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.

String Band Themes for 2015

MUMMERS_ROW

 

Here is the Order of March and the official theme titles for the String Bands for the 2015 SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade.

 

Uptown “The InTENTS, UnBearable, and AXtreme Outdoors”

Greater Overbrook “Brazilliant!”

Duffy “Log-A-Rhythm”

Durning “Bootin’ Scootin’ and Nashville Hootin’”

South Philadelphia “Gangs of Gotham”

Aqua “When Swing Was King”

Greater Kensington “Moonshine Mountain”

Fralinger “The Machine”

Polish American “Fifty Shades of Hay”

Broomall “Alice in Wonderland: We’re All Mad here”

Quaker City “One Man’s Trash Is This Band’s Treasure”

Woodland “One Heart One Spirit”

Pennsport “The Pirates of Pennsport”

Avalon “The Sky’s The Limit Episode II: Revenge of the Fallen”

Hegeman “Immortal Utopia”

Ferko “INDIA”

To The Winners!

The 2014 SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade has concluded, launching a New Year in the fun, family, and freedom style of Philadelphia Mummery. I believe the parade makes everyone a winner. But here is the official list of finishers in the major categories.

String Bands: 1st prize goes to Quaker City. Hegeman finishes 2nd. South Philadelphia with its Pirate theme, 3rd. They are followed by Woodland 4th. Fralinger 5th. Ferko 6th. Avalon 7th. Polish American 8th. Aqua 9th. Uptown is 10th. Next are Pennsport, Duffy, Greater Kensington, Broomall, Greater Overbrook, Durning and Trilby.

Hegeman Captain John Baron finishes 1st among captains, followed by Ferko’s Anthony Celenza and Jimmy Good of Quaker. Denny Palandro is 4 and Nick Magenta 5.

Murray wins the comics again as does Captain Dennis Pellegrino. Murray’s Trama NYB wins 1st prize comic brigade.

The Fancy prize goes to Golden Sunrise, but the Fancy 1st prize Captain is Hog Island’s Kenny Medeiros with his Greatest Show on Earth theme. Jacky BAMBAM wins 1st again in Handsome Costume for Golden Sunrise.

1st prize Wench Brigades goes to Oregon. The Pirates are 2 and Bryson 3. Pirates Captain George Stewart wins 1st prize wench brigades captain.

Fancy Brigade 1st goes to Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars, with its Captain, Michael Adams, also taking 1st Prize. The Jokers and Downtowers finished 2nd and 3rd.

2014 String Band Order of Enjoyment!

MUMMERS_ROWHere are the official theme titles and Captains, plus the Order of Enjoyment for the 2014 SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade on PHL17.  I see several contenders here for the “Custard’s Last Stand” Award.  I’ll post the Fancy Brigade official list tomorrow.

1. Woodland “Legend of the Lamp”    Captain Tom Robison

2. Fralinger “The Circus Comes to Clown”    Captain Scott Wray

3. Polish American “It’s SNOW-time”    Captain Nick Magenta

4. Avalon “”The Fields Are Alive!”    Captain Jack Hee

5. Ferko “FERKO is TOY-rific”    Captain Anthony Celenza

6. Uptown “The Pillage People”    Captain Ryan Radcliffe

7. Trilby “All For Mum And Mum For All”   Captain Joseph Kaminski

8. South Philadelphia “Invasion of Piracy”     Captain Denny Palandro

9. Greater Overbrook “Showboatin’ on Broad St.”   Captain Bill Razzano

10. Aqua “Aqua Shoots for the Stars”    Captain Ron Iannacone

11. Hegeman “Hegeman’s Household Havoc”    Captain John Baron

12. Quaker City “California Here We Mum”    Captain Jimmy Good

13. Pennsport “A Carnival in Venice”    Captain Charlie Nicholas

14. Broomall “Camping is in Tents”  Captain Peter Broomall, Sr.

15. Durning “Wet Side Story”    Captain Joe Pomante

16. Greater Kensington “Proud to be A”Mum”-Merican”   Captain Harry Bradley

17. Duffy “No Strings Attached”    Captain Ted Kudrick (and mascot Jake!)

The Bells of Joe Trinacria

1963-jpg-bmpIt is always special when someone has done something well for a long time.  Mummery by nature respects tenure and accomplishment.  Joe Trinacria hits every note in the above description.

On New Year’s Day, 2013, Mr. Trinacria marked 50 years since he first marched with a String Band.  He is a legendary glockenspiel, or bells, player.  “The bells mean everything to the string band sound. It’s the signature sound,” says Joe. He adds, “When people heard the bells, they knew a string band was coming.”

1980---3rd-Prize-Captain

A half a century of Mummers history flows through this Hall of Famer and former Captain of Uptown String Band.  One of Joe’s fondest memories is taking 3rd prize Captain in 1980 with Uptown. It was a Hawaiian theme.

1964

His Mummers life is a travelogue of performances and parades. Often, his view was from deeper within the bands, where the percussion is often positioned.  He could see much of the show, but it was from the opposite view of fans.  He strutted briefly with Liberty Clowns in the early 1960’s, but would go on to explore string band sounds with Durning, Aqua, Joseph A. Ferko and Harrowgate. His spent 17 years with Uptown String Band, 9 years with Woodland and most recently has been with Greater Kensington String Band.

Funny thing about the bells for Joe is that playing them was more or less accidental. He had gone out to buy a2002 Christmas present for his nephew and wound up liking the “toy”.

From there a love affair with the bells began.  Joe does not read music.  He has a great ear and can bring out the life that is in the instrument.  His is not a “slap-hammer” style.  He tells me, “I know dynamics.”

2013

Joe Trinacria is now 80 years of age and looks back at New Year’s Day from his home in Bensalem and sees great memories. He is one of the living historians of Mummery. He has untold stories of half a century of parading and living the Mummer tradition. Now, however, Joe looks forward with some uncertainty. Health issues make him concerned that more parades for him could be difficult.  But, doctors tell him playing the bells and strutting up Broad have done wonders for him. So, Joe, please keep playing and chart a course up Broad to see us “on the street” in 2014.  We’ll know you’re coming, when we hear the bells.

2013 Order of Enjoyment

The String Band Division has selected its Order of March, or as I call it, the Order of Enjoyment, for the 2013 SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade. This is a critically important draw as 2012 Champion Woodland String Band plots strategy of how best to defend its title and SugarHouse Casino PHL17 Viewer’s Choice Winner South Philadelphia String Band has had to battle in recent years to make an impression on the judges that will last through the entire round.

 It was a packed house in the Mummers Museum as representatives of each band selected envelopes, each containing one number.  In the draw, both Ferko and Quaker City improved their positions over 2012. Fralinger, which for 2 years has started near the beginning of the division, will in 2013 conclude the performances. Going up the street 1st will be Greater Overbrook String Band.

Here’s how it all sets up for New Year’s Day, 2013!

1. Greater O

2. Durning

3. Trilby

4. Broomall

5. South Philadelphia

6. Hegeman

7. Woodland

8. Aqua

9. Uptown

10. Polish American

11. Avalon

12. Ferko

13. Greater Kensington

14. Quaker City

15. Pennsport

16. Duffy

17. Fralinger

2011 PHL17 Viewers Choice Winners!

The votes of the people are tabulated! The 2011 PHL17 Viewers Choice Awards are in and once again the people have spoken. You may recall that Polish American finished first in the 2010 Viewers Choice Poll in the String Bands and that South Philly Vikings finished first in the Fancy Brigades in the 2010 Viewers Choice Awards. Who won this year and how close were some of the finishes?

The number one String Band on New Year’s Day, 2011, according to the viewers is Quaker City String Band! The number one Fancy Brigade for 2011 is Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars! Quaker’s Clown theme and the Stars’ Scottish theme were strong crowd pleasers.  Here’s how the top finishers fared in the 2011 Viewers Choice Poll. In parenthesis is where each band finished in the official judging, so you can compare.

The Viewers Choice String Band Top Ten Order of Finish.

1. Quaker City(1)  2. Polish American(8)  3. Ferko(2)

4. South Philadelphia(3)  5. Fralinger(4)  6. Pennsport(15)

7. Woodland(6)  8. Aqua(11)  9. Durning(12)  10. Uptown(9)

Quaker won by a substantial margin and the result is in keeping with the buzz you heard on the street New Year’s Day.  In music, in production and in eye-candy costuming, they put it all together on January 1, 2011.

Polish American moved up significantly from its official finish, but that should not be surprising in that the theme and performance were familiar and sound, and that Captain Mark Danielewicz did such a fine job.  The official judges named him 1st Prize Captain.  P-A always finds a way to give String Band fans something they’ll like from Mummers Row to Port Richmond.

The next 3 finishers in the 2011 Viewers Choice Poll were so close in voting as to be nearly interchangeable. That too, is not surprising in the sense of how good Ferko, South Philadelphia and Fralinger were and how different their performances were in style.  The biggest mover is Pennsport String Band, finishing 6th in the poll, but 15th in the judging. However, again, this is likely accounted for by the accessibility factor with “Marching to Our Own Beat,” the veteran Mummers that they are and their good performance, Captain Charlie Nicholas, and the fact that the people voting when they are voting makes them less likely to be influenced by where a band is in the Order of March. Woodland comes in similar to its judging finish. Aqua moves up 3 spots, as did Durning.  Durning’s Christmas theme was popular with the crowd. Uptown ends up close to its official position.

The top 5 finishers in the Fancy Brigades in the eyes of the viewers for 2011 are (with official finish in parenthesis)

1. Shooting Stars(3)  2. South Philly Vikings(2)

3. Jokers(1)  4. Satin Slipper(7)  5. Downtowners(5)

The Shooting Stars had one of the best uses of lighting that I’ve seen in awhile. Their Scottish “Haunted Highlands” theme was very well executed and enjoyable. If there is a conclusion that you can draw over the 5 years of the Viewers Choice Award, it is that while the viewers often mirror the judges, there are always some variations and more often than not, those differences of opinion are over the accessible entertainment value rather than specific criteria that judges might look at. You’ll often find accessible themes and presentations being warmly received by the viewers. More simply put, they are “wowed.” That wow factor was obvious in the audience when it saw South Philly Vikings’ flying carpets. The flying carpets are an example of what I call “eye-propping.” The Vikings and the Jokers finished very close to each other in the Viewers Choice Poll, almost a tie for second. The Jokers did “Clash of the Titans” and it was all that among the brigades on New Year’s Day inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Satin Slipper moved up 3 spots with the Viewers Choice Poll.  Downtowners held its position same as in the judging, at number 5.

On another note, a formal thank you to the great Fancy Brigade Captains of New Year’s Day. Here’s a look at how the top 2 Captain’s positions ended in the official judging. 1st Prize Captain on New Year’s Day went to Joe Gallagher (total points 178.50). The performance by “Bad News” was outstanding and his role fit excellently into the production.  Captain Jack Hatty, Jr.(175.00), of Saturnalian, finished 2nd Prize Captain. Jack’s costume soaked up your eyes. A beautiful costume, including that powerful headdress.  Jack’s production and performance were a part of and enhanced the theme. He had a strong purpose. If an energetic performance can be graceful, Jack and Saturnalian did it. Joe Gallagher accomplished something similar. The Jokers props were mammoth and there’s always the risk that a Captain can get lost, but Joe did not. He was a titan himself, as “large” as the props.

Outgoing Shooting Stars Captain Mickey Adams performed well as the leader of the “Haunted Highlands.” Mickey has a commanding presence every time he steps onto the floor. Pete D’Amato, Captain of South Philly Vikings, put together a top shelf interactive Captain’s performance. He wove himself well into the theme and throughout the routine.