Skull & Roses Festival 2022 | Day 1

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It has been a long strange trip for the fourth annual Skull & Roses Festival. The biggest and best iteration of the festival finally took place this spring after a nearly three-year-long pandemic delay. The much-anticipated event drew the biggest crowd to date, attracting Deadheads from all over California, to the Ventura Fairgrounds, for four days of music inspired by The Grateful Dead. Festival publicist Dennis McNally, who was the publicist for the Grateful Dead from 1984 to 95, chose the spot because of its significance in the history of the Dead. The iconic band played the Ventura fairgrounds 11 times from 1982 to 87, making it one of their most regular stops in Southern California. As a result, the venue offered a perfect backdrop to this year's festivities. Located literally on the well-known surfers' point surf break, many music fans had the option of four days of surfing, kitesurfing, or beachcombing between sets. In addition, the weather for the event was practically perfect, with near-record temperatures tempered by a brisk ocean breeze.

Ventura County Fairgrounds | Skull & Roses Festival

The festival expanded to four days this year and had already amassed the most impressive lineup. Then a big surprise announcement came less than two months before the event. Living legend and original bass player of The Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh, was announced as the closing act with his ever-evolving band of “Friends.” Organizers took a page from the famed Lockn’ festival and built a single revolving stage that, for the most part, provided nearly non-stop live music.

Brown Eyed Women | Skull & Roses Festival

The music began on a sunny Thursday afternoon, April 7, in the early afternoon as surfers enjoyed a head high wind swell on the point. Camping for the event was sold out, and most campers arrived the night before, creating a colorful village with all manner of vehicles and tents involved. A long avenue of vendors displayed an array of psychedelic art. There were enough tie-dye t-shirts in various booths to clothe the entire population of Ventura. By late afternoon the venue began to fill with beaming music lovers of all ages. Brown-Eyed Women played an afternoon set. The band takes its name from The Grateful Dead song of the same name, and the group is the only all-female Grateful Dead tribute band. Members come from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, New York, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Their love of all things Dead drew them together. The band played a well-received collection of Dead classics and had the crowd packed tightly around the stage by the end of their 75-minute set.

Steely Dead | Skull & Roses Festival

Dave A-Bear’s Steely Dead played the next set with a decidedly different sound, playing fusion covers of Steely Dan songs with Dead songs mixed in. Members of the group include Dave A-Bear of Melvin Seals and JGB, Bill McKay, formerly of Derek Trucks Band, and Leftover Salmon. Chris Sheldon of the Dead Phish Orchestra. Matt A-Bear and Dylan Teifer of Mr. Big Bear. The band tore through an energetic 75-minute set as a setting sun bathed the stage in a bright orange glow.

Rob Eaton | Skull & Roses Festival

As the sun faded and colorful lights began to bathe the stage, Steely Dead waved goodbye and was rotated out as Reckoning band was rotated in already playing. The group took its name from the 1981 live double album from the Dead and played a primarily acoustic cover set of much of the album. The band featured Rob Eaton, John Kadlecik, Rob Barraco & Skip Vangelis. The group played the crowd-pleasing set for 90 minutes into the beautiful night sky with the moon hovering above the stage.

Rob Barraco | Skull & Roses Festival

Stu Allen and Mars Hotel closed out the first night with a nearly three-hour set. Stu has been working to keep Jerry Garcia’s music, sound, and spirit alive in a live music setting. He often works with Phil Lesh and plays sets with Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann. Allen is perhaps best known for fronting Melvin Seals’ tribute to the Jerry Garcia Band from 2004 to 2011. He received more national acclaim in 2010 when he toured with Dark Star Orchestra. Allen is known to share the Grateful Dead’s commitment to making each concert a unique event. Mars Hotel takes the concept one step further by offering a new band for every performance. The band had the biggest crowd of the night, dancing until past midnight with an array of Grateful Dead and other related covers.

Skull & Roses Festival | Ventura, CA

But for many in the campground, the party wasn’t over yet, with drum circles and pop-up bands all about the area continuing the music until 3 am. It was a glorious opening day for Skull and Roses 2022.

Skull & Roses Festival 2022

Skull & Roses Festival 2022