GLOUCESTER CITY NJ (October 2007)--Few things in life are free. Yet a night on the riverfront with the spirited Gloucester City "Old Timers" String Band is both free, and delightful.
After decades of professional musicianship, this energized crew really knows how to put on a show.
The band was formed in 1988 by the late Ralph Anello, who just couldn't imagine giving up the music he loved after being "retired" from the Mummers "Garden Sate" Club.
Fortunately, as more mummers joined his ranks, they too knew they'd be lost if they put down their instruments just because marching had become a little harder with age.
Today Ralph's legacy is a tight, 32-piece, "string" band that offers up engaging toe-tapping concerts with timeless appeal.
As Ray Kosyla, Assistant Music Director, and mummer with 46 years of experience noted, "These guys are the cream of the crop… the elite."
Ralph's banjo-playing brother, Frank, and his buddy Richie Olsen, who helps coordinate each musical performance, have been with the band since its inception. Like their fellow band-mates, they know the thrill entertaining tens of thousands of people while marching in the Philadelphia annual Mummer's Day Parade.
With over 90 percent of the musicians coming from award winning bands such as "Fralinger," "Ferko," "Quaker City," and "South Philadelphia," it is not surprising their performances are perfectly spiced with a sprinkling of humor, variety, nostalgia, and good old fashioned American charm.
The more modern arrangements for the "Gloucester City" band come courtesy of relatively new member, and saxophonist, Harry Rivell, who follows another talented Music Director, the late George Pine.
"I really enjoy challenging the guys with sophisticated compositions. Sometimes the more contemporary stuff is a stretch, but they got the talent," Rivell said.
Although the band and audiences love the old Mummer standards, Rivell has increasingly moved the music to new levels of appreciation.
Today audiences are as likely to hear contemporary pop, show tunes, and rollicking Dixieland, as they are familiar numbers, tin-pan alley, and the ever crowd-pleasing, "Golden Slipper."
Every Tuesday night you can catch rehearsal at the American Legion, where drop-ins are welcome.
Although members sorely miss guys like the recently deceased, Georgie Leader, the old time banjo player on Cozy Morley's Tune, "On the Way to Cape May," they welcome newcomers who help keep the band inspired and growing.
Besides gigs sponsored by local businesses, member clubs, and institutions, the "Gloucester City" band frequently performs at community events, parks, and parades around the region, often on their own float.
But be forewarned about seeing them outdoors. Followers start snapping open lawn chairs and staking out their spots by the stage well before the band arrives.
"Better put on your struttin' shoes and get there early."