For the third year in a row generation of Deadheads flocked to the Ventura County Fairgrounds for the Skull and Roses Festival. Over 25 bands played cover songs from the vast Grateful Dead catalog as well as original material and other classic rock songs for three long days and nights. The campground was full by early Friday afternoon, April 5th with as many as four generations of family and friends gathered in the comradery of the intimate festival.
Festival publicist Dennis McNally, who was the publicist for the Grateful Dead from 1984-95 choose the spot because of its significance in the history of the Dead. The iconic band played the Ventura fairgrounds 11 times from 1982-87, making it one of their most regular stops in Southern California during that period. Just like last year, the festival began under cloudy skies with chilly blustery winds blowing dust across the venue and the threat of rain. But just like last year the rain never came, and it turned into a perfect day for outdoor music. There was a small swell on Ventura point, the classic surfing break adjacent to the fairgrounds and some concertgoers started the day long-boarding.
The music started just after noon with a joyous drum circle. By mid-afternoon the venue filled with music fans of all ages. Children sang and danced and played in the sand, some even riding bicycles. Many danced in a trance in front of the two stages. Others lounged in chairs or on blankets enjoying the sights and sounds of the colorful festival. Merchants sold all types of festival ware, and the beer and food stands did a brisk business.
Local Grateful Dead cover band Richard Pictures had the crowd dancing with a mid-afternoon set of classic tunes. Like all the bands scheduled to play the group was composed of veteran musicians with enormous talent. There were no filler bands at this festival. There was also almost no downtime with bands on the two stages playing almost seamlessly one after another.
They were followed by another tremendous local cover band VC DC Dead Collective. As the sun began to set one of the most intense jams of the three-day festival began as The Higgs took the stage. The music took a decided turn from cover music into original jam band material. According to their website, the band is named after the elusive Higgs-Boson particle - which provides for "mass" of all things in the Universe and helps to unify the different forces. The brilliant jammers included John Lovero a singer, songwriter and lead guitarist, who writes the majority of The Higgs songs. Also, in the band was veteran drummer Garrett Morris, bassist David Barsky, and keyboardist Jesse August Jennings. The group wowed the crowd with solid jams mixing multiple musical genres including jazz, rock and blues music.
The music returned to a Grateful Dead vibe when the next band took the principal Skull and Roses stage. Shaky Feelin, a hometown act from Ventura, California is a remarkable quintet, known for their funky double drum sound and dueling guitar solos. The group performed a high energy jam band set mixing the elements of rock, reggae, bluegrass, and funk to create their own sound. The quintet featured Mark Masson on guitar & vocals, Jeff Hiller on bass guitar, Paul Menchaca on drums and vocals, Cameron Probe on drums and percussion and Franklin Murphy on keyboards and vocals. The band definitely gave the crowd at the opening day of Skull and Roses that Shaky Feelin,’ launching a full-fledged dance party.
The Noodles from Tempe Arizona took the stage as darkness fell on the festival. The band has been “Noodling” around playing Grateful Dead inspired tunes since 1997. The group features John Reuter on lead guitar and vocals, Todd Anthony Bolser on drums and vocals, Kim Ladd on rhythm guitar and vocals, Joe Dailey on percussion and harmonica, Paul Reside on bass, and Elliot Jackson Rauch on keyboards.
As the evening continued, the Electric Waste Band took over the Grateful Dead baron on the main stage. The San Diego band has been playing Dead songs to the faithful since 1992. The six-piece group kept the dance party alive into the night.
Just like last year, the classic Grateful Dead cover band Cubensis played the final set of the night. The main stage featured a replica of The Wall of Sound, the famous speaker stack that the Dead toured with in 1974. Lit with LED and laser lights, it created a spectacular backdrop for the extended jam. The band played until nearly midnight, but the tunes continued in the campground on impromptu stages until early Saturday morning.