The keepers of the Santa Fe Fiesta’s Zozobra tradition have wisely decided to keep the annual burning of Old Man Gloom for Thursday night.
That was the consensus among police and emergency responders, who said the event that already draws as many as 25,000 people to a tiny downtown ballfield could become a ready-made disaster if it were moved, as some had proposed, to Friday and drew even bigger crowds.
Wisely, the Kiwanis Club, which has staged the event for decades as a scholarship fundraiser, listened to those experts.
The club also has taken to heart much of the criticism of last year’s event, when high winds delayed the torching of the giant white puppet an excruciating hour and a half. The ensuing interlude of hip-hop and electronic music pleased nobody; families complained about exorbitant ticket prices and a ban on child strollers.
So, ticket prices will be cut to $10 when Zozobra goes up in smoke as the Fiesta inaugural this September. And kids under 10 will be admitted free — meaning families can attend for significantly less than the $100 some laid out for last year’s event. Tickets also will be available online for the first time. And strollers will be allowed, at least in certain areas.
Last but not least, the club promises a return to a more old-timey format. We hope that means the whole show will be brisker, with less lag to the musical run-up and the ritual fire dance. The club also wants to refocus the event on Fiesta itself, with the highlight (except for the burning) to be a visit of the Fiesta court and a crowd rendition of the Fiesta song.
Another change: Zozobra himself will be constructed in public this year. Organizers say children might want to visit and get their picture taken with the under-construction puppet. A Fiesta-themed open-air movie at the Railyard is also promised.
Much like Santa Fe itself, Zozobra is in some ways a victim of its own success. Many mourn the old and far smaller, friendlier Santa Fe and that long ago Friday night when you could take a picnic and some lawn chairs to Majer’s Field and then stroll home with your neighbors after the conflagration.
With 25,000 people in attendance, that old informality has become impossible. The Kiwanis Club is striving to find balance between nostalgia and the new reality. We look forward to this year’s improved Zozobra.