Skull & Roses Festival
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.
The second annual Skull and Roses Festival brought Deadheads from all over California, to the Ventura Fairgrounds, for three days of music inspired by The Grateful Dead. The campground area was nearly full by the time the music started early on Friday afternoon, April 6th. 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.
Something really remarkable happened at the Fare Thee Well shows in 2015. Instead of being a goodbye, it was a re-ignition, a passing of the torch in some ways. Although Jerry was always quick to point out that it was Dead Heads who created themselves, the phenomenon of Dead Head-ism was focused on the band for the first 30 years. And it was fairly fractured for the next twenty, with some liking some iterations, and others, not. And the musicians aren’t done, whether it’s Dead & Co. or Phil and Bobby’s recent duo, or the future outings of Billy and Mickey.
As you may have noticed, Grateful Dead music has assumed a life of its own, and the joy it brings, the community it generates, is not only enduring, but also thriving. And so Dead Heads can return to one of their favorite show sites ever, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, on April 6 through 8 this year to take part in Skull and Roses, a gathering to celebrate Dead-Head-edness and listen to the Golden Gate Wingmen (John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, Reed Mathis), St
Skull and Roses is a celebration of community, a community generated by the music of the Grateful Dead. Our music.
Somebody asked Uncle John what being a Dead Head was all about. He smiled and said, “When you want to be fully alive, an individual but also tied at the heart within a rich, vibrant family, somebody who wants to have a lot of fun and probably dance, too – then you’re a Dead Head.”