On Monday, May 8, 2017 WHWS-LP 105 FM will broadcast the complete iconic Cornell University Barton Hall Grateful Dead Concert from 40-years ago. The concert will be broadcast starting at 1pm right after the Grateful Dead Hour with David Gans.
Several events are being planned for Ithaca on Monday. From the Ithaca Journal Here’s what’s happening-
Fueled by bootleg recordings circulated among ardent fans, the Grateful Dead’s May 8, 1977, show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall has achieved legendary status in the ensuing decades.
Forty years to the day after that iconic show, the State Theatre of Ithaca will host a celebration on Monday, May 8.
Attendees will get to hear the digitally remastered version of the show that Rhino Entertainment will be releasing on May 5, played through the State’s brand-new sound system.
“After 40 years, the most popular bootleg of all time is finally getting released — we couldn’t not do anything,” said Doug Levine, executive director of the State Theatre. “I’ve had these shows forever — first as cassettes, then as CDs, then on my iPod. I’m super-excited as a Deadhead to get the fully remastered show. What I’ve heard online so far sounds amazing.”
Terrapin Station, a local Grateful Dead tribute band that includes former members of the long-running Lost Sailors, will open the night with an acoustic set. There also will be a visual component, with images from the era projected on the big screen throughout the night.
Paying further tribute to the 1977 show, advance tickets for the State event are $6.50 — the same price as the Barton Hall show.
One of only two officially sanctioned listening parties to mark the 40th anniversary (the other is at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y.), the event also will include a silent auction that will include items donated by Rhino Entertainment and area businesses. All proceeds from the event will go to support the State Theatre, a non-for-profit organization.
Becoming a legend
Ten years ago, the State hosted a 30th anniversary concert by the Dark Star Orchestra, who recreated the Barton Hall setlist for a sold-out audience. This time around, the original show itself will take center stage.
How that show achieved its reputation is the subject of a new work by Peter Conners, a Rochester-based author whose book “Cornell ’77: The Music, the Myth, and the Magnificence of the Grateful Dead’s Concert at Barton Hall,” was just published by Cornell University Press. Through numerous interviews and his own analysis, he outlines how and why the show has become so popular among fans while also placing it in the overall context of that era of the Dead.
As Conners noted in his prologue: “You will hear from Deadheads who went to the show. You will hear from non-Deadhead Cornell graduates who were responsible for putting on the show in the first place. You will hear from record executives, academics, scholars, Dead family members, tapers, traders and trolls. You will hear from those who still live the Grateful Dead every day. You will hear from those who would rather keep their Grateful Dead passions private for reasons both personal and professional. You will hear stories about the early days of being a Deadhead and what it was like to attend, and perhaps record, those early shows, including Cornell ’77.”
Conners, who will be in attendance at the State event, said he was initially reluctant when Cornell University Press approached him to write a book about a single concert: “Until I started working on it, and then realized all the different ways you can write about a single event.”
He talked to several fans that attended the show, most of whom had more to say about what happened before and after the show than during it.
“It can be very challenging to describe ecstatic music experiences, so people tend to tell their stories about going to concerts rather than their feelings about the music, which is almost too personal and intimate,” Conners said. “So you get a lot of people’s stories of what the weather was like, and how it was going inside, and who they were with.”
He was especially gratified to tell the story of the Cornell Concert Commission, whose members persisted until they figured out how to stage the concert.
“A lot of these great human interest stories started coming out, and I started to get this picture of these 19- to 21-year-old college students who really wanted to bring their favorite band to play at Cornell,” Conners said. “They would’ve been as proud if the show hadn’t taken on such prominence. But they all became aware at some point in their lives that this show had become really important to Deadheads, that it was more than just a basic Grateful Dead concert, and that gave them an added level of pride in what they had done.”
Along with describing the rise of the taping culture, as well as the in-house recordings made by Betty Cantor-Jackson (whose “Betty Boards” provide the sonic source for the newly remastered concert), Conners also outlined the Dead’s touring history in the 1970s, and notes how often they played throughout the region.
“It was a very smart, prescient and conscious decision to tour college campuses, and the Northeast became such a hotbed of Grateful Dead fandom and activity,” he said. “It became a way for them to support their touring operation, and it was also way to get beyond their Bay Area gigs. They started at colleges early on, and when the venues became too small they moved up to the next-sized venues, then eventually to Madison Square Garden and outdoor stadiums.
“That was all done over years of touring and going back time and again to those places. That can get overlooked in the Grateful Dead story, partly because so many things in our culture don’t work that way anymore — we’re into short-term gratification. These guys grinded it out, coming back year after year to same places and building on their numbers. They’re due a lot of respect for that alone — the sheer dedication to the mission that was the Grateful Dead, and how they stuck with that year after year and built their audience in this completely grassroots way.”
As for the Barton Hall show, “this was just a college gig that they played among many other gigs that month, that year, that decade,” Conners said, which is why he thinks the band members have had little to say about the show in ensuing years. “I would be more surprised if they had specific memories, as I say in the book,” he added.
He also noted that there isn’t really a consensus among Deadheads about which is the best Grateful Dead show ever, even Barton Hall.
“I say that as someone who listens to Grateful Dead pretty much every day,” Conners noted. “Because so much of the music is accessible, I will match my mood to whatever the music is from a particular era. The reason I listen to so much Grateful Dead because there is a Grateful Dead for every type of mood I’m in. So for that reason, it’s hard to say this is the best Grateful Dead show, because I can match my mood to a show.
“Beyond that, people get attached to different eras and shows and they have a really emotional connection to those things. Part of the fun is debating these things, but it should always be done with good humor and good cheer and bit of a wink and a nod. It’s all great music when it comes down to it — it’s just personal preference for a lot of it.”
If You Go
•Who: State Theatre of Ithaca
•What: “The 40th Anniversary Celebration of Barton Hall, 5/8/77”
•When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 8
•Where: State Theatre of Ithaca, 107 W. State St., Ithaca
•Tickets: $6.50 in advance. Purchase at State Theatre box office, online at www.stateofithaca.com or by calling 277-8283. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, as well as two hours before shows. At the door, admission is $10.
Listen to the 1977 Barton Hall Show (not the new remastered version):
At 6 p.m. May 8, the Cornell University Chimes will play some Grateful Dead songs on the McGraw Tower bells. Preceding that, Dan Klein from the Tompkins County Legislature will read a proclamation declaring that day “Grateful Dead Day in Tompkins County” at 5:45 p.m. And on the Commons, the Range will host a show featuring upstate Dead tribute band Dark Hollow and Vermont’s Rick Redington and the Luv from 7 p.m. to close.