The 1st Time John Mayer Recreated The Grateful Dead’s Cornell ‘77 Show

The Dead & Company guitarist will perform with the band at Barton Hall tonight on the 46th anniversary of the Dead’s celebrated show.

By Andy Kahn May 8, 2023 10:51 am PDT

In 2015, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead celebrated the legendary band’s 50th anniversary in a variety of ways both together and individually. The summer’s five “Fare Thee Well” concerts brought together the surviving “Core Four” members of the Dead – bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – along with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and one-time Dead member, keyboardist Bruce Hornsby.

In the months before the “Fare The Well” shows, rumors began to circulate that Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart intended to form a new project that would later come to be known as Dead & Company. Early reports indicated Phish bassist Mike Gordon was in the running for the spot that ultimately went to bassist Oteil Burbridge. Unsurprisingly, Chimenti was chosen to play keys. More surprisingly, guitarist John Mayer was recruited to play lead guitar.

Lesh, who opted out of Dead & Co and the heavy touring that membership would require, did not limit his Grateful Dead 50th anniversary celebration to the five “Fare The Well” concerts. The bassist spent all of 2015 exploring the history of the Dead with a series of retrospective shows at his since-closed Terrapin Crossroads venue in San Rafael, California.

With an ever-changing cast of participants, Lesh’s 50th anniversary Phil Lesh & Friends concerts at Terrapin Crossroads began in January 2015 and continued through November 2016. Lesh’s celebratory shows chronologically featured complete recreations of Dead concerts from each of the years the band was active between 1965 and 1995.

When 1977 became the focus of Lesh’s TXR celebrations, one of the Grateful Dead’s most well-known shows once again received the spotlight. The Phil Lesh & Friends performance on June 12, 2015 – a few weeks before the first “Fare The Well” concerts and just after Dead-related Mayer rumors emerged – featured a complete recreation of the Grateful Dead’s May 8, 1977 concert at Barton Hall on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Dead & Company will perform at Cornell tonight, bringing Weir and Hart (Kreutzmann is sitting out the band’s final tour) back on the 46th anniversary of the standout concert. Tonight’s show at Barton Hall will not be the first time John Mayer has celebrated the Dead’s Cornell ‘77 concert as he was a surprise “Friend” at Terrapin Crossroads back in the summer of 2015. Others onstage at TXR for the Cornell ’77 show with Lesh and Mayer included guitarists Stu Allen and Scott Metzger, keyboardist Scott Guberman, drummers Pete Lavezzoli and Alex Koford and vocalist Jeannette Ferber.

Photographer Jay Blakesberg, who before each of the GD TXR 50th-anniversary shows discussed with Lesh significant events from the year being celebrated, detailed the circumstances surrounding Mayer’s involvement in the Phil & Friends’ Cornell ‘77 concert:

“Here is what I know. Based on some silly comments that always seem to appear when an artist that is not usually associated with this scene shows up…

“John is not trying to join Phil and Friends, or The Dead, or trying to replace Jerry. Phil and Jill ran into John in L.A. last week and invited him up. The basic premise of Terrapin is an intimate venue where ANYTHING can happen! Phil brings in players from every genre, to make Terrapin a special place with magical musical moments as often as possible.

“John accepted the invite and drove up from L.A. He hung out with all the musicians, was humble, polite, social, engaging and very cool. Before they went on stage Phil was giving him some words of encouragement and John said “I’m just going to try and find the space between the other two guitars.” Phil said, “Well with three guitarists, that’s a really good plan.”

“With that, they walked on stage. I would say most of the audience knew John was there, but no one really knew what to expect. John started off quietly, with some simple but beautiful fills in between what Stu and Scott were doing. Within a few songs, he really found his groove and the solos he did were all right in line with the Grateful Dead vibe…powerful and pretty. He was doing what every other guitarist who plays this music does…pour their heart and soul into it and make music that moves us all.

“By the second set, John really found his place in the script and with every song he got stronger, louder, and won over everybody in the room. Terrapin was on fire! The crowd was loving every moment of this legendary 1977 show they were playing, and John added so much fuel to that fire. The set ended with ‘Morning Dew.’ John took the last solo and completely blew every single mind in that room. Stu joined him for some intense guitar madness at the end of the solo, and when that song ended, the room erupted. Phil was beaming, as was everyone else on and off stage. That is the Magic of Terrapin Crossroads.”

Fans arriving for the June 12, 2015 concert at TXR knew only that the year being celebrated was 1977, though it is likely Cornell was on the minds of many going into the Grate Room performance. Mayer, still familiarizing himself with a repertoire he would over subsequent years become intimately acquainted, let his guitar playing do the talking – and singing – going without a vocal mic and staying otherwise quiet throughout the evening’s two sets.

The following night, June 13, 2015, the same musicians – including Mayer – reassembled at TXR and recreated the Grateful Dead’s June 9, 1977 concert held at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco in its entirety.

In August 2015, Mayer was officially announced as a member of Dead & Company. The band played their first concert in October 2015 and this weekend headlined New Orleans Jazz Festival with drummer Jay Lane filling in for Kreutzmann.

There are multiple ways to follow Dead & Company's show tonight at Barton Hall, including a video livestream.

Watch John Mayer and Phil & Friends recreate the Dead’s Cornell ‘77 show back in 2015 below:

Samwise Gamgee (See 34 videos)
Phil Lesh & Friends (See 262 videos) , John Mayer (See 73 videos) , Stu Allen (See 60 videos) , Scott Metzger (See 22 videos) , Scott Guberman (See 19 videos) , Pete Lavezzoli (See 7 videos) , Alex Koford (See 35 videos) and Jeannette Ferber (See 7 videos)

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