Holy patchouli!

Simply walking through the entryway of Skipper’s Smokehouse is an experience. The wooden pathway meets a once-white wall now splashed with paint. A skull wearing a feathered hat is indicative of what lies inside. The shadows, set off by lights intertwined in the moss-covered trees, create a unique atmosphere. Like Jerry Garcia said, “Sometimes you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

If you get there early and pass the stage, head toward the back where Ahna Clark sells instruments, jewelry and other cultural items from various parts of Asia and South America.

“My (best selling) item is wooden earrings that are hand carved from natural ebony and coconut,”

she said.

The glimmering illusions throughout Skipper’s come from the booth of Kevin Tillotson of Mind’s Eye. He sells glass art composed

of Borosilica.

Nothing there is ordinary – outside or in. Whether you were on earth to see the original Grateful Dead band or not, starting at 8 p.m. each Thursday you can get a taste of what the late 1960s and early 1970s jam music and lifestyle was all about.

Uncle John’s band is devoted to mirroring the Grateful Dead. Holding down the groove on percussion is Jaime Lavecchi. Lavecchi’s passion for The Dead awakened shortly after Garcia passed away. Elated after attending a performance of the band, he was given a chance to audition. He bought a drum set and has been playing with the group since 1996. Dan DeGregory combines his percussion sounds with Lavecchi, giving the performance extra rhythmic interplay while adding his voice meditatively, feeding off the sounds of the other five musicians.

Since 1995, musical prodigy Art Nelson has synthesized with hands that seem to float over the keyboard. Pulling together the middle of the stage, Rich Whitely on guitar and vocals seems to be caught up in a current of musical emotion, which shows through his relaxed presence on stage. Lead guitarist John Zia’s stage presence gives the band genuine flair. Michael Edwards, on lead vocals and bass guitar, started the tribute band 18 years ago with

his brothers.

Uncle John’s band elevates the mind with writhing changes of melody. Guitars are met by vocals and the progression of chords crashing into

percussion within the sphere of the

rustic stage is amazing.

Ever-smiling faces surround the venue. The dim light lifts dreadlocks and silhouettes to life. In shoes or bare feet, the crowd dances, jumps, spins, hippie-skips and sings along any way they want. They cast it all out – any worries drowning in the carefree atmosphere of genuinely kind-hearted people.

Shaun Lovsaid, 24, a Grateful Dead fan since he discovered the group shortly after Garcia died, explains his favorite aspect of Skipper’s as “the one place in Tampa where there is no sense of judgment.”

Diverse personalities form circles in the front, and twirling with a stranger is par for the course. Attending alone or with friends doesn’t matter; USF student Brad Cousino, 35, does both.

“The music-and-family feel has me returning every Thursday night,”

he said.

Skipper’s Smokehouse, apart from the music of Uncle John’s band, will whisk away your expectations. The welcoming feeling is comforting whether you love the Grateful Dead or have never heard anything like it.

From the lyrics of “Shakedown Street” by the Grateful Dead: “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. You just gotta

poke around.”