Pigpen Tribute Act The Alligators Chomp their Way into the Scene

Published on March 27, 2019
©Hal Masonberg Photography

What if Pigpen was never shy? Would the Grateful Dead have taken a completely
different turn if Ron McKernan emerged from behind the keys to front the original
blues-fueled band? The Alligators frontman Pete “Pen” Carona gives his best “over-
the-top” attempt at this possibility.

A couple weeks ago my soon-to-be-wife (I hate saying fiancee) Meghan and I drove
up to Ventura to catch The Alligators at the Golden China Restaurant. I have been
doing advance work for the upcoming third annual Skull & Roses Festival being held
at Ventura County Fairgrounds. Friend and publicist Dennis McNally suggested I
sample some of the music of the festival’s house band (who happen to be The
Alligators this year.)

McNally arranged for me to arrive between 5 and 6pm so I could sit down with the
band before they took the stage. I didn’t want to seem too eager so I showed up
around 5:45.

When I walked into the Golden China Restaurant I encountered the lovely hostess.
She asked, “Table for two?” I informed her that I was there as a publicist for the
band. She looked down and continued to do whatever it was she was doing without
giving me the least bit of information as to where I could find someone.

Meghan led the way into the dining area. The stage was in the front of the restaurant
nestled against a large tinted window that showcased the parking lot. I noticed a
guy working a board and introduced myself, “Hey, I’m John with Grateful Music, I’m
hoping to catch Soundcheck?” “No one’s doing soundcheck. The guys will most
likely just go on when they get here.”

I was bit confused because McNally had arranged a meeting with The Alligators
manager and Skull & Roses creator, Chris Mitrovich, but he too was absent from the
venue. I just hoped everything was ok.

It turned out everything was more than ok. Stevie Ravioli, the bands rhythm
guitarist, or “our Bobby” as Carona likes to put it, just welcomed a newborn into the
world. With this arrival, Ravioli was unable to attend that night’s gig. Compound
that with reservation issues at the bands’ hotel and my scheduled interview was
slightly overlooked.

Meghan and I were able to make use of our time by working our way into town for a
couple hours where the Ventura Lantern Festival was taking place. Food vendors
and live music occupied our interests along with hundreds of hand painted lanterns
that were all decorated by the town’s folk. We could have stayed all night but had to
head back to the Golden China Restaurant.

When I returned, the band had still not arrived. I was able to meet Garrett Deloian,
however, as he made his way into the venue. After introducing myself, Garrett
explained he was with Jerry’s Middle Finger, but tonight he was playing with The
Alligators. (Jerry’s Middle Finger will also be at Skull & Roses.)

Deloian it turned out was Stevie Ravioli’s last minute replacement. “Garrett really
shreds. He had no trouble filling in for Stevie. We were lucky to have him,” Carona
told me over the phone a couple days later. “That’s what’s amazing about this
community – so many talented musicians can fill in at a moment’s notice.”

©Hal Masonberg Photography

I never did get to meet anyone from The Alligators that evening, but I did get to
catch the show. Not knowing what to expect The Alligators were way more
explosive than your typical Grateful Dead cover band. Pete Carona walks out in a
cowboy hat and southwestern styled drug rug or “muumuu” as he puts it.

The Alligators do everything in their power to create a swamp-like atmosphere with
well-placed chomping sound effects and a good use of fog machines. Carona runs
around making sure the entire band is involved with the crowd. They put on a more
rehearsed show than the standard improvisational Dead concert.

Garrett Deloian never missed a beat with these guys as he filled in for Stevie Ravioli.
The rest of the band is complimented by a drums and percussion section lead by
Scotty Gator and Tommo Chomp. McSwamp is on sound effects and sang back up
vocals on songs like Good Lovin’. Mike Berkey plays the Pigpen riffs on keys while
Carona sings vocals. JJ Gator is an original founder of the group and bass player.
Finally lead guitarist is the Kim Chee Warrior. I’m sure if there is an after-life,
somewhere Pigpen is smiling.

©Hal Masonberg Photography

What impressed me most were the random people who just happened to be eating
at the restaurant that evening. Typically when a Grateful Dead cover band starts,
non-Deadheads evacuate the premises as fast as they can. The Alligators were
playing blues filled Americana songs like “Lovelight” and “Hard to Handle” however.
By the end of the night they made new fans of the genre. That was what caught me
off guard; non-fans were into these traditional classics being presented by a Dead
cover band!

I was fascinated. Having spent way more time at this show than we ever expected,
Meghan and I had to leave before an opportunity to hang with the band presented
itself. With a little help from McNally I was able to get a hold of Pete Carona a couple
of weeks later.

Pete Carona was fun to talk to over the phone. A bit eager, at first, to promote his
band, Carona rattled off some of his prepared marketing lines before I could hear his
genuine tone. By the end of our talk however Pete’s friendly personality had me
feeling like I had spoken with him hundreds of times before.

The Alligators will be gracing the Ventura stage for the third year in a row at Skull &
Roses. “For years tribute bands have represented the styles of The Grateful Dead but
there has never been a defining Pigpen element,” Carona explained to me the other
morning from his house in Monrovia, CA. “The Alligators were formed just for that

©Hal Masonberg Photography

Originally intended as a one-off, Carona came up with the idea of a Pigpen tribute
while discussing the Skull & Roses Festival’s inception 3 years ago with festival
creator, Chris Mitrovich.

©Hal Masonberg Photography

Mitrovich’s intention was to have 48 bands in 3 days. Less than a month before the
festival opened its doors however a band dropped out leaving Mitrovich with just 47
bands. That was just not going to fly so Carona stepped in.

“We could be your 48th band,” Carona told Mitrovich. Mitrovich was intrigued at
the idea and suggested Pete go with a Pigpen vibe. “Hundreds of Dead acts out there,
but no Pig Pen element,” Mitrovich explained. Three weeks and a couple craigslist
postings later and The Alligators were formed.

Carona is no stranger to the music scene. He has been the front-man for an
extremely popular local act (in Monrovia) called the “The Insulters.” “We always
have a great turnout in town, but when we took the act on the road, the energy
wouldn’t translate in unfamiliar cities and towns.” Carona went on, “With The
Alligators we are instantly accepted into communities everywhere we play.”

Originally intended as a one-off The Alligators saved the 48-band line up and
successfully filled in the missing slot for Mitrovich helping make the first Skull &
Roses Festival a success. Carona and the rest of the band knew this was not a fluke.
“Something felt right,” Carona told me, “We all had this feeling like, this is it. You

©Hal Masonberg Photography

Three years later and The Alligators are now billed as the “House Band” of Skull &
Roses. When I asked Carona what that duty entailed he replied, “We’re there to
bring the party.” Now that’s something you’d expect from a lead singer whose
number one prop is a bottle of whiskey.

Check out all The Alligators have to offer at www.Alligators.love. And be sure to not
miss the upcoming Skull & Roses Festival in Ventura County this coming April 5 – 7.
Pigpen lives.

Share This With Your Friends

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list

One response to “Pigpen Tribute Act The Alligators Chomp their Way into the Scene”

  1. Cj Robertson says:

    Great article and interview John Holloway. Thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *