Stu Bykofsky: Good weather, good pacing: What a Mummers!

Posted: January 03, 2012

FOR THE SECOND consecutive year, temperatures in the 50s (thank you, global warming) helped draw large, appreciative and gloveless crowds to Broad Street for the Jenny Craig Mummers Parade.

The actual sponsor was the SugarHouse Casino, which put up some money (a "thank you" to Philadelphians for a successful first year, said casino GM Wendy Hamilton). I call it Jenny Craig because the parade (under pressure from a cost-conscious city government) has slimmed down to six-plus hours since 2009 and successfully kept the "weight" off.

Officially, according to parade director Leo Dignam, Sunday's parade ran six hours, 47 minutes, 12 seconds, "But who's counting?" he asked. (He was.) The parade is timed from the arrival of the first comic group at the judging stand to the departure of the last string band.

Here's the equation: Shorter parade + good weather + three-day weekend - galling gaps in the parade = success!

Another positive factor: More bands playing music as they marched from the bowels of South Philly into the heart of Center City, to cheers, applause and dancing of their fans behind the barricades (where there were barricades).

I interrupt the commentary to announce that the sun must have risen in the west Sunday morning because after 87 years of missing the gold ring, the Woodland String Band finished first. (This means I still have a shot at a Pulitzer.)

Returning to commentary, marching along some sparsely populated blocks in South Philly, the Aqua String Band played as they marched.

"This is a parade," captain Ron Iannacone told me. "We are here to entertain the people, not just the judges."

It's like I have a twin. I've made that point over the years I have been covering the parade. There's nothing colder for a Mummers fan than watching a band walk by in stone-faced silence.

But it is a dilemma, Iannacone admitted. Aqua wants to play, but what's the point of playing to vacant curbs? But if they do play, he philosophized, maybe the crowds will appear. So Aqua does play, with crossed fingers.

In his fourth year as captain, Iannacone spends a lot of time working the spectators, getting up close and personal, shaking hands, posing for pictures, especially with the children who are the potential fans of the future.

Aqua finished 11th last year. I asked if he is shooting for No. 1. A realist, Iannacone said he'd be happy with 10th place. (Aqua took eighth.)

* Although the official starting time was listed at 9:45 a.m. at Washington Avenue, the Good Timers NYA departed a few minutes early. I just love it when our fine feathered friends can't wait to strut their stuff.

At start time, the bleachers at Washington were nearly full, while crowds peaked in South Philly about noon - prime time for string bands - and some Center City sidewalks were nearly impassable between noon and 3, before the sun slid behind the skyscrapers, the winds picked up and the chill set in. While numbers are a guess, there's no question attendance this year surpassed last year.

* This is the fourth consecutive year our cash-strapped city provided no prize money, which never did offset the expenses incurred by the clubs. Glue guns and glitter and grease paint are cheap. Hundreds of yards of satin is not. But only the most serious student of Mummery would notice any cheapening of the costumes, makeup or props. Even the beautiful white ostrich backpiece feathers (now $11 a plume) are finding their way back into the parade.

* The decline of outside elements - such as marching bands and clog dancers - is balanced by the rising tide of wench brigades. Wenches infuse new blood into the parade and represent the true, spontaneous celebration that is Mummery. On the other hand, many of the wenches are just nuts. (Guys in dresses and makeup - you got a problem with that?)

* Speaking of wenches, several members of the gregarious and gigantic Froggy Carr brigade pulled me aside to announce that if there were any delays, it wasn't their fault (as it was once or twice in the past).

* Members of the Pirates almost held up the parade before noon as they stopped to admire several fine ladies on the second floor of 1909 S. Broad. The guys yelled and threw the ladies plastic bead necklaces - Mardi Gras style - but the ladies declined to reciprocate in N'awlins fashion and didn't flash their breasts.

* There were fewer gaps in the parade this year than in recent years. No one really knows why.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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