The Grateful Dead’s May 8, 1977 performance at Barton Hall on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York is just one of many powerful shows the band laid down that spring. Yet, when a high-quality recording of the show surfaced in 1985 and was spread quickly amongst fans, it rose to towards the top of the list of the most famous shows in Grateful Dead history. Today, 39 years to the day later, and after hundreds of crispy recordings of Dead shows have circulated, it still remains a fan-favorite.
The late Dick Latvala, the Grateful Dead’s first official archivist, was a huge fan of Cornell ’77. As noted by Nicolas Meriwether of the Grateful Dead archive, Latvala wrote this in his journal just based off an audience recording, “After a few hearings I remain pretty convinced that this is the best show I’ve yet heard from the 1977 tour. Of course, there are shows where they excel on some of the above tunes, but overall, I haven’t heard a finer show. Every song is done well and what is extremely nice is that they put extra charge into some of their age-old standards that usually always sound the same. The jam that ends the second set is outstanding. It has to be one of the best ‘Not Fade Away’s I’ve ever heard … ‘Morning Dew’ was possibly the best version yet, with a burning finish …”
When a recording of 5/8/77 was entered into the prestigious National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, the show gained even more fame. Unbelievably, the Grateful Dead doesn’t have a master tape of Cornell ’77 in its archives, which is why it was passed up for release on 2013’s May ’77 box set. The great Betty Cantor-Jackson recorded the show and it was one of hundreds of soundboard recordings to reach fans’ hands in 1985 through an auction of her storage space. When asked about the status of the source tape, current Grateful Dead legacy manager David Lemieux told Relix, “I do not know specifically but I have heard from many people that they know where it is and they know who has it and that’s fine. We’ve certainly made a note that we’d love to have it back as we would with any master Grateful Dead tape that we don’t have in the vault. But there’s really nothing we can do about it. We’re not going to pay for our own tape. That’s one thing I don’t think we’d ever do is to pay to buy them back and I don’t think they’ve been offered to the band in a long, long time. They know where we are, we’re easy to find and I think it has been made clear that we would love to have them back. Some people would just rather have the tapes in their closet than in the vault, but that’s fine. It is what it is. Again, there’s nothing we can do, we don’t lose sleep over it, but it is as it is.”
For further reading on Cornell ’77, we highly recommend Blair Jackson’s essay and Meriwether’s piece. With all that in mind, here’s a stream of a soundboard matrix recording of the show transferred by Dark Star Orchestra guitarist Rob Eaton:
Grateful Dead at Barton Hall, Cornell University
- Minglewood Blues
- El Paso
- They Love Each Other
- Jack Straw
- Lazy Lightning
- Brown-Eyed Women
- Mama Tried
- Row Jimmy
- Dancing in the Street
- Scarlet Begonias
- Fire on the Mountain
- Estimated Prophet
- St. Stephen
- Not Fade Away
- St. Stephen
- Morning Dew
- One More Saturday Night
[Originally Published: May 8, 2013]
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