Movie star Kevin Bacon and his composer brother Michael were in a recording studio near Old City yesterday, rocking out to help save the Mummers Parade.
The Philadelphia natives, who formed a rock band 15 years ago, were remixing "New Year's Day," the title track from their sixth album. And their backup band? Representatives from the Mummers Association's 16 string bands, who were adding their trademark saxophones, banjos, accordions, and glockenspiels to the mix.
Proceeds from the new single will benefit the Mummers, who are struggling to maintain the city's 108-year-old tradition of strutting up Broad Street on New Year's Day.
The chorus of "New Year's Day" goes:
Here we stand at your door
Like we did the year before
Give us whiskey, give us gin
Open up and let us in
Last year, the city, strapped with a $1 billion deficit, suspended the prize money (more than $200,000) that had subsidized the various divisions (Fancy, Comic and String).
Adding debt to penury, the marchers were forced to pay for police, sanitation, and other municipal services required by the annual event.
That amounted to a bill for $350,000. The Mummers face a similar shortfall this year.
"We're working to find common ground with the city," said George Brady, the association's attorney (and a tenor sax player with Fralinger String Band). "We're trying to find ways to cut costs and raise money."
The city had originally estimated that costs for 2010 would rise to $750,000, but that amount is being vigorously negotiated.
"We're trying to raise as much money as possible because we don't know what the tab is going to be. We still haven't gotten a bona fide number from the city," said Dan Marakowski, treasurer for the String Band Association.
Marakowski is a PNC banker, but yesterday he was an accordion player in the Bacon Brothers' backup band.
"I've been a Mummer for nearly 40 years," he said, "and that was the coolest thing I've ever done."
The recording session is just the first step in the fund-raising effort. The Bacons are hoping to organize a benefit concert in the fall with other name musicians, and have also been exploring the possibility of a telethon.
"New Year's Day" is the ideal overture for this campaign. The lyrics tell the tale of a transplanted Philadelphia boy eager to return to his hometown to march in the Mummers Parade.
"I travel all over the country," said Kevin, who wrote the song, previously a crunchy rocker with some breezy Beach Boys accents. "Every town you go to claims some distinction that makes it unique - 'the world's smallest railroad' or whatever.
"Well, the Mummers are very Philly," he said. "More so to me than the Liberty Bell. I understand what [the bell] represents, but it's a piece of metal. This is something that is alive and vibrant."
It certainly was on this day, as the Mummers, grouped by instrument, excitedly took turns in the studio.
Philly soul legend Bunny Sigler was also on hand to contribute vocals.
"This is what's so great about Philadelphia," said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady by e-mail. The Democrat's last-minute intervention helped the parade go on as planned this year. "Not only do we have incredible talents like the Bacon Brothers and Bunny Sigler. These folks are working together to benefit the Mummers, one of our city's greatest traditions. I can't wait to strut down Broad Street to their version of 'New Year's Day.' "
During the session, Michael Bacon stayed inside the recording chamber to conduct the various contingents as they trooped in and out, forming their own mini-parade.
"My brother got the ball rolling," said Kevin, explaining the siblings' presence. Both now make their homes in New York. "He had this idea that we involve the Mummers. He started to do some research and found out that the parade was possibly in jeopardy, that there was a chance that the [parade] might go away."
After offering to contribute the band's services, Michael sent the original arrangement to Herb Smith, Fralinger's retired musical director.
Smith reworked the music, incorporating the Mummers traditional instruments.
The horn charts, for instance, cleverly quote "O, Dem Golden Slippers," the parade staple written in 1879 by James A. Bland, an African American Philadelphian.
When the revised music is done, everyone involved will squeeze into the studio to join in on the song's shout chorus, which harks back to the parade's 17th-century roots. Following a European custom revived by the city's Swedish community, costumed men, some playing instruments, would go door to door asking for alms.
In today's world, the Mummers are making their appeal for contributions on the Internet (at www.savethemummers.com).
Yesterday's harmonic convergence should help the cause.