It was easy to tell that Ventura was a bastion of Deadheads of all ages when the faithful descended on the Majestic Ventura Theater on February 20th for a concert by Dark Star Orchestra. The Grateful Dead cover band has a massive following in Ventura, as evidenced by the sold-out crowd that spilled out into the streets. Curbside vendors sold all manner of Dead paraphernalia, while faithful followers without tickets searched for the mythical “Miracle Ticket.”
Inside the venue, colorfully clad fans could be heard discussing their historical Grateful Dead concert experiences or their plans to attend this year’s Skull and Roses Festival. Ventura has long been a Grateful Dead stronghold. The band played the Ventura fairgrounds from 1982 through 1987, except for 1986, when guitarist Jerry Garcia faded into a diabetic coma and almost died. Thirty years later, The Skull and Roses festival was born to commemorate these legendary shows, with a three-day celebration composed of musicians who have worked with the original Grateful Dead members or related jam bands. Festival publicist Dennis McNally, who was the Grateful Dead's publicist from 1984-95, is set to bring the biggest line up yet to the third installment of the festival on April 2nd to the 5th. Unfortunately, news just broke earlier today this year's festival will be postponed.
But on this night, it was DSO that captured the imagination of the upbeat audience with two sets of classic Grateful Dead covers. Lead guitarist and vocalist Jeff Mattson kicked off with a cover of Alabama that had the crowd singing along to every word. Many in the crowd sang along to every song, including songs that were covered by the Dead themselves. In the front, fans pushed tightly against the rails to be close to the band. In the back, people pranced about dancing the iconic hippie dances of the '60s. Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton took over lead vocals on several songs. Bassist Skip Vangelas kept the low-end crisp and loud. The music kept a psychedelic feel with the fanciful organ playing from Rob Barraco. In addition to Dead songs; the first set included Bob Weir, Willie Dixon, and Marty Robbins covers.
The second set opened with a stirring “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” a Grateful Dead cover. The band then mixed it up with a Harry Belafonte’s, “Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” Toward the end of the set drummers, Dino English and Rob Koritz showed off their skills on the iconic Grateful Dead drum jams of “Drums” and “Spaced.” The band came out of their psychedelic haze ending the set with a Bonnie Dobson cover, “Morning Dew.” Long live the music of the Grateful Dead!