Their primary purpose at shows is to make themselves available to anyone who feels the Wharf Rats may have something they want. They announce their presence with yellow balloons, signs, and the Wharf Rats information table. Their goal is to offer support, strength, fellowship, and hope. At set break during
Grateful Dead(and related) concerts they would hold 12-step style meetings.
The Wharf Rats began during the 1980s as a group of
Deadheadsunder the name "The Wharf Rat Group of Alcoholics Anonymous". The Wharf Rats originally came from a small group of Narcotics Anonymousmembers who went to a Grateful Dead concert in Philadelphia and located each other by their Yellow balloons with the NA symbol drawn on in Magic Marker. [http://www.wharfrat.org/discus/messages/5/17.html?1019586216] However due to operational differences they soon split off from Alcoholics Anonymous, and are not affiliated with them, NA, or any other twelve-step program, though many of members of the Wharf Rats are members of AA, NA or other 12 step programs. The Wharf Rats see themselves as "a group of friends sharing a common bond, providing support, information and some traction in an otherwise slippery environment."
While the Wharf Rats originated in the Grateful Dead world, they now have a presence at Dead offshoot and other
jam bandconcerts as well. A similar groups named The Phellowshipfor Phish, The Gatewayfor Widespread Panic, The Jellyfishfor String Cheese Incident, Happy Hour Heroesfor moe., and the Digital Buddhasfor The Disco Biscuitsare all based on the Wharf Rats.
The unusual name of this group comes from the Dead song "Wharf Rat", which contains the self-told story of
August West, a down-and-out dockside wino.
* Epstein, John and Robert Sardiello. 1990. "The Wharf Rats: A Preliminary Examination of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Grateful Dead Head Phenomena." Deviant Behavior, 11: pp. 245-257.
* [http://www.wharfrat.org/ Wharf Rats website]
* [http://soberfans.com/ Gateway website]
* [http://scijellyfish.org/ Jellyfish website]
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