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Mummers + 2

Rare pair of new bands give their regards to Broad Street

Glimpsed through Pennsport String's props is Justin Hirsch.
Glimpsed through Pennsport String's props is Justin Hirsch.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI/Daily News

A NEW GROUP of Mummers comes along only once in a sequined blue moon.

The last new string band to venture up the street debuted eight years ago. There hasn't been a new Fancy Division "mother club" since 1960.

This year, there are two new outfits: the Pennsport String Band, whose home base is a room above a bar in South Philly, and the Adelphia New Year's Association, a Fancy Division mother club operating out of a guy's garage in Wilmington, Del.

Daily News reporter Becky Batcha dropped in on both as they made their frenzied final preparations for Tuesday's big parade to ask, in a nutshell: What on earth were you thinking?

Here, their stories:

Pennsport String Band:

The Boomer Mummers

The baby-boom generation has put a new spin on everything in its path, from politics, sex and pop music to, more recently, the botulism toxin. And this New Year's Day, with the scheduled debut of the Pennsport String Band, the boomers are remaking Mummery.

The baby-boom generation has put a new spin on everything in its path, from politics, sex and pop music to, more recently, the botulism toxin. And this New Year's Day, with the scheduled debut of the Pennsport String Band, the boomers are remaking Mummery.

Subversively, Pennsport has no captain. No clubhouse. No year-round slog of paid gigs, like weddings and summer parades, to finance extravagances like the $2,000 costumes (that's $2,000 apiece) and the tens of thousands of dollars in props that have become the status quo for the Mummers Parade.

What it's got is about four dozen mostly middle-aged musicians, including seven women, who want to uphold the tradition of strutting up Broad Street on New Year's Day - and then just go home for most of 2008.

"Everyone is mostly over 40," said Rob Simiriglio, one of the band's four founders. "We don't have the time or don't want to take the time away from our families. We said, 'Why don't we start around Thanksgiving and give it a shot?' It's been a crash course in Mummery since then."

Like baby boomers' 401(k)s, the boomer Mummers are self-financed. The Pennsport organization has collected $325 in dues from each musician and from its affiliated dancers, for a total of not quite $20,000 - about a fifth of what's held to be the going rate to send a string band up Broad Street.

Like boomers' careers, the boomer string band aims to achieve a work-life balance - a strut-life balance, if you will - that puts family first.

Say, for example, that your daughter has a basketball game. You can skip rehearsal, no questions asked.

Say you've got a Shore house. You can spend July weekends there instead of strutting for dollars on the summer circuit to pay off some string band's clubhouse mortgage.

"I kind of like that trend," admitted Mummers Parade Director Leo Dignam. "Some of the people are getting sick of all the money involved and the practice, and they just want to keep the tradition. These old guys just want to have fun."

Like baby boomers' near-eyesight, the Pennsport String Band is a little fuzzy around the edges, compared to the Lasik precision of the pre-eminent year-round bands. But the musicianship is pretty good for a loose collective that's been practicing for less than two months.

When the Daily News visited a rehearsal last week in a room above Mooney's Pub at 4th and Ritner, the players were finessing the dynamics on a medley of Mummer standards, having already gotten most of the notes down pat. Music director Joe Accetta was reminding them to come in fortissimo, then turn down the volume for a "pretty" interlude.

Several players wore reading glasses perched on their noses to help make out the notations on the sheet music. Several more had a bottle of beer under their chairs to swig between songs, and the vibe was loose and collegial.

The big laugh of the night came when one musician wondered out loud, "Who's our assistant drill director?" and a half-dozen guys chimed "I am!" . . . "No, I'm the assistant drill director!"

Out on the street, Simiriglio said that the Pennsport String Band is a leanish, meanish marching machine, with only minor snags left to iron out - mostly when they're marching backward.

Nearly all of the boomer Mummers have gone up Broad Street previously with other string bands, many since they were young. Simiriglio, who started when he was 12, figures they have at least 1,000 Mummer years between them.

Their shoestring budget means that Pennsport is the Blanche DuBois of string bands, said Frank Lusch, a grade-school teacher by day who plays tenor sax for Pennsport. "We've depended on the kindness of strangers."

Mooney's Pub owner Bill Mooney is Simiriglio's friend and lets the band use the rehearsal space for free.

They've paid a costumer to decorate a secondhand tuxedo for each musician - "He and his partner kind of Mummed them up," Simiriglio said - and they hired an artist to design and airbrush some props.

They can't afford labor costs for the finish work, he said, so they're gluing on the spangles themselves. "We said, 'Make a circle where you need glitter.' "

Simiriglio acknowledged that Pennsport's founders probably bit off more than it was entirely reasonable to chew between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. (Haven't we all?) On the other hand, a full 10 months of down time beckons between this New Year's Day and the first rehearsal for next year's parade.

He, for one, will need it, since the 45-year-old mortgage broker and his wife, each with an adolescent from previous marriages, are expecting a baby in May.

"We're starting all over again," he said.

Adelphia New Year's


The Nuclear Option

The DiMatteo family brings an intensity to Mummery that may be unmatched on this planet.

The DiMatteo family brings an intensity to Mummery that may be unmatched on this planet.

To give one example, Adelphia founder Peter DiMatteo, 37, took welding classes at Gloucester County College so that he could build his own Fancy-Division getups.

DiMatteo's parents, Peter and Rosa, are perhaps even more highly invested in Mummery than their son is.

They were proud and relieved when their 4-year-old grandson, Samuel McClintock, decided last Friday that, yes, he'd join the rest of the family in this year's parade. (It's their firm belief that it's wrong to force a child to go up Broad Street against his will.)

Now that Samuel is on board, all nine of the DiMatteo grandchildren, ages 16 to 4, are planning to march on New Year's Day with the new Adelphia Fancy Division mother club.

Not surprisingly, the DiMatteo intensity stirs up the occasional tempest, and therein lies the motivation to grow their own Mummers association.

"We've had our differences with other fancy clubs," said the elder Peter DiMatteo. "We decided to form a new club, and it stuck."

The group, now 70 members strong, is named after Adelphia Avenue in Wilmington, the street where the younger Peter DiMatteo lives. His two-car garage is the closest thing the Adelphia organization has to a clubhouse.

"There's heat here," he explained when the Daily News visited last week.

In the garage, the DiMatteo clan and some friends were laboring to build the elaborate backpieces that carry the trademark Mummer plumage, using staple guns to attach showy bengaline fabric to the frames and glue guns to secure lengths of sequined trim.

"Everything here is brand new because we didn't have anything to begin with," the younger Peter DiMatteo explained. "It's fun - we all just want to have fun - but it's a lot of hard work."

In the basement of Peter's house on Adelphia Avenue, his mother and his wife, Faithe, have been spending nights and weekends across from each other at a pair of sewing machines, churning out costumes.

Upstairs from the costume shop, in the cozy DiMatteo living room, Faithe pointed to the hard, cold evidence of the toll that Mummery can take. In the prelude to the Jan. 1 parade, Christmas had gotten short shrift, and the holiday décor was meager: a small tree and a row of stockings hung from the mantle.

"A little bit of Christmas - that's all you get," said Faithe. "The rest is New Year's. This is cram time for us." *