The Philadelphia Mummers Parade is held every New Years Day and has been since 1901. It is the oldest "folk festival" in the United States. There are 4 divisions in the parade and the only division that plays music are the string bands which of course are the premiered part of the parade. The string bands did not start marching until 1931.
There are 17 string bands at the moment (it goes up and down by 1 or 2 at times) and 9 of them still do not accept women. The first string band to accept women was Crean String Band in 1978. I became a mummer in a string band in 1980 with Northeast Phila. String Band and have been in string bands for 25 years until I "retired" in 2005. However, I just rejoined and now am again a member of Hegeman String Band.
On New Years Day every string band must have new costumes (which are elaborate and cost a fortune) which means a new theme, you must have a routine that matches your theme and the costumes must reflect the theme. You get 4 and 1/2 minutes in front of the judges and if you go over you get disqualified. The parade is three miles long and you are required to perform your routine at several key locations along the parade route and the rest of the route you just play "street" music.
Each string band raises money by dues and by doing parades in different parts of the country. Hegeman usually does 20-30 parades a year which is a big commitment from members.
The music is unique in itself as string bands can only use reed instruments, percussion, string instruments, glockenspiels and accordians. It makes for a very distinct and wonderful sound.
Hegeman string band is the only band that has females that is consistently in the top ten every year and has won 2 first place prizes with women in the band.
sfAnyone who is interested can go to www.phl17.com and look for the mummers string band videos. All 17 bands are there. Some that might be more interesting than others are Hegeman, Fralinger, Quaker City, South Philadelphia and Ferko.