Grateful Dead Inspired Skull & Roses is not a Festival it’s Tradition

Published on April 6, 2019

The music never stopped when the Grateful Dead played their final Ventura County Fairgrounds concert in 1987. The 3rd annual Skull & Roses Festival, currently underway at the legendary Dead venue, is proving just that.

Photo by Joel Martin

There is no cooler feeling than rolling down the window and hearing “US Blues” echo against the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.  As I parked outside the gates, I could only imagine this is what it felt like to the tens of thousands of fans who didn’t find their miracle 30 plus years ago.  They may not have been inside the show, but they could still hear Phil’s bass pound across the surf.

There isn’t another band in the world that could come close to having an annual festival of tribute acts. Where else other than Dead & Co. and Phish shows do you find hundreds of RV’s littering parking lots with Steelie’ flags hoisted high and grilled cheeses feeding the masses?  Only here in Ventura County does the vibe come close.  The only difference is Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir and John Mayer won’t be making any appearances this weekend.  However, the music and party have all arrived.

Skull & Roses creator Chris Mitrovich tapped into something special here in Ventura.  Roaming the festival in golf carts with his crew, Mitrovich makes sure to keep things rolling smoothly by having two stages alternating performances every hour or so. The Wall of Sound Stage has the mountains as a backdrop while the Pig Pen Stage is framed with palm trees and the ocean.


Friday had some great moments with Los Angeles based Cubensis leading the charge. Shaky Feelin’s segue into Phish’s “Chalkdust Torture””on the Wall of Sound Stage had fans’ minds blown prior to the band making their way back to a heady Dead set.

Highlight of the evening was Arizona band The Noodles with keyboardist Elliott Rauch’s gritty Brent Mydland like vocals.  Rauch had the crowd on their toes every note of the way as he ad-libbed Brent’s famous riffs. 

Elliot Rauch by John Holloway

There is so much more to come with The Alligators getting ready to take the stage today and Grateful Dead to follow. Stu Allen and Zach Nugent will both have a say later in the evening with their remarkable Grateful tributes closing down one more Saturday night.

Tickets are still available for tonight and tomorrow.  Sunday, Melvin Seals and JGB return for their 3rd run at Skull & Roses and Oteil Burbridge will be closing the festival with Oteil & Friends at 5:00pm Sunday evening. 

“Fair” you well my honey. See you at the Fairgrounds!

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