Mummers gird for new route
The parade will strut south for the first time. Some believe tradition and survival are at stake.
THEY FLOATED in like driftwood, coming to shore in the subterranean hall of the Mummers Museum, the art deco depository of Mummers lore, law and love.
Many wore colorful windbreakers adorned with the names of their storied clubs - Quaker City, Duffy, Woodland, Murray.
Wednesday was the night of the annual Roundup, where Mummers get "The Word" from "The City" about plans for "The Parade."
It began with handshakes and half hugs as the families came together for a sit-down - the four divisions, the 29 clubs, the thousands they represent.
This Roundup was unlike any other because it was to review plans for the first Mummers Parade to ever head south. Mummers always head north (except for the few years in which the parade that moved west on Market).
"This is a big year for logistics," the Roundup was told by Leo Dignam, the city's parade director, adding that the new route should eliminate annoying and energy-sapping gaps between string bands, a longtime parade plague.
"The light bulb goes off," Dignam said, gesturing above his head, "and you think you should have done this years ago . . . the bulk of the audience is in Center City, at City Hall."
We pause to appreciate the hideous howl from South Philadelphia, regarded as the traditional home base for Mummery. For many south of Washington, and especially south of Snyder, cutting South Philly out of the parade route is an act of civic treason.
One of those howling is City Councilman-turned-publisher Jimmy Tayoun, who throws an annual New Year's Day open house in his brownstone on Broad near Reed.
The new route "is a catastrophe," he said, adding the change is a "lethal dose to the Mummers as we know it."
He will have the open house anyway, but says South Philly merchants who sell "Italian specialities such as roast pork and cheeses, they're going to take a major hit because there are no parties being planned."
Tayoun also complained, rightfully, that in past years many string bands didn't play as they marched north up Broad Street, conserving their energy for the judges.
Here's what the hope is this year: The string bands will rehearse in their assembly area, on JFK and the Parkway just west of City Hall and then play for the judges while still fresh. Then, they can relax and interact freely with their fans on the street. They will have no excuse to not play all the way from City Hall south to Washington. It should be a tighter and brighter parade.
The number of performance points will be reduced again, down to three, at City Hall, at the Union League, at Carpenter. Each location will have a DJ, said Dignam, to entertain between live performances. Gone are the popular drill locations at Pine and at Washington.
Some say tradition is being shattered by the southerly route of the parade.
"Tradition is the parade," said Tom Loomis, in his first year as president of the String Band Association. He said his members "understand the goal, to give people a better parade."
The fly in the ointment might be logistics, said Dignam, because this is a first, complicated by when and where Mummers can drop their props in advance of the parade, because they can't bring everything early on New Year's morning. Planning began in the spring.
A Jumbotron will be set up at Carpenter and the new Dilworth Park will provide a great backdrop for judging, Dignam said. "The view will be better for you guys" than for spectators, Dignam joked.
His fear is that not all the Mummers "will get the memo and will not be where they are supposed to be."
Not to worry, said Bob Shannon, president of the Mummers Association. "It's gonna be tough, but we'll get it done. We're Mummers."
Ken Maminski, in his first year as captain of Aqua String Band, said: "Change can be good. You gotta adapt or you don't survive."
That's what the Mummers are facing - survival.
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