So today definitely would have passed as a normal Tuesday in May, save for the random, yet perfect news announcement out of my old college stomping ground of Ithaca, NY. Back in April, the Mayor of Ithaca, NY, announced that Tuesday, 5/8/07, would be declared ‘Grateful Dead Day’ in Ithaca:
In honor of the 30th anniversary of one of the Grateful Dead’s most legendary performances that took place on May 8, 1977 at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson will declare May 8, Grateful Dead Day in Ithaca. The headlining event of this anniversary celebration is Dark Star Orchestra’s recreation of the Legendary May 8, 1977 Grateful Dead concert.
More after the jump…
As a Cornellian, I can personally attest to the enormous amount of hype and discussion relating to the Grateful Dead’s 5/8/77 show at Barton Hall, on Cornell’s campus. If you mention that you are a Dead fan in Ithaca, someone will invariably bring up this show, which is often referred to simply as “Cornell ’77.” Within my first few months in Ithaca, I think heard about five to six different stories about this concert or its recordings — all of this coming before ever even listening to it. So even before laying my hands on the tapes, there was an immense “mystique” around this one concert played at my school back in the late 70s. When I finally grabbed a copy from a friend, it just HAD to be that good.
There are a ton of different sources out there, but here are a couple ways to give the show a listen:
While I can’t say whether the actual recordings live up to all of the hype, there is something genuinely great about this show. Exploratory jamming, classic country- and blues-tinged rockers, heartfelt ballads, Garcia’s meandering and almost “perfectly lazy” guitar-playing, some hilarious stage banter, and some seriously bouncy/meaty basslines from Phil Lesh (who plays as if he just realized his bass had more than 12 frets). I could go on, but the nerdy hippies and attentive jam kids have gone over the details for years, so I won’t delve into the rest of them here.
Because of the hype, hardcore Dead fans tend to consider this show to be one of the more overrated concerts the band played. Nevertheless, it really is a legendary show and holds a special significance to me because of my Cornell connection. But what I find most fascinating (and amusing) is that the story and hype surrounding this concert has come so far. I can’t think of many towns whose Mayor would honor a famous Grateful Dead show. Mayor Peterson’s official “proclamation” explaining the historical significance of the show is especially telling and, in my opinion, pretty dead-on (no pun intended). It reads:
Proclamation from the Mayor of the City of Ithaca
Whereas, the Grateful Dead have been recognized by many highly credible organizations, individuals and entities including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as significantly important and integral to the musical and social fabric of our contemporary culture, and
Whereas, on May 8th, 1977 the Grateful Dead performed in Barton Hall on the campus of Cornell University in the city of Ithaca New York, a concert that is widely acknowledged and regarded as a defining and transcendent occasion and example of the art of contemporary musical improvisation, collaboration, musicianship, and performance, and
Whereas, many tens of thousands of individuals who were not in attendance that night in Barton Hall, have become knowledgeable & familiar with the extraordinary nature of the performance on May 8th 1977 through the trading and sharing of recordings of the show, and
Whereas, the cultural identity and perceptions of Ithaca as a community, have been informed and bolstered by the widespread acknowledgement of the magic of May 8th, 1977, and
Whereas, it has been said many times by many people that, “there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert”,
Now therefore, be it resolved that as Mayor of the City of Ithaca, and in heartfelt recognition of the thirtieth anniversary of the May 8th 1977 concert performance, I declare May 8th 2007 as Grateful Dead Day in the City of Ithaca.
The Dark Star Orchestra — the popular Grateful Dead cover band that re-creates the band’s concert setlists in their entirety — will headline the State Theatre to celebrate Ithaca’s “Grateful Dead Day.” And, of course, they will re-create the band’s setlist from the 5/8/77 show at Barton Hall.
The word from a friend in town is that the show is sold out and there has already been quite a bit of groveling for extras!