Throughout most of the week, time tends to drag its feet along Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. In the morning hours, kids eat french fries and fish for scup along the pier. In the afternoon, fishermen unload the daily haul from their boats. And if the tide is right, nighttime will bring a drift of squidders to mingle with vacationers on a post-dinner stroll.

But as the sun begins to set each Tuesday summer night, the mild current that runs through Memorial Wharf is electrified by the arrival of the Dock Dance Band.

You might see a fisherman fileting his catch on the dock while the band plays on. Ray Ewing

“It started basically just to have an alternative space for music other than the bars,” said Niko Ewing, guitarist of the band. “When we were all growing up on the Island there were a few venues that had all-age shows, which were fun, but by the time we were of age a lot of those places just started to fall by the wayside. We wanted to start something of our own.”

The idea, he explained, was simple: to provide a space for people of all ages to come together and experience the thrill of live music in a safe and public space, for free.

“The community needs a well-balanced place like this for young people to hang out…to experience what live music is like without a bar involved,” added frontman Adam Petkus. “And I really don’t think any of us have felt the kind of energy here in any bar we’ve ever played at.”

On a recent Tuesday night, as twilight slowly rolled out across the harbor, and one by one the waterfront houses began to flick on their lights, the high-spirited legions of the Island’s young nightlife community began to pour onto the dock. Taking the stage, Adam welcomed both new and familiar faces as drummer Jamie Green, bassist Alex Karalekas and guitarist John Stanwood led the band into their opening song: Dead Flowers, by the Rolling Stones.

Dock dances are a safe and free place for young people to go dancing. Ray Ewing

From the very start, both the band and the community brought an energy described as “raw” from one dancing teen, only intensifying as the set list went on and the night continued to creep into the late hours. High school and college-aged kids packed in tight and danced face to face with Adam, while seasoned veterans of the dock dance took their spots behind the band so they could have a little more elbow room when dancing.

Tim Sauer filleted a yellowfin tuna he caught earlier that afternoon and shared it with friends on his boat, the Raptor, which was tied up against the dock.

“It’s just about a little rock 'n roll on a Tuesday,” said John Larsen of Kahoots, another Island-grown band that opened for the Dock Dance Band on that particular evening.

That first Tuesday was nine years ago, and the Dock Dance Band has held court at Memorial Wharf from sundown ‘till 10 o’clock each Tuesday since then. But the dock dance has roots that stretch back to the days when rock 'n roll, and the Island, were just starting to come of age.

Behind the throng of dancing teens, Mike Grasing sat quietly on a bench, wielding a muted acoustic guitar and looking out over the crowd.

It's a Tuesday night tradition down on Memorial Wharf. Ray Ewing

“It was right after Woodstock, in 1969, when I first came to the Island,” he said. “The Vineyard was just getting ready to be built up then, and I was working as a carpenter and cutting scallops on the side. I remember walking down here one night and hearing music, and I thought to myself, hey, this seems pretty cool.”

“They used to close down all of Dock street,” added long-time Edgartown resident Dennis Jackson. “The band then called themselves The Bodes.”

The two explained that the tradition of the dock dance has continued, on and off, ever since the early ‘70s. Since then, musical legends such as James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt and Pete Seeger have joined the many bands which have cycled through the Memorial Wharf.

“Those guys were all great. And these guys are great,” said Mike, gesturing to the Dock Dance Band as the crowd swooned to their rendition of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me.

According to Niko, the band was inspired by the local legend of the early dock dances and wanted to revive the tradition.

Closing out the night to Wipe Out by the Surfaris. Ray Ewing

“It was my dad who bridged the gap,” Niko said, explaining that his father, Steve Ewing, would often tell him and his friends about his own Tuesday nights on the dock in his youth. “It was just that little spark that kept it going.”

Over the last nine years, the Dock Dance Band has joined, or been joined, by many legends of the Island’s modern music scene. Included on the list are Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, Willy Mason and Ben Taylor.

As the night closed out to the band’s rendition of Wipe Out by The Surfaris, led by musical guest Johnny Osmer, members of the dock dance community trickled out into the parking lot. Some piled into their cars to head home while others set out on foot in search of a party to keep the night going.

“I’m grateful to be a part of the tradition,” Niko said, “And I don’t think the Dock Dance Band will be the last band to carry it on.”

For more information on the Dock Dance Band and a full schedule, visit Will Sennott is an intern at the Vineyard Gazette.