2013 Show of Shows

The wows kept coming this afternoon at the annual Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Show of Shows. Thousands of fans clapped, cheered and strutted with the Captains and the 16 bands of the String Band Association. The show began with Polish American and Captain Nick Magenta heralding what was to come with their theme, “A Rio Good Time.” Trilby and Uptown followed. Then Greater Overbrook and Duffy. Greater Kensington, Broomall and Durning finished out the first half. Captains and members of the bands paused at intermission to talk with the crowd and be photographed with the fans. Lots of interaction in the people business that is the Mummers.
The 2nd half started with a rousing performance by Aqua and Captain Ron Iannacone. The imaginative Hegeman followed. Then Avalon, Ferko, South Philadelphia, Woodland, Quaker City, and 1st Prize Fralinger. Then came the Captains in a finale capping the 3 hour show. This may have been the last Show of Shows in Boardwalk Hall. Next year the show could be in North Wildwood or Philadelphia.
Congratulations to Hall of Fame inductees Dan Marakowski, of Fralinger, Dan Spencer, of Ferko, Mark Danielewicz, of Polish American, and Joe Volkert, of Quaker City String Band.








Show of Shows 2012

Joyful examples of the Wow factor began at the 2012 Show of Shows with Greater Kensington String Band and remained high through all 16 performances, punctuated by the show of 2012 Champion Woodland String Band.  Wowed were thousands of fans who gathered inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this weekend to hear and see the men and women of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association in the annual Show of Shows.  I guarantee you those thousands are still smiling.

Greater Kensington, Trilby, Polish American, Broomall, Uptown, Greater Overbrook, Durning, Duffy, Aqua, Avalon, Hegeman, Fralinger, Ferko, South Philadelphia, Quaker City and 2012 Winner Woodland entertained with their New Year’s themes and more.

The Show of Shows is a more up close and personal view of the String Bands.  This year it was also the farewell performance of former 1st Prize winning Captain, Mark Danielewicz, of Polish American String Band.  Mark is stepping down after 10 years as Captain.  In an emotional moment, his father, Ray Danielewicz, himself a former Captain with P.A., announced his son’s final moments as Captain. Ray had introduced his son a decade ago when Mark’s time as Captain began.

It was great seeing Fralinger String Band Captain Thomas D’Amore, who has a rather impressive percentage of 1st Place Captain finishes with just a few years at the helm.  Fralinger also has 4 members going into the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Hall of Fame.

Congratulations go to all of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees:  John Wernega, Bill Garton, Warren Rivell, and Anthony Tenuto, plus, Jim Browne, Jack Dailey, John Jordan, and Ed Lynch,.

The Show of Shows is a chance for the bands to celebrate family. It’s common for little kids to take part in the performances, especially at the end, or by taking flowers to the Captain.  A good example of that is when Catherine, age 2 and a half, took flowers out to her dad, Duffy String Band Captain Ted Kudrick.

Another beautiful moment in the show was when Woodland String Band stopped to recognize one of the greatest, most dedicated Mummers of all time, Mr. Dave Anderson, Jr.  Dave started Mumming when he was 3 and has been a member of Woodland for 58 years.  He served in many positions, including Captain. He was very surprised and moved by the recognition at the Show of Shows.  Dave Anderson, the Heart and Soul of Woodland String Band.

Now, as important as all the above is, I must add, that in addition to serving as the emcee of the Show of Shows, I was asked to take part in a portion of the Durning String Band’s theme, “We’re Wheelie Motorvated.”  I was allowed to drive the race car dubbed “Speed Highsmith.”  It’s the yellow car.  I won the race despite going in circles and in the wrong direction.  I officially deny that there was any favoritism in the results.   Thank you, Durning. 

Long live the pursuit of happiness.

Tribute to a King

Luke McDermott

Many folks are looking forward to the annual Philadelphia Mummers String Band Show of Shows in Atlantic City this weekend.  The Show of Shows has always been a time that the String Bands, and, in particular, their Captains are even more up close and personal.  In one sense it is easy to honor the Captains who served for many years, but there are many fine people who served as Captains for a year or two or three.  The Show of Shows is a time to appreciate the contributions of these leaders in a tradition. There have been many over the years. Some are long retired.  Some have left us.  One of those Captains, Mr. Luke McDermott, recently passed away.  Luke will forever be one of Philadelphia’s heroes. He was a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department for 30 years. He had served in the U.S. Army and worked at Abbotts Dairy before joining the department.  Mr. McDermott was a husband and brother, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather, and a friend to many, including Jim Driadon.  Luke was a Mummer, with friends and relatives throughout Mummery, like Buzzy Wood, of Quaker City.  But, it was Greater Overbrook String Band that loyal Luke chose as his Mummer home.  Luke marched with Greater O for 3 decades. 3 of those years he served as Captain.  To this day, he still is remembered for the unique Christmas Tree suit he wore in Greater O’s “Seasons Greetings” performance in 1979. The suit was a snowy white, glistening Christmas tree.  Luke was inside it, staying still or slowly turning until the tree opened up to reveal Luke strutting.  The year before there was the tribute to Elvis Presley, who had recently died.  That tall, wide back piece with a crown over Luke’s head was fitting.  Luke McDermott  was the tradition of Mummery.  Even before there was an official parade, firefighters were a cornerstone of Mummers groups.  Luke was devoted to the Fire Department, to his family, to Mummery and to music. Karen Specht, one of Luke’s kids, tells me, “I am very proud of my Dad. He was a quiet family man. He not only saved lives as a firefighter, but brought the joy of music to many people.” I thank Karen for sharing these photos.  She also reveals two of her father’s favorite songs:  “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.  The man was spiritual and also knew how to party.  Yes, it is time to enjoy the Show of Shows.  But, we should pause over those 3 hours and take a good look at the ones who are in front of us and remember those who came before them.  And among those in our thoughts, we’re thinking of you, Luke McDermott.

The Show of Shows 2010!

Snow of Snows?  No, winter cannot and did not stop the awesome Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association Show of Shows!  16 bands performed this weekend at two shows at fabulous Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. 

For members of the bands and their families it is part show, part reunion, part work, part competition and part convention.  The bands set up stalls in a large exhibition or staging hall off the main arena.  It’s there, in backstage privacy, where the members gather with food and drink and walk up and down the rows, greeting friends and making new ones.  Bands rehearse and put on really fun performances there for and with each other.  The Durning Duck even conducted a sort of race, but I digress.  It’s a lot of work getting the instruments and props into the hall and setting up.  At the end, there’s the striking of the encampment, too.  But, in between, it’s a celebration of Mummery, music and family. One of the early moments happened on Friday evening.  Avalon String Band hosted a memorial toast to Mummers no longer with us.  Polish American String Band’s Joe Bujnowski, using a bullhorn, said words of loss and remembrance and led the raising of the cups.  It was a solemn moment, beginning a weekend of revelry and showmanship.  (Congratulations to P-A’s Bujnowski and Joe Leso who’ll enter the Hall of Fame this year.  Outstanding choreographer of many bands, Denny Quaile, will also be inducted.) While much of the action is backstage, it is the 6 hours of on-stage performing that is the centerpiece of the Shows of Shows.   The photos seen here are from several of the performances and taken by me from my vantage point on the floor as the emcee of the shows.  Thus, the plethora of profiles and shots from behind.  But, this view gives me an extra insight into the emotion and energy of the performers just a few feet away  and the behind the scenes work of the marshals who move the props.  The performances at the shows are not judged as they are on New Year’s Day, but there is a competitive spirit. 

The bands want to be at their best. (And that’s no bull.)  The members are their own worst critics.  After the second show I went backstage to talk with bandmembers and I found several talking about how their bands performed that day.  One Captain  told me how his band was not happy with their first show performance and worked on it to make it better in the second show.  The first show was fine but Mummers are entertainers and they want to make sure the fans are getting what they deserve.

And there’s another kind of competitiveness:  the psych.  South Philadelphia String Band was a good example of this.  In their encampment near other high finishers, such as Quaker City and Fralinger, they had a teepee, which made sense since their 2010 theme was “Gathering of Nations”, a Native American theme.  But if you looked closely, there were two ship stacks that came out of the top and “smoke” was coming out them.  You go inside the teepee, and overhead was a paddle wheel.  South Philadelphia’s 2011 theme is a  riverboat one and the touches start to get members in the spirit and signal to visitors just how big South Philadelphia is thinking and what they are already working on.  There are many great moments backstage. 

Fralinger Captain Thomas D’Amore had the bearing of man far beyond his 21 years.  He walked about with the confidence of a 1st Prize winning Captain but with the humility that often you only see in an older Captain.  Out on the floor, the veteran Captain Jim Driadon, in his 60th year with Greater O, worked the crowd.  Jim understands one of the beauties of the Show of Shows is the chance to get up close and personal with the audience. To see the look on one little girl’s face as Jim, with that huge plumed backpiece, went over to her and shook her hand, was priceless. The crowd sang along, strutted and appreciated the bands’ performances.  Duffy  tossed boxes of animal crackers into the crowd, in keeping with its theme.   Hegeman was inspirationally crazy as usual  by hiding its band in the stands among the crowd. The whole world was smiling with Hegeman and Captain John Baron inside Boardwalk Hall.   Captain Anthony Celenza, of the Joseph A. Ferko String Band was King of the Hobo’s riding that train and offering me “soup” center stage. From Trilby, led by Captain Joe Kaminski, seen to the left, to Fralinger, the audience was treated to the sights and sounds of the string bands.  Quaker City reprised its marvelous Spanish theme from New Year’s Day, and also honored retired Captain Bob Shannon, Jr., for his 50th year in Mummery.  2nd Prize Captain Charlie Roetz was in top form.   The Show of Shows is a place where the bands can take the time to deliver personal thanks, often family members will deliver roses to them at the end of the performance.  Greater Kensington saluted Lenny Giacabetti, Sr., as he retires in his 52nd year. Congratulations to Avalon’s Jack Hee, who was able to juggle real life with his Mummer obligations. Jack’s son, Michael, had his confirmation Saturday, but Jack was just able to get to the show in time.

Aqua’s Ron Iannacone was a leader among Captain’s in the time spent with the audience, taking pictures and chatting it up. Uptown String Band’s new Captain, Ryan Radcliffe, certainly took no siesta during their Old Mexico performance.  Young and old made up Broomall, where 175 years of Broomall family Mummer experience was on display, from 4 year-old Kaden to 85-year-old Jim. Woodland said so long to outgoing drill director and newly elected member of the Woodland String Band Hall of Fame, Mr. Tom King.  And for them all, the applause came early and often.  It was the Show of Shows.  The tradition continues.

Anthony’s Gift

Briana,Sharon,Vince & Vince III and Bobby

Sharon Merlino-Kurczewski and Vince Kurczewski fell in love with each other before they even knew it. They met as Mummers. Sharon was 11; Vince was 13. It was winter and the place was the annual Show of Shows where the String Bands perform indoors a couple of months after the New Year’s Day Parade. Sharon was a young girl with Trilby String Band; Vince, a teen with Duffy String Band. Back stage at the Show of Shows kids tend to hang out together and it’s a time when they meet other young people who they otherwise wouldn’t run across.  So it was with Sharon and Vince.  Well, a couple of years later Sharon went over to Duffy and they got to know each other better, but still they didn’t acknowledge for a long time what would eventually be. They drifted apart after high school. Vince joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a Petty Officer 2nd Class cook. (Says Sharon today, “BOY OH BOY can he cook.”) Years later, Sharon and Vince would find each other and get married, sealing a relationship owed to Mummery and, really, to Sharon’s father, Anthony Merlino. 

Sharon & Anthony

Anthony knew Sharon had musical ability but at age 11, she also needed quality instruction.  Sharon admits, “I needed lessons outside of high school and my father introduced me to Herbie Smith.” The one and only Herb Smith, of Fralinger, taught Sharon flute and saxophone and also connected her to the String Bands. The path was set. The Show of Shows beckoned. 

More than a quarter of a century after they first met, Vince is a manager with an asphalt company; Sharon is a CAT Scan technologist at Methodist Hospital and is known for her charity work.  Sharon plays alto and tenor saxophone with Hegeman String Band and Vince now plays sax with Polish American String Band.

 Their 3 children have been raised with Mum music and in at least one case, almost born with it.  Sharon marched up Broad Street while six months pregnant with Briana. (There she was above with her father and to the right that’s little Briana.) “The drive and the motivation wanting to do this hobby doesn’t stop you from being a mommy,” says Sharon.  New Year’s is a hectic time for the Kurczewski’s but also a time to put aside wordly worries, to spend time together as a family and entertain hundreds of thousands of people. 13–year-old Briana plays the flute and piccolo and is doing well with the saxophone. This year, she was in costume with her mom for the first time. That’s important to Sharon and she thinks of her father, who not only got her involved in Mummery, but also went up the street with her for years.

Sharon & Briana

She says, “I would not be involved in the hobby and it is his constant interest that made it always a family-oriented activity. Now, I can pass it on to my kids. I want to thank him for that.” Sharon adds, “Oh, and thanks to my Mom (Brenda) for supporting me as well, driving and helping with the props.” Vince Kurczewski says, “If you say you are a Mummer, no matter what band or organization you’re in, you’re family.  Briana already gets the family importance. She says, “(The Mummers Parade) is not just for competition. It’s also for fun and I think it brings me and mom and my family together more.” Brother Vincent, the III, sings. Bobby plays clarinet but also is eyeing the sax and is learning with Polish American. Says Bobby, “What I like best about being a Mummer is I get to go up Broad Street every year and listen to the band play their instruments and I get a good education in music.”

Vince III and Big Vince

“It brings people together,” says Vince, who adds, “In a short period of time it helps them forget about all their difficulties in life.”   Like most of us, a share of the world’s worries have occasionally visited Vince and Sharon.  Anthony has been seriously ill of late.  But amid the struggles, they strut on, raising wonderful kids, serving their community and proving everyday what great people Mummers are.  And this year, their wedding anniversary, February 27th, falls on the same date as the Show of Shows.   Mummery has brought Sharon and Vince together, but THEY give Mummery its meaning.   Hey, Anthony, look at what you started.  Quite a gift, Dad.