The 2022 Santa Barbara Bowl event season is in full swing in the summer, but with some new protocols for those entering the popular outdoor venue. In our current pandemic-influenced world, onlookers are used to showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result to Sansum Clinic staff members upon arrival. But few are aware of the incredible efforts being made behind the scenes to keep us safe.
From 7 a.m. on the day of a performance (and sometimes a day or two before), a jovial team of four volunteers administers COVID tests to around 100 people who work in various functions at the Bowl: security, food preparation staff , unions, trucking companies and others. Team members chat and laugh with workers while they wait for results, usually about 10 minutes.
“We’re the first line of defense,” says Maria Long, director of COVID compliance, who created the Bowl’s 2021 on-demand testing system. “It’s all Jackson Browne’s fault,” she laughs, explaining that in 2021, as he prepared for his band’s first post-lockdown gig, Browne wanted to help out. “He wanted to provide masks for everyone in attendance and wanted everyone working at the Bowl to be COVID negative and compliant. He didn’t want anyone to get sick and take him on tour. It was such a great opportunity. The whole industry has flipped its head, moving forward through some really dark times.
Long obtained an official COVID compliance certificate and trained three other volunteers — Donna Reeves, Shelley Rickard and Carrie Offutt — to administer tests and screen for symptoms for Jackson Browne’s show and subsequent events for the remainder of the season. Now in its second Bowl season, the team is a well-oiled machine. “We all get along,” says Long, who adds that the four members share an infectious sense of humor that entertains workers while they wait for the results. “It’s a recipe for joy! Who would have thought that COVID tests could do this?
The COVID Testing Team is the latest project in Maria Long’s long history of nonprofit service, with roots dating back to childhood. She grew up in Marin County, the only child of a psychiatrist and a social worker/journalist. Her father died when she was just 3 years old and her mother took a job with Marin County Child Protective Services. “I was raised to be of service. This has been demonstrated to me; it was not what was expected of me.
Tragedy struck again when her mother died of cancer at the age of 16. She became a ward of court and lived with three different foster families before becoming a legal adult. “It was a really, really rich and at the same time quite painful childhood.” Long says those early experiences laid the foundation for who she is today, emphasizing that “we are products of our environment.”
She became a volunteer with Marin’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), “because I could relate so well to adoptive children.” She also worked in the hospitality and fashion industries at a time that coincided with the height of the Bay Area music scene in the 70s, with regular gigs featuring the Grateful Dead, Santana and other legendary bands rocking local stages and parks.
In 1998, Long moved to Santa Barbara to open a bikini store on State Street. Clients complained about body image, and Long decided she would be better equipped to help them as a psychologist. She earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University and has dedicated her career to service ever since, working for the nonprofits CADA, CASA, and Doctors Without Walls. Today, she is the Director of Community Development and Outreach at the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics. She also produces and hosts a KZSB talk show, Community Affairs.
At the Bowl, Long’s voluntary COVID testing project allowed him to marry his three main passions: music, medicine and humanitarian relief efforts. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. “We love the Bowl and the music, and when it’s happy it’s amazing.”