendors,” said Mary,  She said the merry band of vendors all make the crafts and products that festivalgoers purchase as they walk by.

“We are all very passionate about the festival,” she said, “and about the cause.” “We all know it’s done to promote art.”

While vendors were busy selling reasonably priced handmade arts and crafts, nearby food trucks stood at the ready, selling a wide variety of dishes from brisket to fried chicken and almost anything tasty in between.

The red polished floor of the former fire station that is now the Sunset Beach Community Center, stands with dozens of paintings. The work of top local artists brought the building to life with oil, watercolor, and acrylic paintings for sale.

In addition, there was a stand that displayed a sample of the art generated by children in schools supported by grants from Las Damas.

Jill Mathis, a Long Beach resident, currently living in Huntington Beach (while her home is under renovation), walked away carrying a framed beach photo she had just purchased from this year’s gallery.

“I wanted something that reminds us of our beaches,” said Mathis, “and this captures it,” she said, holding close to her a beautiful mystical scene with three seagulls diving towards the sea.

Mathis said she’s been coming to the festival for the past 10 years and always appreciates the art on display at the Art Festival. “The art is what I appreciate the most,” she said as she walked out with her framed photo.

Moreover, Mathis said she was thrilled that part of her purchase would support artists.

A Las Damas Board member, Josey Dentzer, said since there’s little or no money being spent by school districts on art, Las Damas uses proceeds from its festival to fund art programs.

“We’re happy to give them any amount and our teachers are so appreciative,” said Dentzer.

“I think this year’s festival is another great success and a tribute to all of the hard work that our Las Damas women have put into making this a great family festival,” she said.

“Not every child is an academic or an athlete and we need to have some venue for all of the students. Art is such an important part of the creative process, and we must have an outlet for these kids,” said Dentzer.

The Surf City GoGo girls brought their special flower power to the event, making special appearances throughout the weekend. They kept the crowds rocking with special performances in between great bands like Phunkle, Roadkill Kings and Cat Reed.

The Sunset Beach Surf City GoGo Girls are a unique assemblage of ladies with idyllic stage names like Pinky, Boots, and Liberty Lane (the niece of Penny Lane).

According to Liberty Lane, “we use authentic go-go costumes and we love to dance and take people back to an innocent time when everyone could have so much fun.”

“We have so much fun,” she said, noting they also make appearances at surfing championships, the mayor’s ball, and the Fourth of July parade.

“We are very pleased with the turnout this year,” said Las Damas President Lisa Marie Moreo,

“With this festival’s tradition of more than half a century, it has become a Mother’s Day tradition for friends and fellowship,” she said.

Vaughn said Las Damas believes the festival “went exceptionally well,” with not a single incident throughout the weekend and plenty of fun indeed. Nevertheless, she said it would take a couple of weeks to sift through the administrative tasks.

For now, she said Las Damas members were thankful everything went well and plan to announce all results from the art show and funds raised very soon.