The smooth sounds of saxophones and strumming banjos will echo through the Strand at this year’s Mardi Gras, as Philadelphia Mummers again join in the celebrations. After living in Philadelphia for eight years and writing a travel guide on that city, I was excited to this time write a blog on the Mummers’ longstanding tradition of performing in Galveston.
For the 29th year in a row, the Quaker City String Band will again march with their colorful feathered and sequined costumes in the Momus Grand Parade, and perform at other events during the second weekend of Mardi Gras. They became part of Galveston’s Mardi Gras since 1986 – just a year after the late George Mitchell started the current celebration in 1985.
“Quaker City has the mellowest sound of all as far as I’m concerned – they’re fantastic,” exclaims Cathy Conlon-Townsend, Galveston’s representative for the Quaker City String Band. “They’re entertainers and performers and just wonderful and ordinary guys that make really great music.”
The string band will perform Friday night, February 28th in the Strand area; Saturday, March 1st during the day and in the evening during the Momus Grand Parade; and then Sunday as well.
Quaker City won first place in this year’s Philadelphia Mummers Day Parade held New Year’s Day, the climactic competition for which, in recent years, 17 Mummers bands practice all year long.
Quaker City has placed in first or second place in the Mummers Day parade since 1999, except for one year placing third.
“I wouldn’t miss Mardi Gras. We look forward to coming to Galveston as much as we look forward to New Year’s Day,” says Bob Shannon, the captain of the Quaker City String Band for 38 years. Shannon, now Captain Emeritus, has been with the band for 54 years. “The people of Galveston have been absolutely unbelievable with the way they treat us. George Mitchell was an absolute perfect gentleman and he looked forward to seeing us as we looked forward to seeing him.”
“We are a big family of people that likes to go out and entertain,” continues Shannon. “My dad was in the band for 78 years and went to Galveston many times. My brother is also in the band. The camaraderie and the family feeling that we have for each other just works hand-in-hand in Philadelphia.” He adds at one time there were 25 father-son combinations within his band, and now just 20. “We pass this tradition down to each other.”
Shannon says performing with the string band in Galveston has brought him joy over the years. “A lot of people from Philadelphia came to Houston and Galveston because of the oil business,” he explains. “We were doing a concert one time on the Strand and a woman standing there was crying, telling me ‘you gave me back my heritage and brought Philadelphia back to me.’”
The music is a mix of percussion with horns and banjos. “It’s kind of got a ragtime and blues feel to it,” says Conlon-Townsend. “Everyone in Galveston says, ‘It’s not Mardi Gras until I see and hear the mummers. Their costumes are so beautiful and flashy, and the guys are so nice.”
From the Galveston CVB:
Mardi Gras! Galveston
If you’re looking for a unique Mardi Gras experience in 2014, grab some beads and hit the beach. The third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, Mardi Gras! Galveston returns Feb. 21 through March 4 offering the unique chance to experience sand between your toes and gorgeous beach sunsets while taking in the revelry and lavish parades known to dominate Galveston Island during carnival season. This year’s event will feature 24 parades, 20 balcony parties, five elegant masked balls and 38 concerts, including headlining performances from popular music artists. For details about new parades, performers and more, visit http://www.mardigrasgalveston.com.