Leg­end of 1977 Grate­ful Dead show at Cor­nell Univer­sity lives on

Cape Breton Post - - Arts/entertainment - BY MICHAEL HILL

The Grate­ful Dead per­formed thou­sands of con­certs, none ac­claimed quite like their May 8, 1977, show at a Cor­nell Univer­sity field house on a freak­ishly snowy night.

Revered by Dead­heads and hon­oured by the Li­brary of Congress, the Bar­ton Hall show is back in the psy­che­delic spot­light on its 40th an­niver­sary. On Monday, “Grate­ful Dead Day” will be rung in, lit­er­ally, with Dead tunes played on chimes in Cor­nell’s clock tower. There’s a new book on the show, “Cor­nell ‘77,” by Peter Conners. And a re­mas­tered record­ing ti­tled “Cor­nell 5/8/77” is be­ing com­mer­cially re­leased to com­ple­ment the boot­leg tapes that have stoked the rep­u­ta­tion of the show for four decades.

“It was just an ex­cep­tional show from the get-go,” said Mark Nathanson, who as a 19-year-old drove to the show from Toledo, Ohio. “You could tell that the en­vi­ron­ment was right, the band was right, the crowd was right.

All the com­bi­na­tions that are re­quired for one of those magical shows were all there.”

The Dead played an es­ti­mated 2,300 shows over three decades from their 1965 birth in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area through front­man Jerry Gar­cia’s death in 1995. Their shows were fa­mous for their length, counter-cul­tural vibe, im­pro­vi­sa­tional style and wide-rang­ing mu­si­cal vo­cab­u­lary rang­ing from blue­grass to psy­che­delic rock.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the ab­so­lute best show over the 30-year span is as use­ful as try­ing to name the great­est paint­ing or the strong­est superhero. But Bar­ton Hall is a con­sis­tent con­tender on topten lists by both crit­ics and fans.

Ithaca’s show was sand­wiched be­tween Bos­ton and Buf­falo on a swing through the East Coast. At least sev­eral thou­sand fans packed into the old stone build­ing on the Ivy League cam­pus. Afi­ciona­dos say the band was tight on that tour af­ter months in the stu­dio, but their mood seemed loose that day.

Nathanson re­calls Gar­cia grin­ning on stage and ear­lier stick­ing his head from the band’s Cadil­lac win­dow to launch good-na­tured gibes at peo­ple wait­ing to get in.

Stu­dents who paid $6.50 for an ad­vance ticket ($7.50 at the door and for non-stu­dents) heard a band at its height on a good night. The leg­end came later.

High-qual­ity boot­leg tapes recorded from the sound­board be­came pop­u­lar among Dead­heads to trade and share. Ver­sion of songs in­clud­ing “Morn­ing Dew” and “St. Stephen” built the show’s rep­u­ta­tion over the years. Cov­ers that night in­cluded Merle Hag­gard’s “Mama Tried,” an ap­pro­pri­ate choice since it was Mother’s Day.

Even some of the peo­ple there say they only fully ap­pre­ci­ated the per­for­mance af­ter lis­ten­ing to the tapes.

“I vaguely re­mem­ber think­ing this was a re­ally good show,” said Robert Cooper, then a 26-yearold Cor­nell grad­u­ate liv­ing on a com­mune nearby. “But to say I went home and said, ‘This is prob­a­bly one of the great­est shows ever!’ No.”

Even the es­tab­lish­ment was im­pressed, even­tu­ally. The Bar­ton Hall show was in­ducted into the Li­brary of Congress’ Na­tional Record­ing Reg­istry, a rar­i­fied col­lec­tion that show­cases Amer­ica’s recorded heritage. It was part of a 2011 class that also in­cluded Prince’s “Pur­ple Rain,” and the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas.”

More of­fi­cial hon­ours came this year when county of­fi­cials pro­claimed Monday as Grate­ful Dead Day. The procla­ma­tion will be read that evening be­fore “Playin’ in the Band” and some other Dead stan­dards are in­ter­preted on Cor­nell’s chimes.

Jerry Gar­cia

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