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Long, strange trip: Grateful Dead tribute Uncle John’s Band set for 1,000th Thursday show at Skipper’s Smokehouse

The long-running Grateful Dead tribute act will pass the mark this week.
Uncle John's Band performs at Skipper's Smokehouse in 2015. (Tampa Tribute files)
Published May 29, 2018

The first night of Uncle John's Band's Thursday residency at Skipper's Smokehouse, the Tampa Bay Rays were just weeks into their inaugural season. Construction on the International Space Station had not yet begun. Singers like Shawn Mendes and Khalid had not yet been born.

"I remember missing Seinfeld in the beginning; that was the big show on TV," said bassist Mike Edwards.

Most significantly for the band, perhaps, was this: Jerry Garcia had been dead less than three years. There was still a void for a new Grateful Dead tribute band to fill the hearts and minds of hippies across Tampa Bay.

Twenty years and countless lineups later, Uncle John's Band is still rolling strong, even if their long, strange trip hasn't taken them too far from their roots. On Thursday, they will play their 1,000th Thursday night concert at the Skipperdome, a long-running residency few, if any, Florida bands can match.

"We're all pretty amazed by it," Edwards said. "I think it speaks roundly to Skipper's and the crowd. Things like that don't go on that long unless there's a crowd and a place to support it. It's been unbelievable in that sense."

Longtime Deadhead Edwards cofounded Uncle John's Band in the late '80s; they played a few dozen shows before assuming the Thursday residency in 1998.

Since then, they've achieved an international profile in some sectors of the deep Deadhead universe, archiving and streaming their shows online. In 2015, they headlined a pre-party for the Dead's 50th anniversary concerts at Soldier Field in Chicago.

RELATED: Uncle John's Band h its Chicago for Grateful Dead glory

At Skipper's, they've played almost every Thursday night, "even when the weather's really foul," said drummer Dan DeGregory. The only exceptions: Thanksgiving, when Skipper's is closed, and anytime Christmas falls on a Thursday. (Dec. 24 and 26 are still fair game, though.)

"I remember one night we missed, five or six years into it, for rain," Edwards said. "We were at a loss for what to do. We didn't know what else was going on around town."

They've been counting down to 1,000 for at least the past couple of years, and on Thursday will welcome as many as 20 former members for guest appearances, including Edwards' original Uncle John's Band cohorts.

"The way that I think it's all going to shake out is, it's going to be four straight hours without any kind of breaks or anything," DeGregory said. "People that have set in numerous times over the years will be sitting in at various times throughout the night."

If you miss them on Thursday, though, don't worry. They'll be back next week.

"It'll be a tremendous time; it's a tremendous landmark," Edwards said. "Other than that, it's just another good Thursday show. I don't expect it to stop anytime soon."

Admission is free. Click here for details.

— Jay Cridlin

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