Tony Tipp—Wharf Rats

I went to an AA meeting in Hampton in 1984 and I came up to Don and introduced myself and that’s—I had just gotten sober in ’83 and that was my first sober show and I went with somebody who wasn’t sober, but I just thought that I needed to go to an AA meeting for that support.  So that’s when Don and I became friends.  We didn’t become close friends at this time, but, you know, we communicated with each other.  We lived in different states.  

That summer at Alpine I met a girl who was hitchhiking.  We started dating and I kind of connected her with, you know, sober people and the Cincinnati community.  And when I was living in Dayton, Ohio, I added to my list of friends more sober people, you know, getting together that liked the Grateful Dead and Terese Daniels was instrumental in that.  She was a regular at Alpine Valley that I would always see her there and she was sober, and this is probably in ’84 when I first met her.  And we would communicate and hang out together.  There was another guy named Doug Hendrin who was also friends with Don who had attended a lot of AA conferences; and he was also always at Alpine Valley and we became good friends.  

So the list started to grow from there, you know, with Don and Terese and Doug and Jennifer in Cincinnati.  And then I moved to Alexandria, Virginia and began attending shows in that area and went down to Hampton regularly, and that’s where I met John Morgan, who also had a list of sober Deadheads.  I forget what he called it.  But he was very instrumental in getting people together and organizing.  That’s how I remember getting the information, meeting left of the sound board with the yellow balloon. Don kind of remembers it a different way maybe, but that’s how I remembered it.  He’s the first one that told me about that.  And there was Phil’s side, you know, all us sober kids—and the list got even bigger.  There were maybe like 50 of us by then.  In Miami in ’86 I met my wife, Kristin.   She was living in Saint Louis and I was living in Dayton and we would commute back and forth.  

As Don mentioned before, it was in Akron that we decided on the name of Wharf Rats, and this is the first Wharf Rat meeting, which I still have a picture of actually.  There is like half a dozen of us.  There’s a few people from Boston, a few people from Cincinnati.  It just grew from there.  

I remember one year when we were at Alpine Valley and I had already gone back to the hotel, but they were having a Wharf Rat meeting after the show in front of the front gate, and there is a kid named Mike from New York speaking and he said there were these two guys in the back and they started clapping after he got done talking.  Turned out it was Bob Weir and Mickey Hart— they were in disguise, just hanging out.  That was a significant event in the Wharf Rat world. 

And ’89 is when I first got the table, or was the coordinator for the table; that was in Atlanta. Bill Carter was the coordinator for the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) table and he was kind of given the position by Cameron Sears, I guess to coordinate for RAN and Green Peace and us, and make sure we got in okay, and did everything correctly.  And that was the first time I had actually had a Wharf Rat table that I was manning.  And then Kristin and Don put those ads in Relix and Golden Road and I think it just kind of took off from there, it really kind of blew up because of the Wharf Rat table and the list got bigger and bigger. I got to know the people that worked at the various venues, you know, like, hey, how are you doing, you’re back again this year.  And I knew where to go and knew everybody and, heck, you know, I’d see you quite frequently too. It was kind of cool, I got to hang out with Owsley and pick his brain about politics or whatever.  You know, he was never shy about giving his opinion.

I got to go up to Weir’s suite a couple of times with the sober people.  You know, talk to Bobby a little bit, you know, about being sober, and it was a lot of fun.  You know, there’s so many people to mention, people that really were helpful.  There was a guy in Chicago by the name of Tom Moran who I never met, but he had a list called Grateful We’re Not Dead, so there were groups all over the country, I’m sure.  

Kristin and I went to quite a few shows together and we had kids we could take to the shows with us because we had a laminate and the kids could go back to the car if they got tired, so it was quite the experience. I don’t know, it was the best time of my life.  I’d like to do it all over again. 

  But I will have to say that there is been no stronger driving force about the Wharf Rats than Don Bryant.  I mean, you know, because after Jerry died I said, well, that’s it.   You know, Grateful Dead, you know, Wharf Rats—what are we going to do now?  He goes, oh no, we’re going to continue this.  And I was kind of doing other stuff, but he has always been there and I’m happy to give him the title of Founder of the Wharf Rats, because he’s helped so many people.  I know when the heroin craze went through, which I totally missed thank God, but, you know, I know probably fifty people who have died of heroin overdoses and they’re all my kids’ age.  They’re all, you know, were under thirty.  And Don—I hear people all the time say Don was there for me when I was trying to quit; and they just look at Don as being, you know, just their driving force behind people getting sober.  So if anybody deserves credit for the Wharf Rats, it’s Don Bryant.  He is one crazy dude.  When I first met him, I thought who the fuck is this guy.  You know, he’s an army ranger. He’s strong as an ox.  He was a physician’s assistant of some kind, so I always felt like he could protect me and he could mend me up if I got hurt.  You know, and he was in our wedding too.