It is time once again for the Philadelphia String Bands to strut their stuff–their Mummers’ stuff that is.
With a first place win in the New Year’s Day Parade under their belts, Fralinger String Band is gearing up for the Show of Shows.
Fralinger’s last first-place finish was in 1987, and since then it has received eight second-place wins.
Fralinger String Band’s Drill Master and String Band Hall Of Fame member Mike Raier said winning first place feels “fabulous.”
“It is a wonderful feeling for all the guys after working so hard for so long,” he said.
The Mummers are somewhat of a Philadelphia phenomenon.
According to Fralinger’s official Web site: “Mummers are costumed entertainers welcoming in the New Year and Mummery is as ancient as man’s dream of getting outside of customary life and as old as his imagination.”
Fralinger String Band was the winner of the String Band division of the 2003 New Year’s Parade with their theme “Starship Fralinger.”
Mummers are divided into four categories: comics, fancies, string bands and fancy brigades.
The comics are well known for the wench brigades, which are men wearing dresses and long braided wigs.
Fancies are known for their beautiful costumes, while string bands are known for their costumes as well as for their music.
Elaborate props and dances mark the routine of fancy brigades.
A few months after the parade every year, 16 bands in the String Band Association put on a performance called the Show of Shows.
“[The Show of Shows] is an annual opportunity for people to see the string bands inside as opposed to outside on New Year’s Day and see a few extra minutes than you did on New Years,” said Raier.
“It is a great tradition.”
Raier said the Show of Shows is different from the New Year’s Day performance because the prizes have already been given out and the bands have the opportunity to put on their show with less stress, which makes it more enjoyable.
The Show of Shows used to be held at Convention Hall, but was moved to the First Union Spectrum in the late 1990s because the hall was in bad condition.
“At Convention Hall you were able to see the routine from different angles and there were seven shows or more,” said Raier.
“There are only two shows at the Spectrum which means there is a bigger crowd because there are not as many choices on a day to go.”
This year, the two shows will be held on Feb. 22 at noon and 5 p.m.
The Mummers’ fame has spread throughout the world and the string bands have had gigs in various states and countries.
Fralinger String Band has traveled all over the United States, and overseas as well.
Fralinger went to Ireland last year, as well as Cuba in 1959 with Quaker City String Band soon after Fidel Castro came into power,” said Raier.
With the fame of the Mummers spreading, some may wonder why they choose to stay in Philadelphia.
According to Fralinger’s Web site: “People from the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ know the excitement of a Mummers’ performance, and to them the Mummers also bring a sense of nostalgia.”
Mummery is a unique tradition that was born and raised in Philadelphia. The love of the Mummers goes to great lengths.
In fact, according to Raier, one member of Fralinger moved to Florida but soon returned to Philadelphia because he missed the Mummers.
The Mummers tradition is still going strong and will continue to do so.
If you would like to see the Mummers in action and can’t stand the cold weather, the Show of Shows will be at the First Union Spectrum at Broad Street and Pattison Avenue on Feb. 22.
There is a noon show and a 5 p.m. show. Tickets are $15.00 – $22.00 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 215.336.2000.
Jillian Swansonite can be reached at XoXSwansoniteXoX@aol.com