May 8, 1977: Grateful Dead’s Historic Cornell Concert

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The Dead in May 1977

The Grateful Dead played more than 2,000 concerts, but none continues to spark interest and provoke discussion quite like the band’s performance at Cornell University’s Barton Hall on May 8, 1977. It is one of the most collected, traded and debated concerts by any band ever, has topped numerous fan polls through the years, and was a favorite of the group’s longtime archivist Dick Latvala, who stated, “Enough can’t be said about this superb show.”

Even Uncle Sam got into the act in 2011 when the recording was “deemed so important to the history and culture of the United States” that a copy was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. (Watch a mini-documentary on it below.)

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show, Rhino released Cornell 5/8/77, a 3-CD set of the legendary show, in 2017. For true collectors, there’s May 1977: Get Shown the Light, a 11-disc boxed set that features the Cornell University show (5/8/77), along with three other previously unreleased concerts: Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT (5/5/77), Boston Garden, Boston, MA (5/7/77), and Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY (5/9/77). Order it here.

[Editor’s note: the release of the two collections delivered yet another milestone for the band: their highest chart position in 30 years with both sets debuting in the Top 15 of Billboard‘s Top Albums chart. Cornell 5/8/77 entered at #10 while the 11-disc May 1977: Get Shown the Light entered at #15. Given the hefty price of the latter, it’s a remarkable achievement.]

Watch the unboxing video of the 11-disc set…

The recordings come from the so-called Betty Boards, soundboard tapes made by Betty Cantor-Jackson, who was the Dead’s live recording engineer for many years. Jeffrey Norman has mastered the recordings in HDCD. The transfers from the master tapes were produced by Plangent Processes.

The Dead in 1977 (l to r): Donna Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart

“These four concerts have been the holy grail of wish-list releases both externally and internally for a long, long time,” says David Lemieux, Grateful Dead archivist and the set’s producer,” in a Feb. 17, 2017 press release. “During the 18-plus years I’ve worked with the Grateful Dead, no concert has garnered as much attention and as many requests for release as Cornell, with the New Haven, Boston and Buffalo shows following very closely behind. For those who didn’t know the history of these master tapes and about their absence from the band’s vault, and for those who have, like us, lamented this hole in the collection, we join with you in celebrating what might be, minute-for-minute, song-for-song, the most high quality Grateful Dead release ever produced.”

Related: Our review of Long Strange Trip, the 2017 4-hour Dead documentary

Garcia, Hart, Lesh and Kreutzmann in May 1977

Jerry Garcia, Donna Jean Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir had just completed Terrapin Station, the band’s ninth studio album, when they hit the road for a spring tour leading up to the album’s release in late July. The 2017 set serves as a prequel of sorts to the May 1977 boxed set from 2013, which featured the next five shows from that tour.

The set lists played at the four shows included in this set—especially Barton Hall—offer up sweeping retrospectives of the band’s career, touching on the early psychedelic days (“Morning Dew” and “St. Stephen”), and the rootsy early-’70s (“Uncle John’s Band” and “Tennessee Jed”) up to and including previewing songs from the group’s then-unreleased album Terrapin Station (“Estimated Prophet” and “Samson and Delilah.”)

Since some of her tapes began circulating in the 1980s, Cantor-Jackson’s live recordings of the band have become the gold standard by which others are measured. After decades in limbo, more than 350 reels of her recordings are now part of the Grateful Dead’s musical vault.

In the set’s liner notes, Meriwether captures how the Cornell show pulls together many of the disparate strands of the Grateful Dead phenomenon and the Deadhead experience, from the music and experience of the show to its recording and dissemination. “The story of Cornell ’77 is more than just a tale of another great Dead show, another enduring example of what [Dick] Latvala called ‘primal Dead’: It is the stuff of history and legend, myth and mystery, and how those all played out to finally produce this long-awaited, much anticipated release, forty years after the last notes of ‘One More Saturday Night’ rang out in the drafty, cavernous confines of Barton Hall that night.” 

Watch a mini-documentary on Cornell ’77…

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  1. Guy Smiley
    #1 Guy Smiley 17 February, 2017, 22:25

    I don’t normally buy pricey, large box sets like this– especially since so much GD music can be had for free — but this was THE run of shows to have.

    Couldn’t resist having these shows fully cleaned up, sparkling presentation. Looking forward to the book that comes with it too!

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