January 31, 2009

Several String Bands are experiencing a change in the Captain's position this year and these changes are huge.  Big names, big influences on the Mummers will give way to a new generation of leadership.   These changes also occur as Mummery itself must transform to fit a new economic reality.

The winningest Captain of all time, Bill Bowen, Jr., of Fralinger String Band, is stepping down after decades of unparalleled leadership.  My count has 27 parades with Bill as Captain.  With Fralinger taking First Prize in the official judging, "Wild" Bill is going out on top.  Of course, he could have said that last year, and the year before, and the year before and the year before and the year before and the year before....

Scott Moyer, also one of the longest serving Captains and a former First Prize winner, is passing the baton to another member of Greater Kensington String Band.  Scott served as Captain for 19 consecutive years, but paraded as Captain for 20 years, really.  He filled in back in 1989 for the injured Joe Lippincott.  The 2009 parade was Scott's 30th.

Perry DiMatteo is leaving as head of Greater Overbrook String Band.  Perry has always brought a love of Mummery to the street.  You can see that in the band's "Haymazing Adventure in 2008 or "Polar-ized" this year.  Perry can certainly take a large share of the credit for the resurgence of Greater O in recent years.

Jerry LaRosa, Jr., Durning String Band's venerable Captain, also is retiring from his leadership role.  Jerry is a gamer, kind of like Jon Runyan, only not as tall and he never spits.  Jerry has hit the street even when it hurt.  Jerry's personality has shown in Durning's unique style, its all out of love of humor and of playing to the audience.  Everyone will remember the "walkers" of 2008.  You're not ready for one yet, Jerry.

And, Jamie Caldwell is stepping down as Captain of Uptown String Band.  Humor and hard work have typified Jamie's performances and his leadership within the band of Bucks County.  He was first elected Captain in 1990, I believe.  Oh, Jaime will still be around, playing the banjo with Uptown, but he'll always be missed out front.

Jamie, Jerry, Perry, Scott and Bill, thank you.  

The bands are in the process of deciding who will assume the Captain positions.  All should be decided and formally announced by the Show of Shows, on February 28th.  You should go to the Show of Shows at Boardwalk Hall on February 28th.  There are 2 performances.  It may be the last chance to see these legends of Broad Street.

Change is inevitable and it does not necessarily mean the end.  It often means a new beginning.   Among those we saw in the last year:  Bob Shannon, Jr., of course, stepping down from his historic Captaincy of Quaker City String Band.  Charlie Roetz stepped in and took First Prize Captain this year.  Anthony Celenza, of Ferko String Band, also did a great job in replacing the wonderful Phil Rotindo.

And here's another truth:  I think all this makes Ted Kudrick, Captain of Duffy String Band, the "old man" of Mummers String Band Captains.  Sorry, Teddy, but you are coming up on your 25th.

A couple of other thoughts:

The passing of Jerry Murray, of the Wild Rovers in Murray Comic Club, was a shock to all of us.  Jerry's wife, Joan, and the entire Murrray family have been exceptionally strong, courageous and gracious throughout the difficult days that followed his heart attack on New Year's Day.  I can tell you that they are gratified by all who took the time to visit the funeral home and those who offered their condolences and comments about Jerry on myphl17.com.  I met a friend of Jerry's who told me, "You know, we used to kid Jerry that he gave lawyers a good name."  The testimonies continue to come in about how Jerry Murray was a kind, conscientious man and a great Mummer.  He was good at what he did and sought to make others happy.  Rich and Jessica Porco and all in Murray Comic Club are to be thanked for their concern and support of the Murray family.

Another great man passed away in January: William Isaacs, founder of the Downtowners Fancy Brigade.  Bill lived a long life.  He was 87.  He served his nation in World War II and contributed to the betterment of Philadelphia for decades.  The Fancy Brigades would not be what they are today without Bill.  The annual Serenade, which has been another way Mummers are brought together and families and friendships are strengthened, came about because of Bill.  It's also a good time.  His wife, Marie, told me he just went out and hailed the First Prize Winners, the Jokers she thinks, one day after the parade and the Serenade was born.  Now, it's a tradition.  The Downtowners are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.  When they get together for a banquet this spring, Bill will not be there in body, but he will in spirit.  "Mr. Downtowner" will always be with the Downtowners, the Fancy Brigades, and Mummery.