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.
IT'S ALMOST time for the parade. All the work we've done the last 10 months is ready to culminate in a great New Year's Day.
We had our dress rehearsal last Sunday and, as I've said, our theme is about snow and the North Pole. And the day we practiced, it was about 75 degrees. It wasn't a great day if you were dressed like Eskimos, explorers and Jack Frost. It was extremely stressful for the musicians because they were sweating. It was really hot. These costumes were made for the cold, not for warm weather. We were inside practicing and it was really hot.
But we have to be ready, so we're going to go out and practice one or two last times, and then we're going to get ready for New Year's Day.
New Year's Eve has a lot to do with getting ready for New Year's Day. I try to eat a little light. You have to be up at midnight to welcome in the new year, so I guess I'll get in bed at 1 a.m. and get a whole three hours sleep. And, of course, I don't indulge too much in alcoholic beverages because New Year's Day is going to be a long day.
The clubhouse opens at 4 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., the "explorers" and "Eskimos" have to arrive to get their pants on and be ready for makeup. At 5 a.m., makeup begins. At 5:30, the dancers and some of our character costumes arrive (I can't say what those costumes are - you want to have some surprises). At 6 a.m., makeup begins for the dancers and character costumes. At 7:15, we start tuning up - so we're already three hours into this.
8 o'clock - we have speeches, prayer and warm-up for the band. At 8:15 we line up outside and march to the school yard close to St. Adalbert's. 8:30 - we perform the drill in the school yard and board the buses immediately after.
9:40 - You get down to Broad and Oregon and you see all the other bands. You've heard about their costumes, but you haven't seen them yet, and they haven't seen you. You're feeling good about your band. You look good, you sound good, you have that suit on.
At 10:40 a.m., our championship quest begins from Broad and Oregon. From there, it's all a blur. You start seeing a lot of friends, and you start performing.
From Broad and Oregon, William Penn's statue on top of City Hall looks like a tiny doll. As the day goes on, he gets larger and larger, and you can eventually see the clock. The closer he gets, inside, the sadder you get, because that day of performing you've been working on for 10 months is going to end when you get to City Hall. You can't wait to get there, but as you get closer, you wish you could slow up so you can stay in that suit.
This year, unfortunately, I don't think there will be a "Show of Shows" in Atlantic City - that's the word. So, this might be the only time the entire band will be together until practice for next.
The next thing you know, we'll be sitting in front of the TV at the clubhouse waiting to hear where we placed in the judging and watching our performance over and over and over again, seeing what we did wrong, what we did right, watching the other bands.
This year, we're going up third; it's Woodland, Fralinger and us. Fralinger's the reigning champ. I hope being behind the best band from last year doesn't hurt us in our scoring. But it's going to be difficult, because those guys are unbelievably good. And Woodland won in 2012, so we have two champion bands going before us. But we'll do our best.
And I'll be looking for everyone to come out and see us, and to look for me: last one on the last row on the east side of Broad Street. Please come out and say "Hi!" and support us, because we love performing for the fans.