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Too cold to march? Yo, it's the Mummers Parade | Stu Bykofsky

A city official with knowledge of the situation said the comics were joining the string bands in developing cold feet.

Saxophonists Jake Hart (left) and George Badey talk about playing in very cold weather
Saxophonists Jake Hart (left) and George Badey talk about playing in very cold weatherRead moreStu Bykofsky

As a retired Mummers marcher (King Kazoo Comic Club, 1985-94) and a sidewalk-standing fan before and since, my motto is always "March or Die."

Like many Mummerphiles, I think of the Mummers Parade — America's oldest and largest spontaneous folk celebration — as a New Year's parade, because Mummery began hundreds of years ago as hoi polloi blew off steam on Jan. 1.

You march on New Year's or you hide your face.

None of the 117 city-authorized parades starting Jan. 1, 1901, was ever postponed due to cold. Rain, snow, and high winds have postponed the parade, but never low temperatures.

Hearing rumors swirling early Thursday that the parade might be postponed because of the cold, my first reaction was, I'll admit, "wusses!"

In the decade I marched — the comics went up Broad Street first, starting shortly after daybreak from the bowels of South Philly — I recall some cold years, some damn cold years.

Comics Division president Rich Porco was quoted as saying he could not remember a forecast for such bitter cold temperatures as this year — a forecast high of 19, a wind chill of 7 opening with a minus-1.

What's really the difference between a wind chill of minus-1 degree and 17, which I've marched in?

A city official with knowledge of the situation told me the comics were joining the string bands in developing cold feet.

The official go/no-go decision is expected to be made Saturday.

Sources inside the Mummers were predicting the city would green-light the parade because of costs associated with postponing it, such as bills for police and sanitation.

The city — meaning the mayor — seems determined to have it go on Monday. Mayor Kenney, a onetime, longtime member of the Jokers Brigade, left the club a while back and some Mummers note he did not lead the 2017 String Band Division, as had been mayoral custom. I think he has "evolved" out of his Mummers roots.

Another key player is WPHL-TV, which broadcasts the parade. Station vice president and general manager Vince Giannini told me Thursday that "there is a zero percent chance the parade will be moved," citing tradition.

While part of this story was developing, coincidence had me with several string band members at an annual informal lunch.

The primary victim of the cold weather is the saxophone and — despite it being called a "string" band — since the 1970s the sax has been the predominant instrument, says George Badey, chairman of Save the Mummers and a sax player with the Fralinger String Band.

"The saxophone is the instrument that can refuse to play, the saliva can freeze up," he says.

Cold affects banjos and accordions, too, but they are not disabled as are the saxophones.

Former Avalon String Band saxophonist Jake Hart, who now does string band color commentary for WPHL, says that in "cold weather I would drop a hand warmer down the bell of the horn," and that would work.

The city is planning to have buses to keep string band members warm before they play for the judges. Stadium-style heaters are also a possibility.

Putting together everything I know, it looks as if tradition will be honored, and there will be a parade on New Year's — with scant attendance.

That's what it's like when hell freezes over.