Editor's note: Most Philadelphians know Pete Ciarrocchi as the guy who gave the world Crab Fries via his Chickie's & Pete's sports-bar chain. But for more than 40 years, he also has been a dedicated Mummer, spending the last 18 New Year's Days dancing with the Polish American String Band. To help get you ready for this year's annual strut up Broad Street, we've asked Pete to keep a weekly diary as he and the band prep for this year's extravaganza.
THIS IS right before "crunch time." Our practice Tuesday night at St. Adelbert, on Allegheny Avenue, was probably the last "calm practice." From now on, it's going to be two, three times a week, inside, outside - mostly outside. We'll work with the props; we haven't worked with the props yet. I don't even know what they look like. In fact, I don't even know what my suit looks like this year. I know it'll be very nice and "cold-looking," blue and purple, like that.
This year's theme is "Snow Time." There are festive songs, seasonal songs. Some have to do with snow. I'm a Jack Frost-like character. I don't want to reveal everything - you want to surprise people on New Year's Day. This is a theme that's been done before. Very rarely will something come up that hasn't been done before.
The music this year is different. New music director, Chris D'Amore, writes unbelievable music, and the band doesn't sound like it sounded in the past. Chris comes from a family of string-band guys. I really think we're going to win first prize. This is a different sound for our band.
Chris and his brother, Anthony, were working with our previous music director, Dan Mizner. Having three people work on the music is something I've never seen. We practiced in the gym at St. Adelbert. We didn't really drill that much. We did our routine, but they played the routine over and over again to get the finer points of the music.
I love string-band music, not just Polish-American. I like every band. In fact, I would say that the worst part about being in a string band is you can't watch the other bands. You might see them a little on New Year's morning, or you might see them practice here and there, but you really don't get to watch them. The talent is rampant. There is so much talent and so much dedication that goes into the playing and dancing.
These are marching bands. But most marching bands just walk to places. These guys not only have to walk to places, they have to dance to places. And spin to places. And play the saxophone simultaneously and play the high notes and not get winded. You get judged on how the notes are played.
Starting Sunday, we'll be outdoors with the drums. They don't care how cold it might get.
Get used to it!