When Ernest Hemingway set parts of his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” in Pamplona, Spain against the backdrop of its annual Fiesta de San Fermin, he likely didn’t realize how popular the event would become as a result. Credited with drawing widespread attention to the festival, Hemingway also probably couldn’t have predicted the festival would spread to the U.S. in adaptations involving roller derby. But it certainly has and occurs in Pensacola as Seville Quarter’s Festival de San Fermin.
“We thought it could catch on in part because of Pensacola’s Spanish heritage. It’s almost natural to celebrate an event that began in Spain,” said Seville Quarter General Manager Jack Williams.
San Fermin is the patron saint of the Spanish region of Navarra (anglicized to Navarre, appropriately enough for this area). The festival in Pamplona honoring the saint has taken place in one form or another since the Middle Ages. Bullfights are a part of the festivities, and the running of the bulls evolved to include not just individuals moving the animals from a pen to the arena, but now to a spectacle drawing hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to dodge bulls.
On Saturday, instead of bulls charging after the runners, the Pensacola Roller Gurlz will chase participants through the streets of downtown. Though the fourth annual Running of the Bulls is the biggest of the weekend’s San Fermin themed activities, it is only one part of the three-day event, complete with a family-style Spanish meal on Thursday, a San Fermin procession during Gallery Night on Friday and a street party after the run on Saturday morning.
Like the event in New Orleans that inspired Seville Quarter’s festival, the Pensacola incarnation is adapting aspects of the San Fermin festivities for a stateside crowd. Instead of soaking each other with red wine to begin the festival as they do in Pamplona, revelers at Pensacola’s adaptation can instead drink wine at a dinner that kicks off the festival on Thursday.
This year, Seville Quarter’s Executive Chef Brandon Melton developed a 5-course dinner paired with wines from the Juan Gil Family Estates, which produces wine at several small wineries throughout Spain. “The fun thing about this dinner is that we serve it family style,” Williams said. “It’s not the typical wine dinner where it’s all two-tops, [couples] holding hands—it’s louder, there’s a lot of laughing.”
The winemaker—who is also running on Saturday—will participate in Seville’s weekly wine tasting on Friday night, giving those who can’t attend the dinner a chance to sample and purchase his wines.
“Once the winemaker found out about the festival, he thought it would be a good excuse to come to Pensacola,” Williams said.
Also on Friday, the Pensacola-based Krewe of Andres de Pez will carry a statue of San Fermin during “El Chupinzao,” a procession meant to add another aspect of the original Pamplona tradition to the festivities. The procession will begin after announcements from Seville’s balcony at 7 p.m. amidst the crowd of artists that typically set up on Government Street during Gallery Night.
As for Saturday’s 10 a.m. Running of the Bulls, a few tweaks have been made for the ever-growing event.
“We’re trying to make it more of a downtown event, and this is kind of the first step,” Williams said of the new 2.1 mile route that takes the crowd by World of Beer, through the Aragon neighborhood, and past Pensacola Bay Brewery and O’Reilly’s.
In showing off downtown to runners, Williams said he and the Seville Quarter crew are hoping that, similar to the hours after the annual McGuire’s St. Patrick’s Day Prediction 5K Run, participants will flock and bring big business to neighboring bars and restaurants. The organizers are also hoping to possibly recruit neighboring running clubs into the mix.
“That’s the other good thing about the route: there are plenty of places for them to hide,” he said with a laugh, referring to the “bulls,” or roller derby team members who don horned helmets and tag runners with foam-covered wiffle bats. “They’re saying we’ll have well over 100 ‘bulls’ this year, which will be cool,” Williams said.
With a tournament in Pensacola that evening, members of roller derby teams from Panama City and Tallahassee are expected to participate in the run.
“If you don’t want to get hit, just get on the sidewalk. If you fall down, stay down,” Williams said, summarizing the rules. “It’s all in fun. They’re not trying to hurt anybody—they’re having a ball.”
Following the run, a street party with food vendors, Latin music and an awards ceremony for costumes will take place. All runners are encouraged to keep with tradition and wear white clothing with red sashes or bandanas or customize costumes as they see fit. For those wishing to take it easy, it is free to watch the shenanigans on Saturday morning and attend the after party to help say “Adios” to another year of San Fermin in Pensacola.
2014 RUNNING OF THE BULLS
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday, July 19. Late registration and t-shirt pick-up will be on Friday, July 18 from 4-7 p.m. Day of registration will be Saturday, July 19 from 7-8 a.m.
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: $25 per runner