Mum’s A Go (for now) and more…

The 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade is still scheduled to go tomorrow, Friday, New Year’s Day!   Any decision changing that would likely not be made until 4 tomorrow morning.  However, the forecasts have been improving.   As tired as some Mummers are right now getting everything together they know it’s best to go on NY’s Day and every effort will be made.  Stay tuned.  And remember, even if the outdoor parade were to be postponed, the indoor Fancy Brigades Finale still takes place, 2 shows at the PA Convention Center.

As I earlier reported would happen, The Mummers and the City reached their deal and are moving forward with the parade and future discussions.

I’m really looking forward to this year’s parade.  Having spent some time looking at the suits of the Fancies and seeing the routines the String Bands are going to do, talking with Wench Brigades, large and small, talking with Fancy Brigade clubs members about how they keep raising the bar on performance and seeing the Comics’ great attitude about making people smile, this is going to be a great one. 

There have been losses to Mummery this year, too many to mention, but they include Bill Isaacs, Rip McDonald, Frank Conforti, Jim Passio, Sr.,  Bobby Medeiros and Nick Basso.

You know, the great Bill Burke said to me, “The only thing older than the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia is Christmas.”  And Christmas, by the way, is how Bill got started in his legendary Fancy Brigade career.  He opened  a card Christmas morning when he was 9 and inside was a note saying, “You are a member of the Emerald Eagles Fancy Brigade.”  That’s turned into a present that Bill and his family having been giving us ever since.

A congratulations to Bill and to his son, also a Bill, and his daughter-in-law, Kristen, who gave birth to their second child yesterday, Finnegan Dale Burke! 

For those going to the parade there are designated performances areas. The main one is near City Hall at 15th and Market, but there is Broad and Shunk, Broad and Ritner, Broad and Washington and Broad and Sansom.  However, not all divisions start south enough to hit all those areas and sometimes the areas have to be skipped for parade speed reasons.  Also, the grandstand tickets at City Hall cost 19 dollars and were available at the Independence Visitors Center during normal business hours.  Of course, you always have the option of enjoying the parade on myphl17 in your cozy home!   Myphl17 has all the parade action all day and into the evening, plus a little Bacon Brothers may be thrown in.

WGN America plans to air 2 hours of the parade, but not the same day, not live.  Part of the parade will be broadcast on WGN America Sunday from 2pm to 4pm.

Happy New Year!

Mourning A Loss

art3-1.jpgOne of the Philadelphia region’s leading advocates for the arts has died.  Peggy Amsterdam passed away Saturday night, December 26th.  She had fought with cancer in a way that was a typical of who she was.  She was a quiet, kind but confident leader.  She was not one to demand the spotlight and would often try to deflect it, but that self-effacing demeanor only served to make her more influential and effective and someone others wanted to follow.  Peggy served since 2000 as President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, an umbrella arts advocacy organization representing more than 300 arts and culture organizations.  Peggy was sought out throughout the U.S. by policy makers deciding issues related to the arts.  She was recently named one of Leadership Philadelphia’s “101 Key Connectors.”  Previously, she had served as Director of the Delaware Division of the Arts from 1993-2000 under then-Governor Tom Carper.  I interacted with Peggy mainly in my capacity as a relatively new member of the Alliance Board of Directors.  I can only imagine the depth of loss felt by her family and by her friends and colleagues who have enjoyed a longer association.  Her impact was monumental; her passing devastating.

Themes and Dreams

As the 2010 Comcast Mummers parade now comes up on us fast, we can conclude a few things from the themes chosen this year by the String Bands.  Nostalgia, happiness, partying and a sign of the times all come to mind.  And, Judge Jake Hart and I will have some fun deciding the “Custard’s Last Stand Award.”
I see more than a few bands scaling back to be more efficient with money and other resources, but still figuring out a way to put on great performances.  Some bandmembers have told me they will feel in a good way like it’s more the look or feel of a performance of 5 years ago, or even 25 years ago or much earlier.  One thing is also clear: the Mummers also have not lost their sense of humor, especially in these harder economic climate.
I think Ferko’s theme reflects the times.  Hobos is a traditional Mummer theme but the hobo spirit is reflective of the more difficult times of the early part of the 20th century.  Ferko will be last up the street with “Hobo Junction.”
Greater Overbrook will be first up the street but they too are nostalgic, with the theme, “Memories of the Way We Were.”
Trilby in one sense continues the theme, though with a Brazilian touch in the search for happiness with “Trilby’s La Vida Loca.”
Broomall makes us feel right by taking us down to the farm with “Broomall’s Barnyard Bash.”
Irish American and Captain Kelly Marie Elizabeth Mahon have us “Wastin’ Away in Mummeritaville.”  Wherever there’s a beach party, there’s Kelly!
Aqua has one of more intriguing and creative themes this year and I can’t wait to see it performed.  In these times, Aqua is performing, “It’s About Time!”   
The party continues with Uptown String Band and “La Fiesta Mexicana.”  A litle south of the border to warm us up.
Duffy always excels at themes that appeal to children and they are hitting another one that may go out of the park.  Duffy is “Animal Crackers.”
Durning String Band this year is “Good Clean Fun.”  I emphasize the clean.  Keep an eye on Jimmy Buck.
Woodland String Band brings the magic back to the parade with “PhilharMAGIC.”
Polish American continues the party with “The Jokers Ball.”  Count on P-A to make us smile.
And you can always count on Hegeman to party hard and when they want to be fun, they are fun.  Last year’s “Orchestrated Oddballs” comes to mind., Well,  this year they’ll be “Clowning Around Town.”
Wanna get away?  Do it with GK.  Greater Kensington String Band takes us to Russia with “Empire of the Czar.”
In these times it’s right that we get together and South Philadelphia String Band does that in a unique way with “Gathering of Nations.”
Avalon also has us partying, prairie style.  Captain Jack Hee leads the band with “Prairie Tales.”
Quaker City String Band entertains us with an uplifting theme of personal freedom, bravery and righting wrong with “Mums of La Mancha.”
And the fighting continues in a powerful Fralinger fun way with “Fralinger’s Feudin’, Fussin’ and a Fightin.”
And then Ferko, as I mentioned, rounds out the field.  A great parade is in store from the Comics, through the Fancies, the String Bands and the Fancy Brigades.

Wench Brigades!

The annual pre-parade meeting between City Recreation Department officials and leaders of the Mummers Clubs took place last night at the Mummers Museum.  I learned the final Wench Brigade order of march.  The 7 largest wench brigades are marching as a unit or division after the Comic Division and before the Fancies.  Here’s the order.


Cara Liom




JH Saints

Froggy Carr (who dat? who dat? who dat Froggy Carr?)

Who’s Marching?

Irish American String Band IS marching.  After hearing rumors that IA was not going up the street, I called John Kates, Founder and President of Irish American String Band, and he tells me they are definitely going up the street.  They have the membes and they have the costumes, says John. 

Cahill’s Fancy Brigade, however, is taking a sabbatical.  The Fancy Brigade has decided to skip the 2010 parade for financial reasons.  Fancy Brigade bylaws allow for 1 year off.

I got a chance to see a couple of bands at rehearsal this weekend and they are looking good!  Folks are working ’round the clock to finish the costumes, especially the Captain’s suits, and to fine tune the drills and compositions.

Adding Up/Lining Up/Fired Up

The money raised by the Bacon Brothers “A Night With The Mummers” concert is still being counted but I can tell you it was a financial success.  As positive vibrations keep flowing, let me also share with you the Order of March for the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade.

THE COMICS will start with Landi, followed by Murray Comic Club.  Murray will be going for a record 12 first prizes in a row.  Third and final Comic Club up the street will be Goodtimers

The 7 largest Wench Brigades are marching as a division after the Comic Division and before the Fancies.  Here’s the order.


Cara Liom




JH Saints

Froggy Carr (who dat? who dat? who dat Froggy Carr?)

THE FANCY DIVISION will start with Golden Sunrise, followed by defending champs Hog Island, then Oregon New Year’s Association.

The String Bands will be led up the street by Greater Overbrook.  Here’s the list:

Greater Overbrook



Irish American






Polish American


Greater Kensington

South Philadelphia


Quaker City


and Ferko

Note that there are 17 string bands this year. Pennsport still exists but for financial reasons some members this year are marching with Durning.

The Fancy Brigades, performing in the Pennsylvania Convention Center twice on New Year’s Day will feature the following lineup:

Cahill’s (still in the city’s official order but Cahill’s is taking a 1-year sabbatical and is not performing on Jan. 1, 2010)

2nd Street Shooters



South Philly Vikings




Satin Slipper

Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars

and Golden Crown

Get fired up!  It’s almost New Year’s Day!  Next week, we’ll talk more about themes.  The Roundup with the City of Philadelphia is now scheduled for December 16th.

Rockin’ with the Bacons

My ears are still ringing from last night’s “Bacon Brothers, A Night with the Mummers”  concert at the Electric Factory…the music yes, but also the cranked up IFB needed as I emceed the concert in house and on tv…but mostly what I hear in my mind today is the spirit of unity, the community pride, the professionalism of Kevin and Michael Bacon and their band and the awesome quality of the “amateur” Mummer musicians who joined them on stage.

What an evening!  A couple of thousand people jammed the Electric Factory on a raw, snowy night to rock with the Bacon Brothers Band, to raise awareness about the Mummers and to raise money to continue the tradition of America’s oldest and largest folk parade.  Polish American String Band set the tone at the start and the Bacon Brothers Band then ignited the crowd.  A fabulous set that included “Tell Me What I Have To Do,” “Wild Life,” “Bunch of Words,” covers of  The Beatles, “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” and The Stone’s, “Last Time,” new material, “Whole Lotta Shade,” and much, much more, including an in-voice and vibrant Bunny Sigler letting the good times roll.  And, it all happened in a performance captured live on myphl17 in Philadelphia.

The concert came about because Kevin had written the song, “New Year’s Day” about a young Philadelphia native trapped in L.A., longing for home and the significance of the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day.  Michael then heard about the Mummers financial worries with the financially-strapped City of Philadelphia cutting back support and came up with the idea of a new version of the song with Mummers on the track, making a video and putting on a live fundraising concert.  Kevin told me that he never imagined when he wrote the song that it would become an anthem for thousands of Mummers.  The Bacons went into a studio with Bunny Sigler for the new version and video with an all-star collection of more than 2 dozen Mummers.  Kevin says it’s “really cool” that real Mummers are on the song.  Michael deserves credit for mixing some 140 tracks to make the Mummed-up version of “New Year’s Day.”  He also trusted the legendary former Fralinger String Band Music Director Herb Smith to develop the arrangement and Smith struck just the right chord.   There’s a power and an honesty in that arrangement, much like the Bacons music generally, and in the concert last night, each an avenue for telling a story that deserves to be told.

The concert raised money for the tradition, but also served as an opportunity to showcase to the city what is often not known.  That includes the tax revenue the Mummers bring in, their countless charitable works, the cohesiveness of neighborhoods by their presence and the goodwill ambassadors they are from Ireland to Italy and Massachusetts to Texas.  The Bacon Brothers left the crowd wanting more.  That might happen in an even bigger way than any encore.   After the concert, Michael told me, “See you next year!”  A new chapter in the storied multi-century Mummers tradition just may have begun.  But no matter what will  be done, last night was as golden as the “golden slippers” Michael Bacon proudly wore throughout the 2 hour show.

Barack’s Blunder or Brainy Bravery?

President Barack Obama’s decision to escalate U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan is met with disillusionment by some on the left, disdain by some on the right. Those on each see it as either political or as a strategic error. Others on each side support the move as courageous, or refreshingly intellectually nuanced, or that it’s a justification of the Bush policy. 

Will it work? Is it worth the risk to the nation not to do it? Should there be an even larger commitment? Is this really about Pakistan? What does this policy suggest for Somalia or Yemen? Or, is it wrong to ask servicemen and women to risk their lives for a policy that says that the work pretty much has to get done in 18 months or forget about it? Is his time frame based on the Iraqi surge timeline for effectiveness, a surge he criticized? How long will American soldiers really be there? Is it right to risk their lives when the majority of the rest of the nation suffers little or no risk of any kind in connection with this policy (a nation consumed by what is Tiger doing or how did the Salahis crash the White House)? The President has taken 10 months to reach his decision. It is fair to give each of us time to ask those questions even if they later prove without merit.

President Obama made a point of saying this is not a Vietnam scenario. I was, however, reading a couple of speeches given by President Lyndon Johnson. The first was in April of 1965 when American deaths in Vietnam numbered about 400 to date. (More than 900 Americans have died in Afghanistan to date.) The second was from March of 1968 as he announced a unilateral stopping of the bombing of North Vietnam, urged Hanoi to seek peace and announced that he would not seek re-election. I think it’s worth reading some sentences from each speech.

President Johnson, April 1965: “…to abandon this small and brave nation to its enemies, and to the terror that must follow, would be an unforgivable wrong.”

“To leave Viet-Nam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of an American commitment and in the value of America’s word. The result would be increased unrest and instability, even wide war.”

 “We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.”

President Johnson, March 1968:    “The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required: to expand their own armed forces…to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility, to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government…”

 “On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000. (Afghanistan will have close to 100-thousand Americans under the President Obama’s plan.)

 “Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American.”

Johnson and Obama.  Similar words don’t necessarily signal the same result, but as someone once said, words matter.