Mummers Parade report card
Going against tradition, despite screwups, the new parade route gets better than a passing grade.
THE MUMMERS Parade broke with tradition and marched the "wrong way" on Broad Street on New Year's Day.
The (remaining) fans seemed to like it. The crowds were somewhat larger in Center City (which is what happens when you contract the parade route).
As a veteran parade watcher and reviewer, I liked it, even knowing the reversal of direction was born out of necessity. Doing everything the "old" way was turning into a funeral procession for this Philadelphia tradition, one that should be embraced.
If it was well-received by the "audience," the fans, then how about the actors, producers and director? (Spoiler alert: I give it a grade of B.)
First stop, city parade director Leo Dignam.
After meeting with the divisions - String Bands, Fancies, Comics, Fancy Brigades, Wenches - a "sizable majority" liked the route, he says, with a couple of caveats.
The cops were one, the Wenches were another and the two were related on one point.
"The Wench Brigades didn't get where they should have been when they should have been there," Dignam said, which created that once-in-a-lifetime moment when Wenches were marching (meandering?) north on Broad from Washington while Fancies were heading south to Washington.
Me? I loved it!
Sure, there was confusion, but there was a lot to look at, neither the Fancies nor the Wenches minded, and the crowd - whether on the east or west side of Broad - had something to see.
Dignam was the guy who drew up the plans that called for the Wenches to march up Broad and clear out before the Fancies went south. He admits he got "some egg on my face," but shrugged it off.
"We'll have to come up with a way to tell everyone to meet in Center City," Dignam said. May I suggest cattle prods and barbed wire?
Wenches Brigade president Charles McKenna, a bit wearily, said: "I can't account for what clubs do. We had a schedule, I gave everyone a schedule and I guess they do want they want."
This is what Wenches are, what they were born to do. To them, New Year's is a party and they don't make excuses.
"It's hard," McKenna said. "We are a big division and it's hard to get the guys together in a timely fashion."
As for mixing with the Fancies, McKenna said, "I apologized to the Fancies, but they said it was no problem."
Speaking for Golden Sunrise, the sole surviving Fancy Brigade, president Jack Cohen says no harm, no foul, calling it "a wonderful day. We can't wait until 2016."
Although he felt that going first put Golden Sunrise on the street a little too early, "the pace of the parade allowed us to interact with people watching from the sidelines. Many of our members posed for pictures with fans.
"We gave away some promotional items like beads and buttons as we made our way down the street," he said.
SEPTA liked the new route because it had to disrupt fewer lines.
As for the cops, some were irritated by the confusion on Broad, but most rolled with it. There were also some complaints Dignam heard about String Bands jostling for rehearsal space where they assembled along JFK and the Ben Franklin Parkway, and didn't want other bands to see what they were doing.
Why not? What could they steal at that point? Didn't make sense to me and it doesn't make sense to String Band president Tom Loomis, who called it "nonsense."
One huge black mark was that the last String Band finished its performance at Carpenter Street at 6:26 p.m., and by then fans were gone. The last three String Bands saw deserted streets below Pine.
"Not everything went as we expected," Loomis said, "but that's to be expected" when you're doing something new.
Everything was reviewed at the String Bands' January meeting "and all 16 String Bands agreed to keep it next year."
They knew it wasn't going to be perfect and Loomis has an 18-item punch list of improvements. "The staging area didn't work as well as we hoped, the breakdown area at Washington wasn't good, delays in the parade. A lot of little things; nothing was glaring," he said.
Ah, the delays, otherwise known as gaps.
The new route and organization was supposed to minimize that.
To reduce gaps, Dignam suggests a better schedule of where performances are permitted, say at Pine and in front of the firehouse below Bainbridge (which seems to be a permanent, impromptu performance site).
The Fancy Brigades liked the new route, according to president Jim Julia.
"There were organizational problems as far as us getting there, and once we got there, there were some holdups," he said (not mentioning the Wenches), but tweaks were required, nothing more.
Some of the Wenches chose not to march south on Broad after rushing the TV cameras at City Hall, opting for their traditional Center City pub-crawl.
That was OK. You can't kill every tradition.
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky