Zebras and birds and gazelles, oh my!
It was a wildlife spectacular on Broad Street on New Year’s Day when Uptown String Band performed its “Safari So Good” theme during the 2023 installment of the Mummers Parade.
Captained by Stephen Caldwell, the Langhorne-based group united aspects from Disney’s The Lion King, The Jungle Book and historical nods to the past in a jam-packed performance.
Musicians dressed as a variety of creatures and played everything from the iconic opening to “Circle of Life” to Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat.” Additionally, hand-crafted flying birds and slithering snakes joined in the show, which concluded with Caldwell emerging on a massive, painted hippopotamus as confetti rained down.
Uptown’s execution of “Safari So Good” earned a ninth-place finish out of 14 total bands, right behind Greater Kensington and before Aqua. Quaker City took home first place for its “Monster Movie Mayhem” performance.
Caldwell, whom the parade’s guest host David Grzybowski described as “one of the best young captains in the game right now,” also came in ninth place out of the 14 captains.
As stray pieces of confetti continued to fall post-performance, Caldwell’s adrenaline was at an all-time high. After an entire year of planning, preparation and practice, Uptown could breathe … well, until it gets started this month on 2024’s theme.
“I am exhausted but energetic. That was a great performance and I’m so happy,” Caldwell said.
For him, strutting down Broad Street is in his blood. In 2020, he took over as captain from his father, Jamie Caldwell, a Parkland resident and alum of Neshaminy High School.
He praised his bandmates and gushed about how he couldn’t ask for a better group.
“It’s the best feeling to know that they want me to lead them down the street on New Year’s Day,” he said before highlighting Uptown’s various sections, including banjo and accordion. “They all contribute and they are all top-notch performers.”
When asked about the idea behind the grand finale of “Safari So Good,” Caldwell said going all-out with confetti and, of course, a giant hippo, is “the best way to end any routine.”
According to Grzybowski, Caldwell is a rarity among Mummers leadership. Not only does he serve as captain, he was the presentation director for 2023.
“It’s not every day that you see a captain also be in charge of the show,” Grzybowski said.
This year, Uptown’s preparation wasn’t just about learning the music and choreography. In crafting “Safari So Good,” its members conducted research by visiting the Penn Museum, which is operated by the University of Pennsylvania and focuses on archaeology and anthropology.
Grzybowski, along with co-hosts and husband-wife duo Larry Mendte and Dawn Stensland, shared the belief that “Safari So Good” was Uptown’s best performance since 2018’s “Voodoo Gras,” which saw them place sixth despite frigid temperatures and frozen instruments.
Needless to say, the forecast for 2023 was much better. In fact, the day practically felt like spring — the perfect conditions for the city’s long-running tradition.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org