|Cape May's Gazebo, sight of a recent String Band concert|
The Gazebo on a summer evening is a postcard scene. There's a band presenting a concert, little kids dancing to the music, foot-tapping older folks on park benches and beach chairs, and a few in-between ages convinced the scene is too cute to be cool. I don't worry about 'cool' anymore. I show up at three or four of these free concerts each summer with my pink-and-yellow folding chair, ready to appreciate the music, the work that went into it, and the dedication of the musicians offering the experience. Bless them.
This night, it was the Cape May County String Band's turn to entertain us. I wondered if they would Mummer-strut around the Gazebo as the string bands do on New Year's Day on Philadelphia's Broad Street. These musicians did not. They sat still in red Hawaiian shirts playing Mummer favorites like "Baby Face," "Bill Bailey," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and "When the Saints Go Marching In." Each tune followed the same model: the musicians played a couple of verses, then sang one over a basic rhythm section, and then played the last. This is how I was able to discover that the vaguely unfamiliar tune was "Margie." Wow--a string band playing "Margie" in Cape may's Gazebo was like a scene from the movie of my life.
I have been fond of string bands since college in Philadelphia. (Click here to read about the 2012 Mummers on my other blog.) Here's what I do: early on New Year's Day, I pick a spot on Broad Street near the intersection of locust or Spruce, and work my way through the crowd to the barriers to get a clear camera shot. (I try to ignore the beer-stink and the queasy stomach it inspires.) Here come the string bands, usually around noon at this intersection, in their feathers, sequins, and hats.
|Saxophone-playing robots in Philadelphia|
|Look! That's a bass sax on the left! (On Philadelphia's Broad Street in January)|
|String-bass-plucking bears on Broad Street|
|Banjos, accordions, fiddles, sequins, and feathers (Philadelphia)|
|One of our Philadelphia captains|
Ultimately, the performers arrive a Broad and Market Streets where their show will be judged. It used to end here and the string bands would head to Second Street in South Philadelphia to celebrate, but now they perform one more show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for paying customers in the enormous, climate-controlled arena. Prizes for string bands and the other Mummer groups (Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, and Fancy Brigades) are announced later in the day.
|I scream, you scream, we all scream for banjo-playing ice-cream! (in Philadelphia)|
That's the Mummer tradition, but there was no Mummer Parade in Cape May in August. The Hawaiian-shirt-clad musicians of the Cape May County String Band treated us to over an hour of that distinctive Mummer sound. The Mummer fans among us tapped into the memories we carry with us while novices heard old favorite tunes with a new flavor and style. There was some Mummer-strutting, a lone Mummer in red sequins and gold lame strutted around the assembled crowd with a Mummbrella, coaxing audience members to dance and strut. It was a postcard-worthy scene!
|It's hard to get a clear picture of a strutting Mummer! (in Cape May)|