Next generation rises to captain status of Fralinger
23-year-old Brad Bowen is taking on his family legacy.
Brad Bowen remembers picking up the banjo for the very first time more than a decade ago.
For the musician, who is now 23 years old, his grativation towards the instrument was nearly inevitable, as the Glassboro, NJ native descends from a long lineage of Fralinger String Band members.
Fulfilling the his family’s legacy, Bowen’s years of strumming with one of South Philadelphia’s most historic Mummers establishments have paved his way toward captain status, as the 2019 New Year’s Day parade marks his inaugural performance leading the renowned ensemble, which have 18 first-place prizes to its name.
“I just felt like it was time to step up and go for the position… It was handing the torch down,” he said.
Bowen, who graduated from Gloucester Catholic High School before entering District Council 21’s painters union in Philadelphia, is following in the footsteps of his uncle Bill Bowen, Jr., the “winningest” captain in string band history, who served the position from 1983–2009, as well as his grandfather Bill Bowen, Sr., who held captain status from 1977–1982.
Fulfilling a family legacy, his other grandfather, Jack Biondo, along with his father, John Bowen, are also considered Fralinger legends.
Recalling when freezing weather couldn’t dissuade his attendance at the parade as a young child, Bowen began as a marshal in 2006, which was followed by his member status in 2009. Showing aptitude in not only music but also dance, he earned his first costume in 2011.
“He’s an outstanding performer,” said presentation director, drill director and saxophonist Anthony Tenuto, a 22-year member. “He’s a very good dancer, but has a really, really good stage presence. He just brings an enthusiasm to the position that, I think New Year’s Day, he’s going to be a really refreshing character out there.”
Fralinger’s officers say Bowen has always carried a certain nature connecting with the crowd, encouraging everyone from children to senior citizens to engage with the lively band.
For the past eight years, Bowen poured his heart and soul into the club, dedicating his energy to year-round performances and charity opportunities with the band, whose members have played in noteworthy engagements across the country for the past four decades, ranging from America’s bicentennial celebration television special in 1976 to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s inauguration in 2011.
“People forget that all of the Mummers… we’re all volunteers,” said assistant drill director, assistant captain and banjo player Jack Mills, a 25-year member. “So, again, Brad all of his hours donating to the club and organizations, I’ve seen him mature a lot….I think he’s loyal. I think he’s honest. I think, probably the most important thing, he’s got very good work ethic.”
This year’s harlequin and enlivened theme of “Paradise” — a homage to the elements of fire, earth, air and water with a Polynesian flare — especially mirrors Bowen’s vibrant personality.
In the piece, Bowen embodies the king of tribes as he leads haka-derived dances. The tiki scene is set to a medley of tropical tunes, such as “Fire Island” and “Bali High.” The compositions are being brought to life by Fralinger’s music arranger John Wernega and music director Shawn Decky.
“When we get done, I want the crowds to go crazy,” Bowen said. “That’s our main goal. When we do the parade and everything, putting the smiles on people’s faces. That’s really what it’s about — to make everyone happy.”
While Fralinger, who clinched first prize in 10 of the last 16 New Year’s Day parades, is looking for a comeback from its fourth place status last year, Bowen’s objective is to simply tend to the team, which encompasses close to 70 performers and dozens of marshals, with his best foot forward.
“Win or lose,” Bowen said. “I want everyone still to be happy, and say, ‘we did a good job no matter what,’ and ‘let’s do it again next year’… the keyword this year is teamwork.”