Forty Years Ago Sunday
- What happened May 8 that year — forever immortalized as “Grateful Dead Day” in the City of Ithaca — wasn’t simply one of the greatest shows the Dead ever played. In fact, whether the show was the best the band had ever played is still a topic of some debate among the most diehard members of the fan base. Some have even called it an overrated performance in the band’s history, a performance largely propped up by the mythology surrounding it.
Understanding of this myth is the focus of Conners’ latest book, Cornell ’77: The Music, The Myth and the Magnificence of the Grateful Dead’s Concert at Barton Hall, published through Cornell University Press. Through 179 quick-reading pages, Conners explores not only the experience of that Barton Hall show through the eyes of those who attended, but he also explores the stories of the people involved in its happening: a study of the band itself during that point in time and in explaining the greater social implication of the show itself.
Conners takes a deep dive into the social and cultural aspects of the Dead universe — from the taping subculture among its fan base to the band’s style of touring and performing — which leant itself to the immortality of that night’s performance. Cornell ‘77 is not simply a drawn-out review of a great concert: it is a deep analysis of why, even today, the show has maintained its status well beyond the borders of Ithaca 40 years later.
Conners, a self-professed Deadhead and author of numerous tomes on music and the counterculture, approaches his subject with a reverent honesty. The book is as much a tribute as it is an anthropological survey of Grateful Dead culture and a true assessment of where the band was at that point in its history, taking into account not only the group’s mindset at the time but also where it stood creatively in ’77.