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Sunday, October 26, 2008

1977 May 8 - Cornell University

Grateful Dead - May 17 1977

Sunday, May 8, 1977
Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Audience & Soundboard Recordings

5/8/77 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY is heralded as the best Grateful Dead show of all time. How does one even attempt to put this tape into perspective? If you do any research at all (heck, you might have just found this writing here by doing just such research), you will quickly come to realize that May 8th, 1977 holds a very special place in the hearts of Deadheads. But it’s far more than that. This tape (not the show, but the tape itself) is the living breathing example of a sum being more than its parts. While many people might think it’s the show, it is actually the tape that holds all the star-like status.

First things first: 5/8/77 is without a doubt a very very good show. There is magic going on in Dancin’, Scarlet>Fire, NFA, and Morning Dew that make it a must to be heard (thus its inclusion in the GDLG). But, as a show, it’s not necessarily the best ever. It's not light years beyond the music that surrounds it in May of 1977. May ’77 is simply blessed as a pinnacle tour for the Grateful Dead. Much like the Fillmore run of February 1969, or the string of shows from June 1974, each show within each of these runs is a critical piece of the puzzle that reveals the excellence of these multi-show stretches. That said, and all props understandably due, the Cornell ’77 show is far more an example of being in the right place at the right time, than of existing completely above the level of all other performances. Yet, 5/8/77 holds a stature which points to it being far more than just the really good Dead show it is. Its legend has reached mythic proportion. In reality, it’s the tape, and its historical place in our tape trading community, - not the show itself - that holds the true honors associated with this date.

5-8-77 Cornell Grateful Dead PosterHere’s the thing, the 5/8/77 tape was one of the earliest “A+” quality soundboards to get into mass circulation, and not even too many years after its performance. From a tape trading perspective, Ithaca ’77 was like a banner carrying sojourner who travelled hundreds of miles from home representing the monument of music that was May 1977. The sojourner had good reason to set off on the journey. 1977 is very impressive. For many, May 1977, the most impressive month of a year that is perceived as the best year of them all. It’s somehow cosmically fitting that a tape from this run managed to leak out of the vault very early on, allowing the mythical story of the Grateful Dead to have one hell of a soundtrack. But the truth is, when you stack May 8th, 1977 against the rest of the month, it is simply another shining example of what was happening musically around it at the time. In fact, you can only really gain a full appreciation of what was so special about this month by hearing the rest of it.

With such a large songbook, you almost always do best to look at the Grateful Dead across multiple shows. It’s not enough to simply hear Dancin’ In The Streets and Scarlet>Fire from 5/8 in May '77. You need to hear what the band was doing with Help>Slip>Franklin’s, Playin’ In The Band, Eyes of the World, Other One, etc.., let alone all the first set song magic going at this point of their career. Now, I know this immediately sounds like something only a tape trading freak would say. After all, you don’t *have to* hear the rest of the month to know how great the Dead were in 1977 - 5/8/77 demonstrates this amply. The point is, most people give so much credit to this date, that it makes one think it may have been a startling stand out of a show. It was not. It was just a really nice glimpse into a historic portion of the Grateful Dead’s evolution as a band.

Because this tape went into circulation early, and in such high quality, it literally ended up everywhere, pervading everything. Much like our own solar system’s sun shines so brightly in the sky as to block out the light from the other billions of suns no more or less its equal, Cornell ’77 is like our sun in the daytime sky of Dead tapes. You can’t miss it, and it’s so dominant, that just about everyone refers to it as a shining example of what being a sun is all about. It’s a false, yet understandable perspective.

Jerry Garcia 19775/8/77 is the most easily recognizable example of Dead tapes there is, and being such a good show, people have come to call it the best ever. This happened, not because the show was something so much more amazing than any other, – it wasn’t picked to be exactly the one 1977 SBD to get into early circulation in pristine quality because someone decided it was really the best show ever – it just happened to be a show that got into this level of circulation. The power of the Dead’s mythical, Americana, Folk-Freak Psychedelic underground subculture took over from there, and because the show was “very good,” and the tape quality was “very good,” it was swooped up in the collective energy of our entire societal subset and slowly attained the accolades that make it even more than it was. It is in this way that the show came to embody the sum of parts associated with not just the music, but the recording of the music, the nature of the music being played at the time, and the rising development of the Dead tape trading community all at the same time. Make no mistake, there is some palpable mojo connected to this show – nearly everyone has a story about it. But it’s not the best Dead show ever.

It’s like trying to definitively answer an unanswerable question of existence. Grateful Dead tape collectors would not spend hours, days, and years debating which show/run/year was the best ever if there was actually an answer staring us in the face. There is no answer. But, you gotta hand it to 5/8/77; it brought a whole slew of neophytes into the debate, sparking an obsessive love for the music of the Grateful Dead. Barton Hall, Cornell College, Ithaca, NY 1977 was in the right place at the right time.

Musically Speaking:

My story around Cornell ‘77, which I’ve referred to a few times now, was that of having this tape (Dacnin’ through the end of set two) left in my car after going on a road trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see my first Dead show in April of 1989. My then new-ish Deadhead friend, Fritz, brought along this tape and set one from 06/23/74 for the ride up, so we could get our ears wet. The very first Dead bootleg I ever heard was Cornell ’77. Burned into my brain forever is the view of driving up US94 while Jerry bore his wha-filtered Dancin’ In The Streets solo into my heart. Fritz forgot those tapes in my car. I made copies almost immediately, and hand painted some water-color tape labels to go with them. That this was the most popular Dead tape ever didn’t even become clear to me until the Internet brought me in contact with so many people and tape lists, and I began to recognize a trend – nearly every tape list, no matter how small – had Cornell ‘77 on it. The unseen energy that fostered this passionate adoration of the Dead had somehow seen to that.

Bob Weir 1977It wasn’t until a few years ago that Jerry Moore’s audience recording of the Ithaca show got into wide circulation. And while there are now even better quality soundboards of 5/8/77 all over the place, I can’t help but point listeners to another top quality Moore recording from 1977.

If you’ve never heard the show, you’ll do best to just dive on in and let yourself experience this most famous show ever. However, there are a few wonderful moments along the way worth noting.

At right about the mid-point of Dancin’ In The Streets (at exactly 8:23 on the Jerry Moore AUD track), Garcia hits a short string of notes that seem to both explode and implode with electricity and power. It’s a transcendent bird chirping sound that grabs me completely. The entire solo is fantastic, but when I heard this small portion again after years and years and years, it brought me right back into the car ride from 1989.

Probably the most famous element to this show is the invisibly smooth transition from Scarlet Begonias into Fire On The Mountain. The Dead did this well in most years, most of the time. But one thing that can indeed be handed to Cornell ’77 is that it has probably the most seamless Scarlet>Fire transition of them all. So subtle is the movement from one song to another, the archived Moore AUD wisely leaves both songs as one single track. To have placed a track marker in the middle would have only served to raise a debate around whether it was placed correctly at all. Do Deadheads really have nothing better to do than argue these points? Also not to be missed are Garcia’s solos in Fire On The Mountain. They build beautifully, going from a subdued energy to an all-out blaze of guitar power. Great peaks are reached again and again.

Barton Hall Cornell UnivNot Fade Away finds Garcia pushing the limits of energy again, soaring through and burning up the air around him. Late in the jam, the drummers discard the traditional NFA thumping beat and the music slips into a more rolling cascading rhythm that hints a bit at Other One. This allows the music to get nicely *out* from the NFA theme, as beats begin to fold in on themselves like flower petals. NFA returns as its own beautiful reminder that this was the song being played in the first place.

Then there’s Morning Dew. This is an all-time version, not only because the entire song is so expertly delivered, but because it contains a crescendo of all crescendos. The shredding that Jerry pulls off at the end of the song, quite literally blows the roof off the hall. The crowd is left absolutely beside itself in joy afterwards.

AUD or SBD, you can’t go wrong with this show. Whether it introduces you to May 1977, or serves as something worth a long overdue re-listening, it’s hard not to appreciate the music contained on what is easily the most famous Dead tape of them all.

05/08/77 AUD etree source info
05/08/77 AUD Download

05/08/77 SBD etree source info


  1. You write so eloquently and made me want to listen to it again. For what it's worth I put a link to this at my blog. Regards/

  2. Scraping the bottom of the barrel here, I see.

    (kidding--another nice treatment. Yeah, I've always had this one too, as early as '79. Maybe give it another listen now though...the AUD might be fun.)

  3. Mona, thanks, I saw some traffic come over from your linking already. Thanks a ton!

    Sven, the AUD is pretty fun, if for nothing else than the amazing crowd reactions, expecially after the Dew.

    Listening to this show, though, sort of confirmed my preference for June '77. I think the 06/04/77 show is better. But I'm not a card carrying 1977 lover by any means. I go for 1976 and 1978 a bit more.

  4. I too went through a phase of thinking was overrated taper baby food, but I've since lightened up. There are better jams, shows, etc., but if anything in the Dead's whole canon could be called Just Exactly Perfect, it would be this second set.

    However, dissenting voices are certainly always welcome:

  5. I'm a contrarian in that I actually think 5/8/77 IS one of the small handfull of Best Ever Shows (there isn't a SINGLE B.E. - just a small handfull of worthy candidates). I admit I'm biased like everyone else, but I don't think there are any I can definitively say are better than 5/8

  6. this may not be the place for it, but, Anonymous: I don't disagree, but check 12/27/77, which has always been the high benchmark for BEWomens for me.

  7. Noah - Matt here. I like Jerry Moore's aud but you should also check out the stevenson's fob. To my ears its reaaly good:

  8. I have never read a better summation of what is right and wrong about Cornell. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

    To define oneself as a "Deadhead" is to oneself as an "other." Even during the peak years of whatever radio popularity the Dead might have garnered (say 69-70 and that weird, wonderful and ultimately cursed aberrational cosmic blip that was 1987) they were still never quite mainstream. As such, listening to the Grateful Dead has always been a true "alternative" musical experience, and not in the early-to-mid 90s sense of the word.

    I am digressing horribly. My point is, people who chose to be or perhaps more accurately end up being Deadheads do not generally like doing what everyone else does. As such, once it began to become clear that "everyone" loved Cornell and thought it was great, the knee-jerk, base, instinctual reaction of many heads (including many of the most vocal and hardcore among us) was to deride the show, even though it remains a stellar recording of a rock-solid performance.

    Bottom line, there are many vocal people who debase Cornell in spite of the aural evidence: who like to say clever things like, "best show ever, hell it's not even the best show of that week" just to prove how clever they are.

    Perhaps 5/8/77 was once overrated, but now it seems to receive so much unwarranted negative commentary it may in fact underrated. Listen and enjoy, figure out what all the fuss WAS about.

  9. For what it's worth, I'll throw in my two cents, not about the tape, but about the show, because by some miracle of fate, I was there.

    It was a crystal clear spring day in Ithaca, mother's day, to be exact. So the first thing I remember about the day was the line of deadheads at the phone booth (no cell phones then), waiting to make happy mother's day calls, before showing up in front of Barton Hall wearing t-shirts, and sitting out on blankets, sharing whatever they had with them to share, and in particular some very good blotter acid, which it seems everyone on the scene imbibed. And so the party atmosphere was well under way long before the show began. Then somewhere along late afternoon a gentle rain began to fall, and quite spontaneously, everyone stood up and held their blankets up and formed a huge, multicolored patchwork tent, and continued the party.

    By the time the doors opened the crowd was cemented together as one diamond-eyed mind. Now mind you, this was no giant amphitheater. It was an auditorium, wooden floors, a few bleachers and a stage. Was it the size of a basketball court? That part I can't say for sure, but it sure felt that way. With general admission tickets, it was what was know as a "dance concert" (do they still have those?) At any rate, we're talking hundreds, not thousands of people.... and it was sweet. There was plenty of room to twirl in the back, and twirl we did. In spite of the by now famous "Move Back" before the second set, while the band was playing, things were pretty loosened up and it was not impossible to get decently close to the band.

    While I am not one of those who have been to hundreds of shows, I have been following the Grateful Dead since 1974, when I was just a young'un, and I have seen my share of shows. And I must say, in light of what I read here, that although there are many good points made above abouthow and why the tape may have become so popular, I can certainly vouch that May 8, 1977 at Cornell University was far and away the most magical show I have ever attended, BY FAR!

    So is it that somehow, through the ethers, the energy of the magic there permeated the Dead Scene? I would not at all be surprised, because it just was not ordinary, right down to the fact that when we came out of the show to the same campus we had earlier been romping around in t-shirts, there was snow on the ground!

    So was it the tape, or was it the show? It may be hard to judge if your first Dead show was twelve years later. And with all due respect the the dedication your web site shows, and your well presented views, I will venture to say that it WAS the show, because I was there!

  10. jerry's solo on dancin blows my mind every single time especially those notes at 8:23.

    also check out keiths keyboard work on new minglewood blues

  11. ever think about doing a review of 5-7-80? i would love to read one

  12. This show inspired me to beleive in a higher power witch was was the the grateful dead reaching it , combined with the crowd we have been places others may never get to see.LOVE TO ALL FROM THE ONE!

  13. Your review of the "tape" and how it became this "sum of more than it's parts" was a fun read. It was well thought out, and the analogy of the brightest sun in the sky was smart. Unfortunately, your perspective is post-1987, and it lacks sufficient history.

    Betty boards started circulating widely around Sept 1987. I remember being in the Cap Center parking lot and hearing this incredible version of the Cornell show. I approached the guy playing it and he had a SOUNDBOARD version of the show. He proceeded to tell me the story of the Betty boards. Back in the mid 80s, we all had crappy audience copies of the Cornell show, yet it was ALWAYS my favorite. I asked the guy to run me copies and he told me he would. I thought it was Christmas Day. I couldn't believe someone actually had a soundboard of this show.

    Within a week, I was getting all these calls about great sounding soundboards that were popping up, including 5/7/77 and 5/8/77.

    You claim Cornell was one of the earliest A+ soundboards to get into mass circulation. Hardly. Dan Healy leaked board patches and soundboard tapes left and right. There was LOTS of great soundboard prior to the Betty Boards.

    The Cornell show is as great as the hype. The release of the Betty Boards exposed it to the masses, but for those of us who lived with the crappy audience copies for years, we still called it our favorite show.

    Most of the pre-74 stuff is great, butI like the slightly more polished sound of 76-79. That's why I think 5/8/77 is "best show ever". If I loved the raw early stuff more, I'd understand why this show could never be called "No. 1".

  14. What I find incredible is after years of trading cassettes in college, with dual Naks, working diligently to preserve the quality tape to tape.. I can now sit in my den and listen to 5-8-77 in full Dolby 5.1 surround sound thanks to the likes of Charlie Miller and others who have sacrificed countless hours of their personal time to bring us the best quality digital experience. Thanks to preservationists who keep the music alive..

  15. Thank you Icepetal. After decades of living on so little of the Dead's music, for you to do this for us is so appreciated. I lived in Alaska for 38 years nonstop, very little of their music was available, I live off memories and the very occasional concert down South. Now thanks to you I'm catching up and learning, getting another chance to be there, however vicariously but just as true and strong. As to this 5-8-77, for me the Stevenson is the one, capturing a clearer more intense sound, along with the audience banter. Especially the Dew. Whew.

  16. With all due respect to the person who said there were "great" sounding boards prior to the release of the betty boards in 87, in a way I must disagree. Yes, there were stellar and very clean board tapes out there, but when the Betty's hit..... that was and still is the pinacle of sound. The richness of the May 77 run that was captured on tape to this day is the benchmark through which all other tapes are measured. And Icepetal, i'm a huge and gracious fan of your postings. Inspirational indeed!

  17. Can I just add how amazing Mickey and Bill play on Scarlet/Fire? I've been coming back to this tape since 1988 or so, and their playing never ceases to amaze. Subtle, bombastic...just great.

  18. Even though many of us may be tempted to discuss the absolute greatest Dead show ever, it's akin to arguing about the greatest Dead song. I like early 80's Dead myself, but there's no question that this show is huge. And even today, with wide access to so many incredibly sounding shows from the 70's, it's my sense that this one still stands out. The first set is often overlooked (except the Dancin'), with steller versions of Minglewood, Loser, Lazy Lightning/Supplication, Brown Eyed Women, and Row Jimmy (with a sweet slide guitar solo). But, this second set is truly phenomenal. The Scarlet-Fire is perfection, and if you ask me is the highlight of the whole show (esp. the transition jam). Jerry's solo in Not Fade Away is amazing, and yes the Morning Dew is mighty indeed (although I still prefer Hampton '84). Any discussion of the greatest show always concerns the sound of the band; the Dead circa June '76 sounded quite different from the Dead circa May '77...and not only in approach, song selection, etc...but also tonally. In addition, I believe that the Betty Boards weren't actually 'released'. Her home was foreclosed on and the reels were left, abandoned, no? Finally, I met someone who went to this show, drove up from NYC the day of show, arrived during Dancin' ticketless. Fortunately for him and his friends, there was no one at the box office, the doors were open, and they just walked right into Barton Hall...

  19. 10/15/10
    Yes absolutely ONE of the finest SHOW TAPES out there, but there are so many contributing factors that one person or another can deem their personal best show or shows of all time. One of the things I really dig about the spring ‘77 run and many of the Betty boards (San Bernadino WOW!) Is I will turn non Dead Heads OR even Dead haters to these tapes and I have converted quite a few of these people after rolling a few reel to reels and a few dubies into either new Deadheads or at least Dead curious. I loved watching the transformation take place rite before my eyes during Scarlet>Fire or NFA>GDTRFB or St. Stephen>NFA>St or Help>Slip>Frank etc. etc. etc.

  20. There was a freak snow storm that day. Many of the Deadheads who had arrived early broke into the building accross from Barton Hall to get out of the weather.

  21. It may be an incredible show and many words have flowed regarding this place and time, but these words are some of the best, most succinct descriptions of this show. What a write-up. If anyone asks ';ll just send them here.

    If your first show was '89, I'm not sure how you got such a great grip on the whole dead horizon (there'd be 60's people sayin' that to me, just the same, natch). The Barton tape didn't appear in my circle until late 80s and I never even heard a low-gen until the 90s, so, guess I'm in the same lake, if not boat. I think it's the middle show of an incredible 3-day-run but it would seem its legend has grown since the advent of the interwebs. I don't remember anyone saying it was the best until recently (it was mentioned among several that you "should hear"). I DO remember people saying that about Richmond 89, Red Rocks 87, Veneta 72, Fillmore 70, blah, blah. Oh well, if one has to be the best, let this one ride. Just remember: IAATR (It's all about the run)!!

  22. 7May77, Boston = A-
    8May77, Cornell = A
    9Mayy, Buffalo = A+ (it's just a slightly better show mainly cuz it rips right out of the gate with an A+ Help>Slip>Franks. It doesn't have Barton's Dancin' but that one loses it's shine after many repeat visits. Barton has one of the greatest BEWs and a solid A Scarlet>Fire (though far from my favorite). Buffalo has incredible: Cassidy, Tennessee, Bertha, Estimated, NFA. Barton has the energy, the pulse; Buffalo has sparks, flow, selection, X.

    Comparing the May 77 shows is difficult and time-consuming. They're all good. Of the 3-day run, I give the edge to Buffalo. Barton is in the top 5 for May 77, though.

  23. If you piece DP Vol. 3 together with the 8 leftovers at Archive -- and even if you don't -- you could easily come to the conclusion that 5-22-77 (Pembroke Pines) is a better show. In fact, the only thing 5-8-77 has over it IMHO is Scarlet > Fire, because 5-22-77 has no Scarlet > Fire. But the Sugaree, the Help/Slipknot/Franklin, and the incredible almost hour-long windup of the second set -- Estimated > Eyes > WR > Terrapin > Dew -- speak volumes about this show. Better encore, too -- Sugar Mag instead of Sat. Night.

    1. but I was tripping balls at the Cornell show, and the space monkeys came and took us to another place.

  24. This show was like a birthing, in to this world I had only heard about, and vicariously lived through others tales and listened to on tapes.
    Every song had some sort of religious fervor to it, as we wiggled, waggled and jumped and clawed at the magical air that filled Barton Hall.
    The way the set went, was confusing. a Jack without a China Cat threw me for a loop. a St. Stephen, where'd that come from. But the Scarlett/Fire was monumental as were so many of these songs.. Everything went blue, at the end, when they played Morning Dew. I kept hoping for a Stella Blue. But the lighting guy had nothing to do with the set list.
    The jamming carried us through the night.
    The big echoing hall and the lighting had such a huge impact. Listening now, hearing Jerry riffing in to the clouds, makes me wish I had a better sound system.
    It snowed for the ride home. It being May, you wouldn't expect anything less up there. each morsel of snow were kisses from angels. Luckily I was in the back of someone's car and all I had to do was make sure to stay close and barely tethered to the planet that night.

  25. The comment about this show being in the right place at the right time (as if that isn't ever the case) captures the special quality this night had. Last minute miracle ticket, ride down with good people, everything seemed to align for all. The feeling of being in the right place at the right time permeated the music from the beginning. The Scarlet/Fire transition is a good example of this natural ease. Some nights you gotta wok to get there, some nights it was just meant to happen. Proof to us was that, after the epic Morning Dew we wandered out to the parking lot to find a soft fluffy blanket of May snowfall, which we tossed in the air by handfuls, covering everything like a seal of approval from the universe.

  26. I will forever have Jerry's Dancin' solo/jam playing in my mind. This may not be the best show based on song selection, or on epicness but if you had a chance to play for someone (who had never listened to the Dead) one single show..which one would it be? For me it would either be 5-8-77 or 9-13-75.

  27. I saw an interview with Bob Weir promoting the new '77 releases, the Cornell show was mentioned as though it never happened, any ideas why ????

  28. Yeah, I saw that too, Bob was real sure the band didn't play that nite, which we all know they did, kinda weird .......

  29. To anonymous above, here is the thing. There is some kind of legal battle with the masters. The band doesn't have them. That is why they have not been released by the band. I read about this last year. The tapes went to a roadie, and then ended up with an ex wife.

    So, either the actual physical master tapes are either lost, or someone won't hand them over. Judging by Bobby's coyness, I am guessing they know who has the tapes and are trying to get them. The other guys in that interview were willing to talk about it.

    it's a shame, and kinda crazy to think about. With Owsley, the Dead pioneered and basically invented concert recording. So, to think they don't have the tapes to their most famous show most be driving them crazy.

    I too believe that if you had to pick one show that was the greatest, this is it. That Scarlett/Fire is just transcendent. There are many eras I love, especially the Spring 90 and 91 stuff, as I was at those shows.

    I am confident in time they will surface and the band will release them. Whoever has them now is not making any money by holding them. So, it is either a battle over a dollar figure, or they are lost to history.

  30. Thanks iamcorrect for a very informative reply, it all makes sense now. If the masters fail to materialize then I can make do with my top quality boot cd released about 20 years ago, the master would be hard pushed to improve on the sq.

  31. It's hard to tell if Bobby's joking in that interview or not. There's long been some controversy on whether this show was actually played, so for him to come out and say it like that... It almost sounds like maybe this rumor was started within the band, since they don't have the master tape. Or maybe he wasn't joking, and it was some kind of mind control experiment done in cahoots with the "company"! He says it's "unclassified" now. Well, I'd sure like to see that document!

  32. You put just right. It stands on its own but when placed in its context, the context becomes more than the sum of its parts


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