The sun came out bathing the Ventura fairgrounds in a beautiful orange glow as sleepy festival goers woke from a long night of music and partying. The noontime drum circle was the wake-up call for many. But it wasn’t until about 3 PM, when Northern California’s premiere Grateful Dead cover band, the China Cats took the stage, that most people finally gathered together for a dance jam. The group formed in 2008 in Santa Cruz California and has garnered a loyal following since. The band led festival goers in a dance trance party in the warm afternoon sun.
Perched on the edge of Ventura point the fairgrounds overlooked the famous surf spot while a new chest high swell filled in during the day Saturday. Many in the campground had their surfboards in tow and took advantage of the clean surfing conditions. There was also a spectacular view of the rolling green mountains behind Ventura. The seven-year drought looks to be in the rearview mirror with much of California resembling the Irish countryside. It was a fitting backdrop for the next band to take the stage at Skull and Roses 2019, The Alligators.
The group led by charismatic lead singer Pete “Pen” Carona specialize in covering Grateful Dead material during the Pigpen era. The entire set was dedicated to the former Dead singer, with multiple pictures of him displayed onstage. The band blended into the backdrop of the rolling green mountains with a giant green blow-up alligator onstage and the bass player dressed was an Irish leprechaun. The band jammed the well-known tunes as the animated Carona pranced about the stage with a bottle of whiskey and badgering the crowd to sing along with the band. He also led the crowd in the group's trademark chomp with everyone making an alligator chomp with their arms. At the end of the set, the singer ran into the crowd with the alligator, crowd surfing through the elated audience.
As sunset began to drench the fairgrounds in a fiery glow, the Los Angeles based band Jerry’s Middle Finger took the stage. The veteran musicians took the music in a different direction inspired by the JGB era. Lead vocalist and guitarist Garrett Deloian established his reputation as a veteran blues artist and brought some awesome guitar jams to the mix. JMF’s rhythm section featured the band’s original drummer and founder Rodney Newman and bassist Burt Lewis (of Stu Allen & Mars Hotel.) JMF also has two impressive vocalists, Halina Janusz (of Mother Jones and Sugar Mountain) and Lisa Malsberger (of Grampa's Grass and The Rumrunners). Jon Gold of (Cryptical Development, Remnants of Eden, Oingo Boingo) rounded out the band playing dramatic piano and organ riffs. The group put the large crowd into another dance trance as the sun began to set.
The main wall of sound stage began to take on a psychedelic look as the sun went down and the stage lit up revealing the next band, L.A.’s Grateful Shred. The band brought the music back to a more familiar Grateful Dead sound covering some of the classics. Fronted by the band’s founder, singer/guitarist Austin McCutchen the group played a perfect transition set into the fresh evening air.
As evening fell Zach Nugent, the guitarist for the JGB band led his solo project Zach Nugent’s Disco Dead into some serious jam band territory. An exhausted crowd began to get a second wind in the early evening air as the band led by Nugent's fierce guitar playing weaved a trance-like jam across the fairgrounds. You can read an interview with Zach Nugent here: http://www.gratefulweb.com/articles/grateful-web-interview-zach-nugent.
Stu Allen and Mars Hotel closed the second night of Skull and Roses 2019 with a two-hour set of classic Grateful Dead material that brought exhausted concertgoers back to life for the late night finale. Many still had the energy to dance to bands in the campgrounds after midnight while others huddled in groups partying until early hours of the morning.