Pre-Revolutionary Historical Site Meets 21st Century Music and Culture at Sexton Sideshow’s Memorial Dei Family Picnic

Sexton Sideshow’s Memorial Dei Family Picnic has become an annual event held each Memorial Day weekend on the grounds of the Gloria Dei Church (Old Swedes Episcopal) at 927 South Water Street in South Philadelphia. Philly is known for its many unique neighborhoods that reflect the melting pot of personalities, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic classes of its inhabitants – Memorial Dei is an event that appeals to all of those layers! The tranquil tree-covered grounds of this historic church made the perfect setting for an afternoon of great music by local musicians, delicious food from Philadelphia food trucks, and thirst-quenching beverages including locally brewed craft beer and cider, and even homemade horchata.

As the official sextons of Gloria Dei, Paula and Jim Minacci live in a circa 1830s house on the grounds of the 300-year-old Old Swedes Church (the oldest church in Pennsylvania) and act as caretakers for the property which is nestled between I-95 and the Delaware River. But their dedication goes way above and beyond the norm for most other sextons. The Minaccis, along with their son Dillon, plan and host fun-filled events throughout the year that unite the church community and the general public.  According to their website, their unique project known as the Sexton Sideshow brings people together “in a safe place to enjoy incredible homegrown music, delicious food, and to interact with the community and build fellowship.” Their annual May event, Memorial Dei Family Picnic Fundraiser Festival, kicked off the summer in a rocking way – all monies raised will go toward the general fund, to help with upkeep of the historic site.

Throughout the afternoon, a dozen musical groups played for the gathering crowd of attendees, comprised of babies in the arms of swaying hipster moms and dads, to grandparents, all enjoying the live ensembles and the sunny weather. The larger bands, including The Sacred Cowboys, A Fistful of Sugar, and The Kalob Griffin Band, played outdoors on the Sexton Stage, set up in the northwest corner of the grounds, where folks relaxed and listened on the shady expanse of lawn with folding chairs or blankets, and children ran around waving flags and playing tag. The five food trucks parked in the paved area between the lawn and the fellowship hall, provided delicious fare to the attendees, including tasty barbecued meats, flavorful Mexican cuisine, sinfully rich baked desserts and cookies, and locally grown honey.

Smaller groups and solo acts including Luke Preston, John Faye Music, and Hannah Taylor and the Rekardo Lee Trio, performed indoors in the fellowship hall on the Sideshow Stage. The final act, the three-part harmonizing women of local folk-rock trio No Good Sister, capped off the event at 7:00 pm on the Sanctuary Stage, inside the church.  As they performed selections from their new CD as well as old familiar standards, their tightly intertwined voices rang out clearly through the church, carrying up to the balcony, and to the back pews. The audience at Memorial Dei end-of-day concert may have looked a little different than the sanctuary’s first gatherers did back in 1700, but their spirits were just as strong!  

For more information on upcoming events, including their Halloween-themed Boo Ga Loo on October 31, and Honky Tonk Holly Dei in December, or to add your name to their mailing list, go to

Nancy Burlan, with additional reporting by Harris Fogel, posted 7/10/15

Photographs © Harris Fogel, 2015

For more information on Old-Swedes visit:

For more information on the Sexton Slideshow visit: