The Story Behind Al Mikula's Red Garter Band

Photo Credit: Jess Graves Photography.

With Al Mikula's Red Garter Band, the players ages range from early 60s to 85 years old (Mikula being the most senior member). Between them all there is a wealth of experience, talent, dedication and joy.

By: Jenny Paschall Lyon 

Veteran musician Al Mikula isn’t the kind of guy to let a global pandemic silence his music. In May 2020, when it was clear that Covid was here to stay, Al reached out to his musician friends and suggested they rehearse together. One of his first contacts,  Fred Hall, a long time friend and principal saxophonist and clarinetist, was enthusiastic. As Fred explains, ‘Everything had stopped because of Covid, and it’s no fun to practice alone. There were so many excellent musicians with no place to play.’ Al and Fred, together with 6 or 7 other pals began meeting and rehearsing outdoors in Bristol PA, Al’s hometown. ‘We made lemonade out of lemons,’ says Fred, who has a Masters Degree in arranging. As the summer progressed, more musicians joined the group and Fred began to provide arrangements.  They continued to meet throughout the winter, using Al’s garage as their rehearsal space (with the doors open) until eventually, Al Mikula’s Red Garter Band was born and now they’re performing to sold out audiences.


Al Mikula on the violin pictured above. Photo Credit: Jess Graves Photography.

The players ages range from early 60s to 85 years old (Mikula being the most senior member). Between them all there is a wealth of experience, talent, dedication and joy. While many of them have been professional musicians for most of their careers, some have had ‘day jobs’ and pursued their passion in their spare time. Al, for instance, has been a bookbinder, restaurant owner and sign salesman. But music has always been an important part of his life, since he first began learning the violin when he was 8 years old. For many years, he supplemented his income by playing banjo in cocktail lounges, restaurants, and small concerts, earning enough to support his growing family (Al and his wife MaryAnn have 7 children). Other band members include an IT technician, schoolteacher, piano tuner and a CPA. But whatever their background, they all have one thing in common – their passion for music.  ‘Music for us is a wonderful thing to share in life,’ says Al, ‘These guys taught me a lot.’ Peter Reichlin agrees, ‘We continue to maintain and grow our art.’

Saxophonist Fred Hall pictured above. Photo Credit: Jess Graves Photography.

‘Over the years we’ve all played together, we were all friends,’ John Bachalis says ‘But without Covid, none of this would have happened.’ John has 42 years of experience teaching instrumental music, and his arrangements of pop music for symphony orchestras have been performed all over the United States.


Other band members include Jimmy Alex (keyboard and vocals who has worked with Al for over 40 years), Mitch Frank (principal drummer), Rick Gazda (principal  trumpet), Peter Reichlin (principal trombonist), Wayne Lepp (principal guitarist/vocalist), Brian Saunders (principal alto saxophonist), Bruce Mulford (upright bass).  The Red Garter Band also includes an unusual, but very welcome, musical addition – another Bristol PA resident, Professor Gloria Galante, a jazz harpist, who has toured worldwide performing Jazz, Classical, Latin, African and Pop genres.

Matthew Mikula pictured above. Photo Credit: Jess Graves Photography.

When the 12 member band performs under the leadership of Al, who is also the principal banjo player,  they play Dixieland and Big Band of course, but they also like to acknowledge their Philadelphia roots. Jimmy Alex, Brian Saunders and Wayne Lepp are all well known Mummers so they will sometimes include a song or two that Parade watchers will recognize.  And, of course, no performance is complete without a tribute to the Eagles. That’s not just because The Red Garters are all local guys and enthusiastic Eagles fans. Two of the band members (Brian Saunders and Bruce Mulford) also belong to The Eagles Pep Band who play at the games, leading over 70,000 fans in singing the Eagles fight song, “Fly Eagles Fly”.

Photo Credit: Jess Graves Photography.

One thing is for certain, borne out of the trials and tribulations of Covid, Al Mikula’s Red Garter Band provides a joyful, foot tapping, nostalgia filled, singalong celebration of life.


Their next concert will be on Sunday March 26th, Newtown theater, tickets $25.

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