Skull & Roses Festival

As another new year rolls in, I can’t say how excited I am to see the Grateful Dead family not only thriving but flourishing. We Deadheads can take pride in having become a borderless, boundless global community where a simple Steal-Your-Face sticker on your pack and a smile will find you a safe haven. And with thankfulness being one of the defining criteria of a Deadhead for the life-changing, enlightening experience the Dead brought to our lives, we have a healthy desire to express that gratitude. What is “it” we’re so thankful for?

Lots of festivals are dropping their line ups for 2020 which has us dreaming of warmer days, oceanside sunsets, and the feel-good music we all love. One of the first big festivals of the year will be Skull & Roses Festival in Ventura, CA, April 2-5, 2020.  With Billy and the Kids and Oteil & Friends headlining, let’s dig into more artists that will also be playing.

Skull & Roses Returns to California’s Legendary Ventura County Fairgrounds with Elevated Experiences and Expansive All-Star Lineup including Original Grateful Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann in Long-Awaited Return of Billy & the Kids and Much More

The music began early on the final day of the Skull and Roses Festival in Ventura. A hot offshore wind heated up the day by the time the drum circle started at 10 am. Overhead waves from a late spring storm exploded across Ventura point buffeted by the strong sideshow winds sending long plumes of salt spray high int the air. The strong winds stirred up a cloud of dust that helped turn the sunny day into an eerie orange haze.

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.

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.

I get asked a lot about the current crop of young (as in, never saw Jerry Garcia live) Dead Heads and whether they’re “real.”  And no question, they are.  They get the music, the code of ethics behind the music, the reason we do this stuff.  There is, however, one thing that reveals the passage of time.  Many—not all, but quite a few—members of the younger generation suffer from P.D. – Pigpen Deficiency.

Since the Grateful Dead has always cherished weirdness as a super-positive adjective, it’s not totally surprising that the post-Dead scene should have the weirdest possible outcome….namely, instead of fading away, Dead-Head-ism is growing just as it always has.  Now, it turns out, Dead Heads are fans of the music even more than the band, so that who’s playing the music is mostly a matter of taste and choice.

Becoming a Dead Head was and still is a remarkable thing, much richer and more complex than simply deciding to like a band.  It means becoming part of a community, a family of kindred souls.  It’s about celebration but also about learning – new music forms, whether it’s obscure blues or chanting monks or … everything.

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