Dancing on the dock

The Dock Dance Band brings Tuesday shows back to Memorial Wharf.


The docks at Memorial Wharf are again buzzing every Tuesday with the energy and sound of Dock Dance Band — an Island band made up of six musicians keeping a decades-long tradition alive on Martha’s Vineyard. The free weekly shows are back through August 8, after a four-year hiatus.

“It feels like we never really skipped a beat,” guitarist and vocalist John Stanwood said of the band’s first Tuesday back on the wharf. “We picked up right where we left off.”

The outdoor concert is an all-ages affair, where teenagers, 20-somethings, and adults of all ages come together and jam out, alcohol-free. And for a band of Islanders who grew up listening to live music, that’s the whole point.

“We had more live music outlets when we were all growing up,” frontman Adam Petkus said, touching on the influence of now-shuttered live music venues like the Hot Tin Roof (Outerland, Nectar’s) and Atlantic Connection. “It’s important to us to be able to put on something like this when there isn’t anything comparable to it that’s left for the under-21 age group. Where else can you jump up and down and get sweaty with your friends and lose yourself in the moment?”

In addition to Petkus and Stanwood, members of Dock Dance Band include Niko Ewing on guitar, Jamie Greene on drums, Alex Karalekas on bass and backup vocals, and Rose Guerin on vocals. Guerin joined the group around four years ago, and the rest of the members have been at it for about 15 years.

But there were other versions of Dock Dance Band before this one.

Back in 1962, when Martha’s Vineyard didn’t have the thriving tourism industry it has today, “there wasn’t a whole lot to do,” Petkus said. “The town of Edgartown was trying to think creatively about how to kickstart tourism downtown. They wanted to give people something to do instead of just walking around and looking at old buildings. They wanted to create some kind of culture on the Island.”

So the town tapped a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School band called the Bodes, and offered them $200 to play at Memorial Wharf. The band would play every week. A tradition was born.

“There’s been a lot of people who have played in that space since,” Petkus said, adding that Niko Ewing’s father, Steve Ewing, was also among the first. Johnny Hoy also held down the dock dances for a stint.

Eventually, Niko Ewing, Stanwood, and Petkus began playing together and standing in for the weekly shows. Greene and Karalekas joined, too.

“Once things started picking up and we became the house band for Memorial Wharf and the dock dance, we were kind of ipso facto the Dock Dance Band,” Petkus said of the band’s eponymous name.

The band plays a mix of upbeat covers, spanning genres like country, blues, rock, and some reggae. They also have a repertoire of original songs.

“It’s really great to see positive perception for a song we’ve written, and see them stand next to songs people know and how they’re accepted in a similar manner,” Stanwood said. “That’s definitely the best part.”

Another perk? They’re all best friends.

“Jamie and I have played together since we were in high school,” Stanwood said. “And Niko and I used to play afterschool music at the Charter School. It does feel special 25 years later to be playing with people I’ve been friends with for that long of a time.”

Dock Dance Band performs the weekly shows for free, and they don’t get paid.

“It’s not something that we do for money,” Petkus said. “It is 100 percent because we believe in it, and we enjoy doing it. And it’s a pleasure, to be honest with you.”

Dock Dance Band also performs at weddings, parties, and at Island venues like the Ritz. The band members also manage full-time jobs and other projects as musicians, and have families.

“We all have responsibilities and other places to be,” Petkus said. “We all just deeply care about it. We want to see it thrive. And really, also, none of us are getting any younger. We have no plans on disbanding or anything like that, but the idea of making sure that it survives us is a thing. It’s eventually going to be somebody else’s responsibility to keep it going.”

But part of that responsibility is on the audience, too. Dock dances haven’t happened since 2019, mainly because of COVID-19, but also because of police staffing shortages.

“It’s just about trying to keep everyone safe,” Petkus said.

“It’s a public event that’s sanctioned by the town and police department, and we really don’t want to risk that by someone doing something stupid during or after the show,” Stanwood said. “We just want everyone who comes to Dock Dance to be very mindful and respectful of themselves and everyone around them.”

Because when it all goes well, the spirit on the docks is unmatched.

“One of the biggest things for me is looking out into the crowd and not seeing any of these kids on their cellphones,” Petkus said. “Everybody is engaged. Everyone is smiling, and they’re looking at each other and dancing. It gives me kind of a sense of being part of the history of the Island that I love so much growing up on.”

Dock Dance Band performs at Memorial Wharf from 7 to 9 pm every Tuesday through August 8. The band will return to the wharf Sept. 12 for one more show.