Dead Notes #13 :: Cornell, May 8, 1977

If you've been lucky, you've found yourself in some college dorm, surrounded by DayGlo tapestries, Nag Champa wafting in the air, stinging your eyes. Your singularly nicknamed but gracious hosts and their friends argue. It's always the same argument: over the so-called greatest Grateful Dead show ever. More often than not, they were arguing about the merits or flaws of Cornell. May 8, 1977.

Or maybe it was at a record store. The store's owner was "there" but can’t remember a damn thing, minus the “One More Saturday Night” encore on a Sunday night. Oh wait, there was the infamous “Take a Step Back” and that "Dew." The Dew.

Last week, the recordings saw release as part of the box set, May 77: Get Shown the Light, and as a stand-alone set, Cornell 5/8/77, in honor of the show's 40th anniversary. I've witnessed grown men argue about Cornell until they were carnelian red in the face, later apologizing as they rambled, "The Dead are like pizza, man. Some shows are better than others. But it’s still pizza and pizza rules."

Myself? Cornell came in the same batch of tapes as Buffalo, the night after, and the Live/Dead Fillmore West run of 1969. Buffalo has the opening “Help > Slip > Franklin’s” triptych that's a mind-meld when you're 15, just being hipped to the whole thing. It only took one listen of Cornell before I was like, "Well you know, Buffalo is just a little bit…"

Grateful Dead :: Dancing in the Street [Betty Board]
Grateful Dead :: Dancing in the Street [Jerry Moore recording]

Cornell is mythical though, and for good reason. The tapes and name are ubiquitous to every collection and discussion about the band. The venue only held 8,500 attendees, but four times that amount will tell you they were there. Some will tell you it was a CIA experiment that never happened. Some say you're not a true fan if it's your favorite show. There's a stigma associated with being a Cornell apologist.

But why be unapologetic when it's right there on the tape? It smokes. A spirited first set is capped by a never-ending version of Martha and The Vandellas’ soul hit “Dancing in The Streets,” offering the audience a sneak peek into the wrinkle in time they are about to experience “30 minutes” later. The second set's near flawless. The band conjures up the spirits of Ivy League drop-outs who jumped in busses a decade before and headed west to change and find the new world. Someone said to me recently we're lucky to live in the same millennium Jerry and the Dead existed. Pizza is pizza, sure, but wouldn't it be boring without pepperoni and cheese?

Below, my friend Charlie C. -- you might remember him from the last Dead Notes column -- waxes a bit about his journey to Cornell and the years after. Charlie was supposed to go to Cornell for Poli-Sci, but he went to SUNY Oneonta instead — though he'll tell you he studied plenty of political science on long midnight roads and in crowded parking lots between Dead shows. I encourage you to listen to not only just the new official Betty Board release of “Dancing In The Street” but also infamous Dead taper Jerry Moore’s recording, captured 10 feet from the stage, which circulated nearly a decade before Betty’s recording surfaced. When I finally heard Jerry’s recording several years back, I became an instant Cornell apologist or whatever you want to call it when you love a band — infamous warts and all. words/d norsen

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