Mums of La Mancha!

It was a momentous occasion tonight in the cavernous gymnasium at St. Matthew’s School in National Park, New Jersey.  Members of Quaker City String Band, rehearsing for the upcoming Show of Shows, kept one eye on the music and one eye on the prize waiting in the corner. 

 Jake Hart, the judge of judges, was there.  Beside him, a small but potent piece of plexiglass and wood, symbolizing one of the core beliefs of Mummery: Fun.  I was there, too.  It was our annual moment to award the 2010 Custard’s Last Stand Award.  The award is named for the famous Durning String Band presentation of 1989.  It is given to the punniest theme which also fits the performance on New Year’s Day. And this year the award goes to Quaker City String Band for their wonderful theme, “Mums of La Mancha.”

Jake presented the trophy to Quaker City String Band President Harry Brown, Jr.   After receiving the trophy, the band cheered and then got to work, getting ready for the Show of Shows, which takes place February 27th in Atlantic City.

The trophy, like the Stanley Cup, moves from club to club with each new winner, though one difference is you can’t drink from it. 

Here’s the list of previous Custard’s Last Stand awardees:

2009  “Saturday Fright Fever”  –Durning

2008  “Ghouls Gone Wild”  –Polish American String Band

2007  “Raided AARRRRRRGH!”  –Aqua

2006  “That’s Enter-TRAIN-ment”  –South Philadelphia

2005  “How the West Was Mum” –Woodland

2004  “Jailhouse Flock”  –Aqua

2003  “AAAAargh!”   –Woodland

Order’s Up!

We know the Order of March for the string bands in the 2011 Comcast Mummers Parade!  Representatives of the String Bands met Tuesday night at the Mummers Museum and took part in the selection of positions.  The upshot? Fralinger is going early for the first time in a long time, South Philadelphia, too, Ferko goes up last again, there’s a good mix of strong and not as strong bands spread throughout the parade, and Duffy and Greater Overbrook get spots near the end.

Here’s the order:

1. Pennsport

2. Fralinger

3. Woodland

4. Broomall

5.  South Philadelphia

6. Durning

7. Irish American

8. Greater Kensington

9. Aqua

10. Polish American

11. Trilby

12. Uptown

13. Hegeman

14. Duffy

15. Quaker City

16. Avalon

17. Greater Overbrook

18. Ferko

How the order was determined was changed this year to make any starting position in the parade more one of chance.  Generally, band members believe going earlier in the parade lessens the chance of a good finish in the judging and going later increases the chance of finishing higher up.   Some felt the recent selection process, which allowed higher finishing bands to bunch for the most part in the last half  of the marching order, contributed to some bands continuing strong performances in the judging.  One thing is clear: After the selections Tuesday night, some bands who often saw themselves going up among the first few bands, now are energized, pumped that they get a chance to perform later in the parade.  All eyes will be watching to see how defending champion Fralinger responds to the challenge.

The Life “Aqua”

“Life” is beginning to settle back into a routine now that the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade is a little farther in the rear view mirror, but the memories of the great moments in the parade and the wonderful participants will always remain strong.
I asked Aqua String Band Captain Ron Iannacone to share his thoughts with me about what it was like on New Year’s Day as Captain and strutting up Broad Street to City Hall with his band.  He says, “My favorite part (of this year’s presentation) was the creation of the Cat Clock and hearing the crowd reaction.  I smiled when I heard Jake’s (Jake Hart) comment that every grandmother had that hanging in their house and it is true.  The inspiration was the very same clock that hung in my Grandmother’s kitchen in South Philadelphia.  It represented what we should aim for as a String Band, simple, effective, and memorable.”

“As I stand facing my band immediately before the whistle blows,” says Ron, “I try to make eye contact with as many of my bandmates as possible. I smile at them and let them know how proud I am to stand with them.  It is a sense of pure adrenaline and pure passion knowing that for the next 4 minutes I will do what I truly love.  All I keep thinking is “Blow the whistle! I want the world to see who we are!”  As we turn City Hall, I make it a point to go to each member, shake their hand, thank them, and wish them a Happy New Year.  I honestly miss seeing bands doing that at what used to be the old starting line.”
Aqua finished a strong 8th in the myphl17 Viewers Choice Poll.  Captain Iannacone praises his bandmates.  “Aqua is very proud of its performance.  We scored more points in 2010 then we have in at least 13 years.  We improved 3 places over the previous year. We improved by over 18 points (Ferko improved by 6 points and that was the second best overall improvement).  We were awarded 2nd Prize at the Union League, and we came in 7th in costume.  (It) reflects our hard work and rebuilding efforts over the past two years.  We recognize that from a performance standpoint there is tremendous room for improvement, and we need to fine tune and refine many aspects of our music and production – but for the moment Band morale is quite high, and we will enjoy the next few days.”
He continues, “Everyone in our Band deserves special mention because they work so hard.  But we would like to acknowledge and thank Ky Reed for years years of service and dedication not just to Aqua, but all of Mummery.  Also, our President Mike Riddle, our Drill Master Patrick Farrell, our Music Director Ed Fetscher and our AMAZING team of marshals are the keys to the Band’s growth and improvement.”

Sentiments shared by most Captains on and after New Year’s Day.  Thanks, Ron Iannacone and Aqua!


Singing for an SMA Solution!


In the Allentown area Saturday afternoon, January 9th, swing by the Crocodile Rock Cafe  to hear some great music, meet great people and help speed research for treatments and a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Alexa Dectis will be performing her first concert.  She has cut a CD and like the CD, proceeds from the event will go to SMA research.  Other performers are on the bill, too.  Among them, Sarah Solovay, Outside the Box and the Scott Marshall Band.  The Crocodile Rock Cafe is at 520 Hamilton Street in Allentown.  Tickets are $12  at the door.  Show time is 3pm.  So “Rock to Walk!” 

Alexa notes that if you cannot make the concert, you can still help by sending a contribution to:

                      Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)  

                                        c/o Alexa Dectis

                                        450 Harrison Street

                                        Allentown, PA  18103 


The People Decide!

The people have chosen their favorite Fancy Brigades and String Bands in the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade!   With a loud voice they have chosen South Philly Vikings Fancy Brigade and Polish American String Band!  

Capt. Mark Danielewicz

Here is the Order of Finish as determined by thousands of viewers:   The top 10 String Bands:  Number 1 by a wide margin, Polish American with its nostalgic theme that featured beautiful backpieces for each member, gorgeous suits, great music and a de-emphasizing of props.    “The Jokers Ball” wowed them all.   Second in the eyes of the viewers is Fralinger String Band, which finished first in the Official Judging.  3rd among viewers is Woodland String Band and its Harry Potteresque mystical ”PhilharMAGIC” theme.  South Philadelphia is 4th.   It was razor close between Woodland and South Philadelphia with less than one-percent separating the bands.  Quaker City finishes 5th in the eyes and ears of the viewers. 

Hegeman and Greater Kensington String Band tie for 6th.  Aqua is 8th, narrowly, over Ferko, 9th and Avalon comes in 10th.  A note:  Greater Overbrook was hot on the heels of Avalon in the voting and that’s another sign that these viewers appreciate the nostalgic string band sound and look.   The obvious biggest differences between the Official Judging and the Viewers this year is Polish American taking first among the viewers compared to 7th in the official judging, Woodland finishing in the top three, Hegeman and GK finishing stronger and Aqua rising.   All this had to come at the expense of others and Fralinger finishes second again and Ferko dropped the most compared to the Judges’ calls. 

Here’s how the rest of the String Band field played out to the viewers:  After Avalon, comes Greater Overbrook at 11th, then Durning at 12th, then Duffy is 13th, Uptown-14th,  Broomall is 15th, followed by Irish American and Trilby.

It’s hard to say what motivates or hits with viewers in any given year, but this year, the appreciation of what the soul of a String Band is played prominently.   Also, the musical precision sometimes matters less with the fans than the total entertainment value.  It’s also possible some folks are desiring a change in results.  Or, simply that they thought a club was better.

 The Viewer’s decision on the Fancy Brigades Finale was also loud and clear.   

South Philly Vikings

By a significant margin, South Philly Vikings, which also came in 1st in the Official Judging, finishes first in the minds of the viewers.  Captain Pete D’Amato tells me they knew they had to get back to their strength and that is creativity, especially when it comes to the “wow” factors.  There were plenty of them in the Vikes’ post-apocalyptic world!  Pete felt great about how his brigade  performed and the viewers agree.    Coming in 2nd in the viewers’ eyes and ears,  Shooting Stars, followed by Jokers in 3rd and 2nd Street Shooters, 4th.  5th in the viewers’ decision is Satin Slipper.  Golden Crown and Downtowners come in 6th and 7th.  Saturnalians, Clevemore and Avenuers round out the viewers’ choices.  The viewers and the judges agreed on the first two positions but the Jokers,  2nd Street Shooters, and Satin Slipper fared better with the viewers.

P-A got its trophy tonight in Port Richmond.  The Vikings get their trophy in a separate ceremony within the next week.   Congratulations to all!


Born to Be Wild Rovers

They came off the line like UC Berkeley toward a Doritos tray.  The members of Wild Rovers Brigade eased with purpose into the judging area at City Hall and celebrated the new year as they celebrated a life.  Rod and Peg McLaughlin and many family members and friends of the late Jerry Murray performed “Grateful for the New Year,” a take off of the Grateful Dead at the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade.  Jerry Murray passed away shortly after collapsing while performing with the Rovers a year earlier.  He was a respected  attorney, a dedicated Comic among Mummers and a great family man.  The Wild Rovers sported large buttons with pictures of Jerry and inspired by his sense of humor, spoofed the Grateful Dead, tie-dyed, long-haired and free-spirited.   At that moment, you knew that Jerry Murray and Jerry Garcia put their arms around each other and smiled.

Nostalgia, New Kids, Apocalypse & Dynasties

Lori Wilson and Me in the Broadcast Booth

Nostalgia ruled the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade and a changing of the guard proved reassuring for the future of Mummery. The new kids on the block, the first year captains and drill and music directors, showed they are up to taking the baton from the legends who preceeded them.  A view of the battle after Armageddon won the day and two powerful Clubs redefined the word “dynasty.”  All that and the pageantry and the music of Mummery were the 2010 Comcast Mummers Parade!

The Mummers shock-trooped the senses.  Grand Marshalls Michael and Kevin Bacon and Bunny Sigler added spice up Broad Street.  From Landi’s opening with “Time of Our Lives” through the rise of the mighty Wench Brigades to Jim Driadon and Greater Overbrook’s homage to the “Memories of the Way We Were,” the roots of Mummery were honored and the times in which we live were recognized with humor, sometimes a little edginess as Mummers can do, and with openess and honesty, sprinkled with a good measure of inspiration.

"Dancing with the Czars"

All hail the dynasty that is Murray Comic Club which grabbed a record 12th 1st Prize in a row and Captain Dennis Pellegrino has now captured his 8th 1st Prize. Dennis’ “Mummers on Mars” was not only fun but the rocket ship was well thought out and its landing and take-off very effective. The club’s “Dancing with the Czars” took 1st Prize Brigade.  Goodtimers did nicely in the float category, a 2nd, with “O’s Dozer” and a great 3rd in the Brigade’s with “Field of Dreams.” Harry Kalas is smiling.  Congratulations to the Laing family in Landi for taking 1st Prize float.

Jetson's Theme

They did so with the excellent “The Jetson’s Zooming In The New Year.”  The oversized likenesses were really cool.

1st Prize in the Wench Brigade Division goes to Bryson Brigade and Eddie “Gootch” Bryson gets top Captain. Bryson Brigade has been marching since the 1970’s and sprouted a good win with the theme, “Pops Secret Garden Goin’ Green.” The garden headgear was righteous.

Mr. Detail reigned surpeme again in the Fancy Division. Kenny Medeiros won 1st Prize Captain with his “Barnyard Boogie.” The man who started with Lobster NYB is swimming in butter. Fine performance, Mr. Detail. Congratulations to Mandy and friends making their debut and finishing 2nd in the Fancy Trio category with “Polynesian Tiki Gods.” In Handsome Trim, “Guardian of the Crown” took 1st. Smooth performance, Jesse.

"The Old West Saloon"

While Golden Sunrise finished second to Hog Island, there were some outstanding moments for GS. The first and most emotional to fans was witnessing John Lucas reprise his former role as Captain for the 30th time and on the 50th anniversary of the club. In a magnanimous gesture at the clubhouse a couple of nights earlier, current Captain Matt Glovacs asked John to take the helm one more time. The club can also be proud of its many presentations, especially capturing the top three prizes in the Handsome Costume Category. 


That includes Jacky Bam Bam’s igniting 1st Prize performance of “Firestarter.” Third place Oregon Fancy Club’s Handsome Costume entries, “Wicked” and “Dancing with the Stars” were excellent and finished high, as did “Bye Bye Blackbird” in Handsome Trim. In the String Band Division, nostalgia did very well.

"Feudin', Fussin' & Fightin'"

They have owned the 21st Century.  Fralinger showed what successful organizations do: they remain strong even in transition. 8 1st Prizes in a row now for Fralinger for its Hatfield and McCoy-like theme. With Bill Bowen, Jr., and Mike Rayer stepping aside from Captain and Presentation Director positions, who knew what could happen?  Well, co-directors Jack Mills and Joe Ferry showed what can happen, as did Captain Thomas D’Amore.  And Thomas put an exclamation point on it when he also took 1st Prize Captain. Respect should also go to music arranger John Wernega, who for 9 years in a row now has taken first in the judging category of music effect.

Congratulations to Charlie Roetz for a 2nd place finish the year after he took 1st prize. Denny Palandro and Jack Hee and all the rest performed excellently. Jim Tatar, Jr., of Greater Kensington may have tried the toughest routine of the night and showed us some moves we’ve never seen before. Ryan Radcliffe and all the new Captains enhanced their band’s performances.  Even the “Old Heads” were on their game, among them Pete Broomall who was as energetic and multi-faceted as ever.  Aqua and Ron Iannacone were awesome as were John Baron and Hegeman.  Durning was hilarious.  84-year-old Jimmy Buck was a sight to see in “Good Clean Fun.”

Still, the competition was tight. Less than 2 points separated Fralinger from 3rd Place Quaker City. Ferko, led by Anthony Celenza, on an upward trend, finished a strong second with its nostalgic hobo theme. Quaker City also performed at a QC level, handling a serious, respectful Spanish theme with precision. Charlie Roetz sold that fountain scene. It’s a positive memory that will last. Just another note, among many I could do with each band, and this note concerns Polish American String Band. Polish American finished 7th in the official judging and while that is a good spot, I think more recognition should be given to P-A’s outstanding execution of “Joker’s Ball” which they did in the spirit of a generation ago.

And this word: The winner of the annual Custard’s Last Stand Award is…Quaker City String Band with “Mums of La Mancha.”

In the Fancy Brigade Division, two powerhouses ruled: South Philly Vikings takes 1st Prize Brigade and Shooting Stars Captain Mickey Adams, takes 1st Prize Captain. Mickey has been doing this for some 20 years as Captain with a lot of wins in those years. For the Brigades, it was a tigh race, especially between 2nd and 3rd in the Captain’s category.  Jack Hatty of Saturnalians got the nod by one point over Pete D’Amato of the Vikings.  In the overall Brigades category, the Vikes won by a point and a half over Shooting Stars.  South Philly Vikings’ vision of a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., was powerful.  The human race will be safe if the Vikings are in charge.

Thanks to all who hit the street on New Year’s Day!