the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall Concert
One of, if not thee, greatest Grateful Dead concert of all time (thanks to taping).
Having over 2,300 concerts to choose from, to try and pick just one Grateful Dead show as the best is both subjective and impossible (as well as controversial). That said, one show that is mentioned over and over as one of (if not thee) best is the May 8, 1977 Barton Hall concert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
The band were in especially good form during the 1977 tour. The Barton Hall concert is a legendary show partially because the music is accessible – it’s enjoyable for hardcore Deadheads and casual fans alike. But perhaps even more importantly the show is accessible in a more literal sense. Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson recorded over 1,000 tapes of live concerts for the band and the Barton Hall show is one of her most famous recordings. The “Betty Board” recording of the Barton Hall concert is of excellent quality, without which the concert likely would not be held in such high esteem.
“Everybody’s favorite fun game, move back …”
Recording Grateful Dead concerts, and the Shakedown Street style trade of concert tapes, is an entire sub-culture of the band. More than 2,000 of the estimated 2,300 concerts have been preserved by tapers. The non-profit Internet Archive has an entire section just for Grateful Dead recordings with over 16,000 entries. Instead of being anti-piracy the band embraced tapers, giving them their own space behind the mixing desk. As drummer Mickey Hart said “We can’t be cops.” The decision inadvertently worked like a viral marketing campaign. Fans would record shows, they would trade tapes with other people, and in the process millions more people were exposed to the band’s music. Today the band’s website has a “Taper’s Section” devoted to highlighting taped recordings from each week’s concerts in the band’s history.
In 2017 on the 40th anniversary of the Barton Hall concert Tompkins County, NY (where Cornell is located) declared the day “Grateful Dead Day.” In 2011 the Barton Hall Concert was entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress alongside other culturally significant recordings such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc.
Added info: you can purchase the Cornell 5/8/77 concert as a 3-CD set, or you can listen to the concert for free on archive.org.