By Katemae

The Countdown is Over…

AND WE”RE OFF… After a hiatus of three years, Skull and Roses finally had their long-awaited fourth festival at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. April 7-10th 2022 had been an anticipated weekend for many months by not only the S&R staffers, but by thousands of people too. From that first moment of driving onto the fairgrounds on Sunday, April 3rd, to my exit on Monday, April 11th, the anticipation, experience, and memories have a permanent place in my body, soul and spirit. Before I review my thoughts regarding the entire weekend, I would like to share one of my fondest memories of that entire time. This memory was only shared with my husband, Jeff,  and it takes place on that first Sunday night. The earlybird team arrived on the fairgrounds on Sunday prior to sunset. The initial crew shared some long awaited hugs and sigh of relief then decided to have a light dinner then get a good night’s sleep. Jeff and I were the only two that went back to secure the fairgrounds that night. We already had our trailer set up so all we needed to do was walk the property and lay our heads down. As we drove onto the fairgrounds, towards the center of what would become a bustling area the next day, we noticed how eerily quiet and dark evers overything was. In fact, it felt a little scary at times. Regardless, we decided to take a stroll around the grounds, and into the bowl, to make sure there were no uninvited guests. We took some photos of the empty grounds so we could compare them to when we were in full swing festival mode. The ghostly quietness of the night before it all began is the memory that will be with me forever.

Sure enough, 7am brought the sunlight, warm temperatures and giant trucks into the fairgrounds. The turntable stage was the one of our biggest deliveries, and it was here, but before the process of assembly could begin the oval track had to be scrapped and leveled from its normal banked race track style. While watching this process, Jeff sensed a familiar smell of the dirt. He had raced speedway on this track back in the 70’s , and as we all know, our senses trigger those long term memories like it was yesterday. Dirt, tractors, horse barns, salty air, and breezy afternoons and Grateful Dead, is what triggers my memories of Ventura County Fairgrounds. 

Once the oval had been prepared for festival activity the assembly began. For the Skull and Roses Production Team the excitement we all shared was beyond joy. We were witnessing the first assembly of the giant turntable stage to be used at a California festival. From that moment on the work to put on Skull & Roses 2022 never let up until the Tuesday after the final note of Uncle John’s Band on Sunday, April 10th. To be honest, I think our in-house managers are still replying to random emails that show up. And, now that we are in the initial planning stages for 2023, it ALL ROLLS INTO WON!

Skull & Roses, 2022, happened and will always be remembered as our transitional year by those who put it on. Chris’ vision has gone from his first year, 2017, with a few hundred attendees to doubling each year thereafter. That was until this year, we sold out at five thousand tickets purchased, and at least1500 more without purchased tickets. UGH!! Shame on those who did not pay to play. Being a family run festival the breaches in the security area make it much harder to manage and contain chaos for any festival, let alone our “on the beach” location where there is no more room to spread out due to the Pacific Ocean to the immediate west side of the property. 

Now, back to early in the week of April 7th, the areas of the stage, front and back, were taking shape, our first year with a “PRIMO” area was also being put together. It was my honor to bring in a new PIGPEN and Jerry banner designed by an old friend of mine, Willard Snow. Those banners with Jam Crew’s beautiful tye dye backdrops were special touches added and enjoyed by our Primo guests. Most exciting was seeing my wooden wheels hanging on each end of the Primo Lounge. I had this vision three years back, and to see them lit up at night made me feel so grateful to be part of this festival. Lastly, the solar lights along the picket fence were also an added bonus to help light the way. 

Back behind the scenes our special areas called “Phil Zone” and “The Swamp” were great hangout places for the artists and production crew. Shannon Rice Johnson, owner of Peiranos Market Restaurant in Ventura setup two wonderful areas to relax and have a meal made of delicious and healthy delicacies. The Phil Zone also contained some memorable art and a relaxed vibe for pre-show feasting. This year the swamp was overflowing with Alligators of all ages. One could “CHOMP” all day if they wanted.

Between Wednesday and Thursday afternoon the quietness of the fairgrounds gave way to a bustling metropolis. Almost every area we had access to was filled with vendors, tent campers, small live-music set ups, Trailers, RV’s, and lots of doo-hickies everywhere. Parades and our Egyptian bus was hard to miss.

Musically, S&R killed it this year with an incredible line up everyday. From Tucson’s Legion of Mario on Thursday, to Phil Lesh and Friends on Sunday, and every band in between, the smiles said it all. Starting with Thursday’s first band, Legion of Mario, then Shakey Feeling, Higgs, and the all female band Brown Eyed Women, and Dave A-Bears Steely Dead, S&R was rolling. After a quick break, DSO brought us Reckoning and Stu Allen and Mars Hotel closed that night with a killer show. That was only the beginning because we still had three more jam packed days to go. Friday started with Catfish John from Vegas, followed by our own David Gans with Brown Eyed Women. That was such a special set. Next up was AZ’s The Noodles, Santa Cruz’s China Cats, and then, our dear friends, Jerry’s Middle Finger. WOW!! Soon after Pink Talking Fish played us a rocking set, followed by Jackie Greene. And to top this amazing day/night, DSO played another two full sets. And this was only the first two days!

With the weekend ahead, Saturday started off to another set by David Gans. Thanks David for blessing our stage twice this year. Another AZ band, Xtra Ticket took the stage, then Marcus Rezak’s Shred is Dead, Electric Waste band, Roots of Creation, and finally our own house Band, The Alligators, finished out the afternoon. Special shout out to our Alligators, you freaking killed it! The evening began with Cubensis with special guests. It was evident by the display of pictures throughout the crowd that we were all praying for Craig Marshall who was unable to be with us. Unfortunately he passed away on June 16th and we will be forever grateful for his contribution to Skull & Roses and our Southern California Jam Band scene he helped create. We Love You Craig! Circles Around the Sun played next with Melvin Seals and JGB on deck. Then we had a very special performance by The Assbites From Hell. It had been many long years since Steve Parish graced any stage with his original band from the early Grateful Dead Shows. WOW is an understatement when Assbites took the stage. Lastly, after a long, unplanned break, Oteil and Friends finally got to perform another magical set on our stage. And it was not over yet!

Our final day, Sunday, was simply magical. After another live broadcast played out to start the day.  Midnight North came out and played  a rockin’ set, followed by Moonalice, Keller Williams Grateful Grass, The Soul Rebels, and finally, Phil Lesh and Friends, blessed our turntable stage with his grace. It had been the long awaited return of Phil Lesh to Ventura. When I heard the first note of his bass and his amazing voice fill the oval once again I cried happy tears. It truly was a dream of S&R to bring Phil back to Ventura County Fairgrounds. It had been since June 14, 1987 that any original Grateful Dead members had played inside the oval. So from his first note of Mississippi Half Step to the final note of Uncle John’s Band, the entire gathering at this year’s Skull & Roses was grooving and swaying thanks to Chris Mitovich’s vision of bringing back an original member of our beloved Grateful Dead. 

As we all walked out of the oval and headed towards the beautiful sunset through Shakedown, the barns, and the camping areas all one could see/hear/feel were the tears of joy, hugs and love flowing freely throughout the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Thank you to Jay Blakesburg, Dave Stotts, and Doug Clifton for helping provide some of these photos. Much Appreciation!

See Y’all Next Year,