End of (summer) Days

As we enter the last couple of weekends of the unofficial summer season, a reminder that the weather is supposed to be great this Sunday when the Phillies play the Padres.  And if you go, and if you buy a 50-50 raffle ticket, half the raffle’s proceeds goes to the nonprofit CADEkids.CADEkidsheader

So, make it a Sunday to get some sun, see the young Phillies and make a difference.

Ferko’s Finest Has Left Us But with Memories and Wisdom

Mr. Joe Blass has passed away.  I’m told he was 94. Though he lived a long life, his passing still comes much too soon.   Below is an article I wrote on Mr. Blass a few years ago.

If you ever pass Joe Blass on the street, turn around and follow him.  You have to.   As he walks, notes and stories compiled from 7 decades of String Bands, fall from his pockets.  At least, that’s how I imagine it.  Few have witnessed so much and known so many people involved in the crazy hobby called Mummery.  Joe has lived it since he joined his first string band when FDR was President. “It’s a way for self-expression,” he says.

Ray Endriss  (Captain of Quaker City SB from 1931 to1971) was a good friend of mine, ” Joe says casually.   Joe Blass knew them all, the lions, the legends, the steady and the loyal.   Wearing his Ferko red and even a bolo from an earlier theme, he looks back, fondly remembering his friendships with Bill Ewing, Robert Shannon, Sr., and Jim McKnight.   He remembers how social  bands  were.   Maybe more than today.   Competition was fierce, too, says Joe, “If you didn’t have that feeling that you want to be a winner, you should stay home.”   Joe Blass joined his first band in 1939.  World War II was just beginning in Europe.   Pearl Harbor was a couple of years away.

Joe would play center banjo for Woodland String Band. But, he quickly took up the saxophone, learning from a teacher who used to play with Tommy Dorsey.  Joe tells stories of playing on Sunday afternoons and of learning from Captain Sam Jefferies.   His first generation as a Mummer was fast and productive, including organizing Delaware County String Band in the late 1940’s.  “Freshmen” was their theme in ’48.

As much as he respected his early Mummer experiences, Joe was drawn to one of the greatest contributors to the String Band epic, Joseph Ferko. “I was always a great admirer of Mr. Ferko himself as a Captain and also the music (that) different musical directors presented to the club.” Joe says he called Mr. Ferko one day and said I’d like to join your band.  Says Joe, “The next Tuesday I was a member of Ferko String Band.”  Displaying his Ferko patch, Joe says proudly, “It was the best music on Broad Street, ever.  No one has ever created a sound like Ferko had.”  And Joe heard it from every angle, as a fan standing along Broad Street, as a playing member and from 1969 to 1979, as Captain of the great band.  From Woodstock through Disco, there was Joe leading Ferko.

Joe Blass worries that young people today are not having as much fun with Mummery and with the parade itself, not as much fun as folks used to have.  It’s worth thinking about, if only because Joe said it.  It may even be on a note falling from his life-filled pockets.

Be the Match!

ChadandSarahI had a great conversation today with Chad Gehman, of Montgomery County, and Sarah Brooks Hart, of Philadelphia, about the “Be the Match” program.  The “In Focus” show runs Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m.and 11:30 a.m., but, if you can, support the walk run Saturday.  Chad is doing great after a bone marrow transplant to overcome acute myeloid leukemia.  For more information, check out the show and go to BetheMatchWalkRun.org.

Vicki Lawrence This Morning

Steve-Vicki-Wide(1)This morning at 6:30 and at 11:30 on “In Focus” I talk with legendary television and stage actress Vicki Lawrence who is raising awareness about Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU), a severe, chronic form of hives lasting more than 6 weeks.  Lawrence details her own experience with CIU, what the 1.5 million Americans year go through with CIU, and how they might get help.  image2Also on this “In Focus,” Matt McCloskey, Executive Director of the Take a Breather Foundation talks about living with Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic, progressive disease, often fatal disease and how his Foundation helps children and their families fight the disease and create an optimistic outlook.

Human Highlight Film Fights Diabetes

I talked today for an upcoming In Focus” show with NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins.  Wilkins, who played mostly for the Atlanta Hawks, lives with diabetes.  He developed Type 2 diabetes around the age of 40.  He says however, that diet, exercise and medication help him keep his diabetes under control.  It’s a deeply personal journey for him, having lost his father and grandfather to complications from diabetes.DominiqueWilkins

Dominique earned the nickname, The Human Highlight Film, in his playing days.  He was one of the best dunkers the NBA has ever seen.  He recently became a vice-president with the Hawks organization, but Dominique Wilkins is also passionate about encouraging people to work toward managing their diabetes and is in Philadelphia to do just that.

Still Goin’ ‘Round the Hall

Mummers2004_captainstillIt appears it is time to go “down the street.”  It’s an historic change.  The parade route, the direction of the parade, what blocks are traveled, and where clubs will pre-position themselves, are likely to undergo a huge change,  larger than the Market Street years or the no longer  “up to Girard Avenue” years.  As often happens with change, it does not come easily for all.  However, any student of the history of the Mummers will recognize that change is a part of Mummery.  The question each will ask is, how much of changing the route is changing the heart of what it means to be a Mummer? Or, is the old route, while an important part of Mummer history, not really a core principle of Mummery?

I can tell you that the latest effort to change the SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade route picked up momentum last year. This is not a new thing. Most folks involved talked quietly about it last year and the first half of this year because there’s so much emotion tied up in tracing the steps their families took, and in the loyal fans who line Broad Street south of Mifflin.  In true Mum fashion, there are members of each division who think the idea stinks. But, contrary to some social media and other reporting, this is not the idea of just one division.  My read is that most leaders and many members of the String Band and Fancy Brigade divisions are the largest backers of the change, but I have found support, too, among members of the other divisions, including leadership.

SugarHouse Casino and PHL17 did not suggest the change and are not encouraging or discouraging it.  This is a Mummers idea.  To be sure, pressure over the years from the City of Philadelphia to shorten the parade and make it faster, has had an effect, but the idea for this change started with the Mummers.

Philly Naked Bike RideSources say the City of Philadelphia likes the proposal, though no final route has been published. But, here is what it looks like now. The leaders of the 5 Mummers Divisions and the City of Philadelphia are planning to reverse the route and shorten it.   The Mummers will still go “‘Round the Hall,” just south.   The 115th annual SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade would start near City Hall, near 16th or 15th Street and JFK.  The clubs would be judged at 15th and JFK.  They then would proceed south around City Hall, down Broad Street, ending at Washington Avenue.  There was a proposal to march down South Street. That was nixed a few months ago.

Mummers who support the new route down Broad say it would allow for a more free-flowing, nonstop parade, and they say it removes some blocks where parade watchers just don’t live or go to any more. The evolution to a more prop-driven parade in the String Bands also helped create gaps along the older, longer parade route. The String Bands will likely pre-position themselves along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

After they are judged, they will leave their props and continue the rest of the route without the props, allowing for more of a continuous musical parade. Judging for all divisions would be done first in the parade, not at the end. Other divisions will arrive near 16th and JFK from other points.  There is one less Fancy Club this coming parade. Hog Island is now in the Comic Division. Golden Sunrise carries the Fancy banner.  We’re told this new route would also make it easier for the Fancy Brigades who perform indoors at the PA Convention Center to march outside, though they’ll not perform their show outdoors.

South-Philadelphia-String-Band-Mummers-Parade-2013-0902The start time of the parade could shift 30 minutes to an hour earlier, or remain the same.  While the new parade route would end at Broad and Washington, community groups along Washington Avenue and in Pennsport will be examining how the new route might effect them, if at all. These and other details above have not been finalized.

For Mummers, the biggest concerns about shortening and reversing the route are the change of a long-standing tradition of going “Up The Street” and the effect it might have on South Philadelphia, especially on businesses and on older residents who might not travel to Center City to see their beloved Mummers. Yes, there have been some good parties along that stretch.  South Philadelphia is still home to most of the clubhouses of the Mummers, so New Year’s Day and that evening will still have Mum presence.

MUMMERS_ROWThis historic change looks like it has all the momentum needed to happen. I have spoken to some of the leaders who endorse this movement and their motivations are clear. They say times have changed and that by changing this route they can make a better parade for parade watchers, tourists, the city and the Mummers who are strutting, a better parade for the 21st Century. But for a city that not long ago said no one could build higher than William Penn, change does not come without a little initial discomfort.  Changes in a 115-year-old tradition probably should not come easily.  On the bright side, I can see some good Comic satire already in the works.

Thank you Veterans and to the Fallen and the their families

 U.S. FlagThis weekend we should pause to honor the men and women who have died in service to our nation.  A few days ago at Philadelphia City Hall, I took part in a ceremony to thank all veterans. Here’s a brief comment on all who have served.

http://phl17.com/2014/05/24/its-time-steve-highsmith-at-philadelphia-city-hall-on-veterans/#axzz32d4iTLQt

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