For some, the Grateful Dead’s catchy tunes, psychedelic parties and dancing bears are memories of their younger days. For others, the timeless lyrics never lost their luster. And now, for a new generation of Deadheads—some of whom will never see Jerry Garcia in concert—there’s simultaneously the thrill of discovery and the feeling of connection with something bigger: a musical community that spans geography and generations.
Here in Sarasota, the Grateful Dead community is going strong with local tribute band Ship of Fools—a five-piece band including Ed Knaust (guitar, vocals), Turner Moore (mandolin, synth, vocals), Nate Howell (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Hoffman (bass guitar) and Doug Rogells (drums, vocals).
At their performances, one might find fans hula-hooping to familiar jams with hoops brought by Knaust’s girlfriend, Debbie Meyers. And it’s not just the locals who show up: snowbirds regularly flock to the shows, finding dates and locations online, sometimes through sites that specialize in listings for Grateful Dead tribute bands.
“Deadheads know the music,” says Moore.
Ship of Fools started in 2012 when Knaust was asked to put together a band for WSLR’s annual Very Merry Jerry Day, a celebration of the Grateful Dead’s original front man, Jerry Garcia. Knaust selected the name—taken from the song “Ship of Fools”—before the band even assembled, called on a few local musicians, and Ship of Fools was born.
Also a noted whiskey connoisseur and the founder of the Sarasot's Whiskey Obsession festival, Moore has been a fan for 35 years and— “not to brag,” he says—has seen the Grateful Dead (and its various incarnations since Garcia died) more than 400 times. On the other hand, the band’s drummer, Doug Rogells, is the youngest member of the band and, at 30 years old, is almost too young to have seen Garcia in concert before his death in 1995.
Between private parties and gigs at bars and restaurants, Ship of Fools keeps a tight schedule. They have already confirmed 55 dates for this year, including regular shows at The Mable (2831 N. Tamiami Trail, formerly known as Growlers) and Stottlemeyer’s Smokehouse (19 E. Road, east of the interstate). In February 2020, Ship of Fools will set sail for a weeklong Caribbean Jam Cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Dawn.
Ship of Fools also dabbles in covers of other artists, including The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. For show dates and booking information, visit www.shipoffoolslive.com.