The third day of the fourth Skull and Roses Festival saw the biggest crowds ever and record warm temperatures. A strong onshore wind helped mediate temperatures. When the Alligators rotated onstage just after 4 pm, the fairgrounds were packed with music fans. The band was actually created initially as a one-off to perform at the festival. According to promoter Dennis McNally, “The Gators came into being because Chris, the promoter of Skull and Roses, had a problem—and a vision. The vision was: “Every Deadhead gathering needs some Pigpen.” The problem was that one of the bands couldn’t make it to S & R #1. So, the visionary solution was to gather together some of his friends and have them play Pigpen songs…bingo.” “Pete Pen” (Pete Carona) is the charismatic lead singer that channels the spirit of Pigpen.
The band features Stevie Ravioli on rhythm guitar, Steven “Kim Chee Warrior” Kim on lead, Berkey Gator on keys, J.J. Gator on bass, and Richard La Chomp on drums. The band has become a favorite in the Deadhead world, especially at the Skull and Roses Festival. Pete Pen rallied the crowd to do the trademark gator chop. The band sent beachballs and balloon alligators floating into the crowd throughout the set.
Seventy-five minutes later, the swiveling stage turned, revealing another crowd favorite, the Cubensis band. The Los Angeles group is one of the oldest Grateful Dead cover bands still together, celebrating their 35th anniversary. The current band featured Guitarist Nate LaPointe, who grew up in a musical family in Laramie, WY. Keyboardist Tom Ryan joined the band in 2000 after touring for five years with the legendary New Christy Minstrels and folk singer Glenn Yarbrough. Bassist Larry Ryan has held down the position in Cubensis since 1996. The band features dual drummers, including San Diego drummer Ed Fletcher and Drummer Brad Rhodus, born in Kansas City, KS. Guitarist Craig Marshall, the last remaining original founding member of Cubensis, was unfortunately too ill to play the festival. Many in the crowd displayed signs that said we love you, Craig, supporting the beloved guitarist. The band made up for his absence by bringing on a series of guest guitar players, including Alex Jordan, John Kadlecik, and Stu Allen. As the hot sun faded into a dusty sky over the mountains, the crowd danced in a euphoric trance for the 75-minute set.
As the revolving stage turned again, ushering Cubensis off the stage, Circles Around The Sun appeared to play one of the most intriguing sets of the festival. The experimental instrumental rock band that formed with the specific purpose of creating intermission music for the Fare Thee Well reunion concerts played by the Grateful Dead during their 2015 tour. Circles Around the Sun was designed to reflect the Dead's psychedelic feel. After the tour, the group issued a self-titled album from the Fare Thee Well gigs and supported it with a tour. Master guitarist Neal Casal formed the original band. He enlisted keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a fellow member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Wilson), and drummer Mark Levy (the Congress).
After Casal’s untimely death, the band continued with a series of guest guitarists. The band appeared on stage as if they were in a coma when the revolving stage first revealed them. Then the group slowly built their multi-layered sound into a crescendo of experimental rock. As the night sky enveloped the stage, the band tore through their 75-minute set bathed in a retro light show. At the end of their set, the band was joined by Harpist and singer Mikaela Davis, which added another intricate layer to the fascinating set. The first technical difficulties of the festival then delayed the next set allowing Circles to play an extended encore, much to the delight of the enraptured audience.
The sound issues were eventually resolved to allow Melvin Seals and JGB to play their early evening set. The beloved keyboardist has played every Skull and Roses Festival, much to the delight of the Ventura crowd. In 1980 Melvin Seals joined the Jerry Garcia Band and was a member until Garcia died in 1995. He had the third-longest tenure in the group next to Garcia and bassist John Kahn, who had been members for the band's entire history. After Garcia and Kahn's deaths, Seals formed JGB, which he has continued to perform with to this day. JGB is the Jerry Garcia band without Jerry and aims to continue the group's legacy. The band opened their ten-song set with an energetic cover of Rolling Stone’s “Let’s Spend The Night Together.” The group followed with a series of mostly Jerry Garcia Band tunes, featuring Seal's trademark organ sound that had the whole crowd dancing in the cooling night air.
The next set featured one of the shortest but most interesting sets of the night, Big Steve and the Ass Bites From Hell. The band was led by Steve Parish, who has been a primary member of the Grateful Dead family for over 50 years. He first joined the Dead as a roadie in 1969. Later on, he became Jerry Garcia’s trusted gear handler and began to manage the Jerry Garcia Band. In turn, Garcia taught Parish to play guitar. Together with a group of other roadies and with the encouragement of the Dead, Big Steve started a band that Bob Weir named Ass Bites From Hell. The group went on to open for select Dead shows. In a tribute to the original band, Big Steve put together a group of veteran musicians, including the legendary music producer Don Was on bass, to make a special appearance at the festival. Big Steve acted in a dual role as lead singer and storyteller, sharing fascinating moments from his days with the Dead. The band played a short set of classic rock sing-along hits that the crowd quickly embraced. Unfortunately, the group ended their set too soon, and the sound problems that had plagued technicians worsened as they furiously worked to ready the next headline set.
It took nearly two hours to solve the technical issues before Oteil Burbridge and friends finally made it to the stage just after 1130. Sadly, the midnight curfew for the MainStage arrived less than 30 minutes later, and the band, including Melvin Seals on keyboards, only had time to perform four songs. It was probably the only disappointing moment of the entire four-day festival. But most music fans seemed to take the setback in stride, and many had already left during the long break to return to the campgrounds. Drum circles and random bands kept everyone in a dance trance until the 3 am late-night music curfew.