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At Sunrise, Summer Casts Its Spell

With bells, music, wine and yoga, the Southland celebrates the longest day of the year


Even before the spa-goers head down Wilshire Boulevard in the moonlight--angelic realms prepped, Tibetan bells jingling--even before the living gather at a torch-lighted Hollywood cemetery and the pagans present offerings to the sun god in Huntington Beach tonight, we've sensed the heralding solstice of summer.

We've felt the days grow long, the slant of the sun at Chavez Ravine, the urge to get away. We've noticed the darkening hue of Bing cherries at the farmers market, the warmth atop the highest local peaks, the fading gold of California poppies in the foothills. And we've known that the first day of summer was samba-ing toward us.

Today, on the summer solstice, even France will relax its laws on outdoor music and throw a festival, allowing--mon dieu!--amateur and professional musicians to play freely, indoors and out. Such madness goes back to prehistoric celebrations welcoming the longest day of the year. Today, in the Northern hemisphere, the solstice occurs at 6:24 a.m. when the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. (On Sunday, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will have astronomers on hand to answer questions about the solstice and, presumably, the North Pole's rakish tilt toward the sun.)

The most famous annual celebration is held at Stonehenge, where druids, pagans and white (or benevolent) witches greet the sunrise at the historic stones.

As usual, Southern California will observe the solstice with its own quirky range of events.

In L.A., singer Connie Stevens will host a "moon walk" from her Garden Sanctuary spa. Starting at 6 p.m., participants will join in a fertility dance, yoga and "spiritual giving ceremony," all of which will set the stage for the walk. Writer Gary Quinn, who is billed as a "psychic to the stars," will guide the prewalk meditation and discussion on "connecting [with] and being able to access your angels every day," said Kristin Gabriel, a spokeswoman for the spa.

Walkers will take off from the spa on Robertson Boulevard to Wilshire Boulevard with Tibetan bells symbolizing the ancient ritual of dancing in the moonlight to welcome summer. "Connie Stevens really believes in drawing energy from the moon," Gabriel said. "She's a moon bather." The $30 event will be limited to 300 people and include "strengthening tonics" such as herbal teas and sangria.

The area's pagan events will include a Wiccan ritual at A Krystal Moon store in Huntington Beach. Practitioners of Wicca--a religion that celebrates the natural world--welcome anyone who drops by for "celebration and peace and love, and to learn and experience this process," said store owner Keith Morrison. Participants traditionally bring canned food or clothing for donation to local shelters, he said.

The ritual, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will be led by a Wiccan priest. The priest will cleanse a sacred space, using smoke from a bundle of dried sage, and "cast a circle," or a protected sphere in which participants are invited. He then will invoke Wiccan deities known as the elder dragons of light, who will represent the sun god; participants will make offerings of cake and wine.

None of the Wiccan practices is related to Satanism, Morrison said. "It's about creating an energy together because as a whole, we create more energy than ourselves independently."

At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, comedian Margaret Cho is among the headliners in a freewheeling solstice celebration that will include music and readings, said communications consultant Joe Sehee. Cho is "probably going to do some poetry and whatever she feels like," Sehee said. "We're just allowing people to have fun and do what they want."

Celebrants are invited to picnic on the lawn before the free event, which starts at 8 p.m., at the cemetery known for famous occupants such as Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Cecil B. DeMille.

In Calabasas, on the Soka University of America campus, the California Traditional Music Society will hold its 20th Summer Solstice Festival. The festival, which runs today though Sunday, is billed as the "largest participatory folk event of its kind" in the country.

Performers will play music from Appalachian, Celtic, Andean and other traditions, and workshops will be offered in storytelling, crafts and international dance. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend the gathering, including campers with permits who can participate in potluck dinners, morning tai chi and late-night song circles. For ticket information: (818) 817-7756 or

Santa Barbara's annual Summer Solstice Celebration is the largest single-day event in that county, typically drawing about 100,000 spectators. The parade begins at noon, starting from Cota Street and State Street, and ending with a festival at Alameda Park. At the park, parade drummers and others will form a huge drum circle.

For the last six weeks, artists have helped community members put together the floats, masks, costumes and giant puppets, said Claudia Bratton, the event's executive director. "I think it's going to be an opportunity for people to forget their worries and celebrate life," she said.

And if you don't get around to celebrating (remember, as Shakespeare wrote, "summer's lease hath all too short a date"), there's always Sept. 23: the autumnal equinox.

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