A black-and-white photograph of the Grateful Dead performing at Cornell University in 1977.

‘Sheer Awe’: Recalling the Legendary Grateful Dead Concert of May ’77

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By Lindsay Lennon

It was Sunday, May 8, 1977—Mother’s Day—and thousands were filing into Barton Hall for a Grateful Dead concert. Some were students seeing the band for the first time. Others were nomadic Deadheads merely seeing them the first time that week.

Many were “tapers”—fans who recorded shows on cassettes (with the band’s tacit approval), then copied and circulated them. Most were ticket holders, but hundreds more were admitted in exchange for silly actions like singing, dancing, or telling jokes.

“One guy got in with a guitar pick,” wrote Peter Conners in his book Cornell ’77: The Music, the Myth, and the Magnificence of the Grateful Dead’s Concert at Barton Hall, published by Cornell University Press in 2017. “Another dude—a gnarled older hippie who had traveled all the way from Tennessee to see the show—got in with a peanut butter sandwich wrapped in tin foil.”

College students sitting on the floor of an auditorium.
Waiting for the show to start. (Rare and Manuscript Collections)

Regardless of how they ended up in Barton, one thing can be assumed: none of them knew this Sunday evening would one day be known in the Dead lexicon as “5/8/77”—arguably the band’s most legendary performance of all time.

“I can’t say I was aware that I was listening to something classic from this band at that moment,” observes Lauran Jacoby ’80, then a freshman in Arts & Sciences. “But the fact that the show was happening right here in Ithaca, in our backyard, as students; that made it special. It was our home turf, which made it intimate, and made it easy.”

One of the show’s most notable moments came about halfway through, at which point the spacious, armory-style building was steaming hot. The crowd was densely packed, but peaceful. Even in the cooler pockets of the hall, T-shirts clung to sweaty backs.

It was our home turf, which made it intimate, and made it easy.

Lauran Jacoby ’80

After the band returned to the stage from a short break—and just before they launched into what’s now regarded as one of the best versions of their signature “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain” mashup (aka “Scarlet/Fire”)—guitarist Bob Weir had some instructions for the crowd.

“Alright, now we’re gonna play everybody’s favorite fun game: Move Back,” Weir said. “Now, when I tell you ‘Take a step back,’ everybody take a step back. Right? Right. Okay, take a step back. And take another step back. And take yet another step back.”

After a few rounds, guitarist Jerry Garcia chimed in: the people up front needed more room. “So that means all you people in the back have to move back,” he said. “Just move back some.”

A black-and-white photo of the Grateful Dead performing at Cornell University in 1977.
The show inspired countless Cornellians to become devoted Dead fans, with some seeing them play again and again. (© Larry Reichman / www.gdbartonhall1977.com)

Stu Zimmerman ’79, BS ’80, was one of those jockeying for space up front. Then a sophomore in ILR, he tagged along with friends to Barton that night; it was his first time hearing the Dead.

“Jerry wore dark sunglasses, and I was standing at his feet, so I could see right underneath them,” recalls Zimmerman. “He leaned back for one jam and went into some electronic bliss, wailing away one of his incredible guitar solos. I just remember my jaw dropped, in sheer awe of what I was experiencing.”

The 5/8/77 show was Zimmerman’s push down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole; he’d go on to see them about 70 more times before Garcia’s death in 1995.

“It changed my life forever,” says Zimmerman, who now heads a media and lifestyle company in Sedona, AZ. “The crowd that went to the Dead shows really inspired me to consider how I could be living my life. It was this vibe of a tribe. We were copacetic.”

A poster for a Grateful Dead concert at Cornell University in 1977.
Jay Mabrey ’77, MD ’81, designed the concert poster.

Zimmerman’s Dead fandom after 5/8/77 is a common story among Cornellians who attended the show.

Jacoby, who recently retired from a long career in human resources at the University, was only mildly familiar with the band that night. She attended with her then-boyfriend (now husband) and his friends, who drove from the University at Buffalo for the occasion.

“The crowd was going nuts, and I was trying to hear the music for almost the first time,” says Jacoby.

“The atmosphere was great, but there was a tiny bit of disconnect for me. They obviously knew more about what they were hearing than I did at the time.”

But for the ensuing 12 years, Jacoby and her husband saw “many, many” Dead shows across the Northeast. Over the years, they’ve even scheduled trips around Dead concerts, most notably in California and Colorado.

Robert Horowitz ’78 wasn’t a Dead fan before the show either—despite being, as chair of the Cornell Concert Commission (CCC), one of the key players who brought the band to campus.

“The vast majority of us had never seen the Dead, unless you had an older sibling,” says Horowitz, a periodontist in Scarsdale, NY. “Surely none of our parents were into it.”

The crowd that went to the Dead shows really inspired me to consider how I could be living my life.

Stu Zimmerman ’79, BS ’80

The CCC, Horowitz notes, had a less-than-stellar financial record at the time—a situation he and fellow members sought to turn around with 5/8/77.

“We needed to show we could bring in a real act, bring in money,” he says, “and that the Concert Commission couldn’t just exist for our own fun’s sake, but for the benefit of Cornell.”

So Horowitz connected with a New Jersey-based concert promoter who regularly booked huge acts like the Who and the Rolling Stones. “He offered us the Dead,” he recalls, “and we said yes.”

After convincing administrators to let them sell beer at Barton, the CCC began promoting the show, with advance tickets priced at $6.50. Using homemade wheat paste as an adhesive, they plastered posters around town, made T-shirts, cross-promoted with other schools, and worked out ad deals with radio stations.

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A ticket from a Grateful Dead show at Cornell University in 1977.
The metaphorical golden ticket. (Provided).

“We literally taught ourselves how to become concert promoters for that show,” recalls Horowitz, who—you guessed it—also became a hardcore Deadhead after 5/8/77.

(And the Dead concert would, indeed, go a long way toward solidifying the CCC’s role on campus.)

Horowitz was too focused on running the show to partake in the merry atmosphere—though he fondly remembers giving Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux a Mother’s Day rose.

As he nervously prepared to take the stage before showtime to instruct the audience not to rush the stage or smoke, Horowitz got a quick-but-unforgettable pep talk from drummer Mickey Hart (who, as it happens, would go on to marry a Cornellian, Caryl Ohrbach Hart ’79).

“He said, ‘Bobby, you’ll be fine,’” says Horowitz. “‘Just be yourself. Breathe. You know what to say—just be confident.’”

A college student stands on a stage with amplifiers next to him and a drumset behind him.
Horowitz introducing the band. (© Larry Reichman / www.gdbartonhall1977.com)

That spring, Larry Reichman ’80, JD ’84, was a freshman in Arts & Sciences; already a Dead fan and an avid photographer, he garnered all-day access to Barton from the CCC to document the event.

“I was wandering around behind the stage at some point in the afternoon, and I looked up and realized the band was coming in,” he recalls. “I was a bit starstruck—I really didn’t say anything, but I remember kind of nodding to Jerry Garcia.”

Reichman would go on to publish his photos in a coffee table book, Barton Hall 5/8/77, and sells individual prints on his website; some of his shots were even used in the album art for the show’s commercial release in 2017.

“Had I known this show would acquire this legendary status so many years later,” Reichman notes, “I probably would’ve armed myself with more rolls of film.”

The vast majority of us had never seen the Dead, unless you had an older sibling.

Robert Horowitz ’78

Louis Gross, PhD ’79, had been working as a volunteer for several campus concerts by the time the Dead rolled into town. Among his duties was manually controlling a six-foot-long Super Trouper spotlight, a “monster” of an instrument he recalls struggling to keep steady during a Beach Boys concert in 1975.

Normally, says Gross, the spotlight was situated in Barton’s bleachers—so he was shocked when he arrived at the Dead show to find it perched on a narrow platform about 50 feet from the stage.

“From the scaffold high above the floor, it was as if a magical transition had occurred,” Gross wrote in an essay for Conners’s book. “A whoosh of multicolored people simply flowed all around the Barton floor and in seconds the scaffold was surrounded by flowered shirts and what appeared to be hundreds of small ‘trees’ [the concert tapers] holding mics.”

By the time Conners was writing Cornell ’77—whose publication coincided with the show’s 40th anniversary, the same year a 5/8/77 concert album was first released commercially—the mystique was well established; five years earlier, the original soundboard recordings had been archived in the Library of Congress.

“Why did this show become so legendary, specifically?” Conners muses. “It is exceptional. But there’s got to be other elements that come into play when something takes hold that much.”

If his research made anything clear, it’s that no single factor made 5/8/77 distinct—especially when the show’s GOAT status is hardly unanimous.

The cover of Cornell ’77 by Peter Conners

Some Deadheads, like Matt Adler ’80—who brought his future wife, Loretta DeIntinis Adler ’80, to the show for her 19th birthday—attribute the Barton acclaim to “what turned out to be a peak time for the Dead.” (In fact, Rolling Stone has declared 1977 as the band’s single greatest year.)

Others—including guitarist Weir himself—have posited that the concert’s epic status has more to do with the quality of its recording than the show itself. In fact, the 5/8/77 mix that served as the master copy for the commercial release came not from an audience taper but from Betty Cantor-Jackson, a longtime Dead soundboard operator whose rich, crisp recordings earned their own label among fans: the “Betty Boards.”

But on 5/8/77, the hype was yet to come. There were just moments, memories, and music—in particular, as Zimmerman calls it, the “rather transcendent” version of “Morning Dew” that closed the second set.

Had I known this show would acquire this legendary status, I probably would’ve armed myself with more rolls of film.

Larry Reichman ’80, JD ’84

“To this day, I have never heard anything like it,” Matt Adler marvels. “That wasn’t the Betty Board or the ’77 tour. It was Jerry’s magic in that one moment.”

There was also the band’s famous cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” at the end of which Weir—or bassist Phil Lesh; opinions vary—said, “Thanks mom.” It was an especially poignant moment for Adler, who’d lost his mother to cancer just months before.

And then there was the unusual encore: “One More Saturday Night,” a song the band wouldn’t typically play on a different day of the week.

Lastly, there was the weather, which provided an unforgettable coda. As the audience emerged from the sweltering hall into the night—and as the Dead bid Ithaca farewell, truckin’ on to Buffalo for their next show—they were treated to one final surprise: the swirling white flakes of a May snowstorm.

“The next day, Monday, was the beginning of Study Week,” recalls Loretta Adler, “and I always thought the snow was a reminder: ‘Okay, kids, you’ve had your fun. Now, back to work.’”

Top: Concert photo © Larry Reichman / www.gdbartonhall1977.com.

Published April 4, 2023

Were you at the 5/8/77 show, or on campus during that era? Share your memories!


  1. Daniel

    I need a miracle. 🙂

  2. Jenni Cunningham, Class of 2009

    Miracle? Anyone? ❤️

  3. Rick S, Class of 1979

    Going back to the Barton garden for May 8 2.0!! I’m in. No way I could BS my way in this time. Being civilized, bought a ticket. Will there be dancing, smoking in current climate? LOL I hope so!!

  4. Eric Key, Class of 1977

    I was there, still have my ticket stub. Went in with drizzle, came out to slush.
    Don’t forget that the Friday before was Commander Cody on Libe Slope in beautiful sunshine. That’s Ithaca weather for you.

    • Keith, Class of 1978

      I remember the Commander on the Slope ! ! also a great show
      – he was predicting the weekend – Slope Day, Spring Weekend, and
      the Dead – “There’s a whole lotta things that I might’ve done,

      • Gregg K Dietrich, Class of 1978

        Love the quote!

      • Louis Gross

        In addition running a Super Trouper for the Dead show I helped setup the Commander Cody Slope Day show hauling up the stage from a rental place downtown in a huge truck I had no business driving! We were appalled though when the Commander enthusiastically jumped up on the grand piano we had rented for the show for one of the songs – the piano survived!

  5. William Ward, Class of 1980

    I was there listening to the Dead outside. Someone propped a door open and I sneaked in about a quarter of the way into the show. My first dead show. Being there, I decided I wanted to be part of the Cornell Concert Commission. The next three years I was an active CCC member. I’ve also seen the Dead about 40 times, almost each one in a new venue. Alas, a conflict kept me from joining the lottery. Many, many dead show stories….

  6. Tom Dimock, Class of 1970

    Don’t have my ticket stub, but do have the CCC T-shirt with the picture of the poster!

  7. Larry

    I’d like to see a plaque affixed to Barton Hall commemorating 5/8/77. Stopping by the plaque & learning about the show should be part of campus tours. Also recommend having Scarlet/Fire or Morning Dew from that show playing daily in Barton.

  8. Chris Kane, Class of 1978

    The Cornell Lacrosse Team was also having an epic run in May ’77, undefeated with a National Championship. A teammate wrote an article about the intersection of both which was great! We had a lot of dead heads on the team! I wouldn’t know the Dead if they bit me in the leg and I couldn’t afford the $6.50 ticket:)

    • Mjb Fresh, Class of 1982

      I used to buy shrooms from the lacrosse frat

  9. Karen Randolph Davis BS class of '79

    I remember that Dead concert like it was yesterday. It was my first concert as a CCC member and my job was to watch the side doors to prevent the unticketed to enter. It was great! After that show I remained a CCC member for the rest of my time at CU. So happy to read this article and go down memory lane.

  10. Keith R, Class of 1978

    Waited in the rain to get in early for up-front spots – by the break it was SO HOT and SO MANY People we adjourned to the bleachers for 2nd set . . . seated conmfortably for the epic set including Scarlett/Fire, St. Stephen, NFA, & Morning Dew ! ! !
    Walked out dazed and deadicated into the Upstate May snow ! ! !
    An exceptional Big Red Ithaca day . . . good thing there was
    no class Monday morning ! ! !

  11. Timothy J Maloney, Class of 1976

    This is the first I’ve heard of Lou Gross PhD ’79 since several of us used allocated funds to organize grad student parties in WSH, 1973-75 or thereabouts. We both remember Lauren, right Lou? She happily married someone else by 1976-77. By May 1977, I was a postdoc in EE with an office in Phillips Hall, right near Barton. I was covering for my former thesis adviser, then on sabbatical, with numerous research and teaching duties, and was about to leave for a job in Silicon Valley–those are my lame excuses for not attending the May 8 concert, but I read all about it in the Cornell Sun as the snow melted on that Monday morning.

  12. Jonathan S Krauss, Class of 1966

    I came to love “5/8/77,” especially “Fire on the Mountain,” through a CD purchased in the 21st century. The repetition is addictive. I have “5/8/77” on an old Ipod, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Hours of pleasure. 😎

  13. Karen Jewett-Bennett, Class of 1979

    I was there early and lost my flip flops in the push when the doors opened. My first, and only Dead show gave me extra street cred when I lived in San Francisco for 20 years.

  14. Tim Means, Class of 1980

    I would have been Class of ’80 had I graduated, but this show inspired me to go on a different path. I remember it fondly, high above Cayuga’s waters.

  15. Matt Rennert-Stolper, Class of 1977

    ILR, 1977! Senior week! First Dead concert. I got in through the back doors after the show started. Played Frisbee and did all sorts of stuff in the back most of the concert. It was a collective, family-like experience. Such great music! Hot and sweaty then very cool at the end — snow!!! —

    • Dan Dube, Class of 1980

      I could not attend the concert because my parents came to visit from 6 hours away. It was Mothers Day, what else could I do? So I took ‘em for a meal at Statler next door. We could hear the music and the stomping and the revelry bursting from Barton Hall. My mom’s first exposure to campus concerts, let alone the Dead!

  16. Jeanne Schwetje, Class of 1978

    I was on hospitality for CCc that night so I actually met Jerry and he was really awesome!

  17. Gregg, Class of 1978

    I was there… trying to get in for Dead & Co., I’m sure everyone is looking for 2 tix – they should have had an alumni offering for those of us who were there.

    Other question, I’m prepared to go the the State Theatre. Does anyone know how to get an alumni code?

  18. Cheryl Jones-Richter, Class of 1979

    I was a new member of CCC for the 5/8/77 Dead concert (ILR ‘79). Very long day & night with set up/ clean up. After, we came out and it was snowing/ freezing, I think I was in shorts/ tshirt. A bunch of us went to Big Red Barn to crash for the night. Sunday morning, headed back to my dorm, Cornell Security gave me a ride, as I was freezing. Didn’t win lottery tix for this show, but will watch Live-stream. Fun times/ great friends.

  19. Christine I. Oaklander, Class of 1981

    I was a freshman in 9/77 so I knew nothing about the concert. I’m guessing that it marked a turning point for CCC as my first year we had several first-rate acts including ELP and Marshall Tucker. Others in following years included The Cars and the Allman Brothers. These were arranged through John Scher. Then the Dead came back to campus in May 1980 or 1981. I attended that concert with a date but as I recall we were intoxicated after a “Fiji Island Party” and left early. It was incredibly crowded and stuffy.

  20. Dan Dube, Class of 1980

    I was a Rotcee, and I heard rumors that NROTC Midshipmen hid in the Navy offices all day during stage setup, so that they could watch for free from the office roof (which is now being upgraded into a fantastic lounge). Can we hear confirmation from any 1970’s Middies – who were not exactly stereotypical Deadheads?

  21. Louis Gross

    For those interested, my essay about the Dead show is titled “Dead from the Scaffolds” and it is posted at
    Peter used a small section of it in his book.

  22. Gary Dulberg, Class of 1979

    Although I was fairly new to the CCC, I (along with Simon Radford) helped set up the scaffolding for the speakers the day before the show. On the day of what was to be my first Dead concert, I was asked to be the Stage Manager and saw the show from the security pit just in front of the stage. Between sets, we handed out Dixie cups of water to those being “horribly smashed.” For those most in need , we lifted them over the security barrier, escorted them under the stage and out the back door of Barton Hall. By then the falling snow had an instant sobering impact on those in need. This show led to well over 100 subsequent GD and Jerry Garcia shows. Have a great time to all those attending the benefit on May 8.

  23. Tom Little, Class of 1979

    I went to the show knowing I had an exam the next morning in my Law School Torts class, given by Professor Irving Younger. Walking back to Hughes Hall to my dorm room in the Mothers Day early morning snow seemed to clear my head. I got a few hours of sleep and did reasonably well on the exam. My favorite song from the concert was Morning Dew, although when we left the show, we found morning snow!

  24. Gary Colter

    I was there. Travelled up from Queens the night before. Ended up randonly meeting some people and staying at a frat house the night before. That in itself was a memorable time. Hung out all day on Sunday. Just before show time it started to rain so people started making their way in. This was crucial – the entropy factor which continued into the night. The show itself was outstanding. Long first set with a super funky Dancin’ to end the set – possibly inspired by the Bobby/Donna flub on the first line of the song. You knew something was up when the band kind of huddled before St Stephen. And the Dew!!! Check ou Jerry’s riff at 8:44. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart combined. And yes, It did snow after the show..

  25. Chris Estus

    I was there. I was a junior at Vestal HS. Tickets were $ 7.50. I remember the crush of the crowd trying to get in. There was a cold rain on the way in. We drove home in the snow! I specifically remember the dynamics of the band and the reaction of the crowd during Morning Dew. I sat in bleachers on the back wall. Something about Jack Straw must have gotten into my bones. I remember hearing it again on TV in the 90’s. Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby. Something about it was very familiar. It must have been from that show. I’m thrilled that I have a ticket standing in the pit for Monday. I didn’t get one in the lottery, but they released some this week and I got one. I’m coming from Texas and happy to be coming full circle!

    • Keith R, Class of 1978

      Hey Chris – I was Binghamton Central 1974 ! ! 5/8/77 was a great night and a significant date in a lot of people’s lives. Hope you may it back for the 2023 edition of May 8 ! ! It was an exceptional show also – the band ( Dead&Co ) seemed inspired to produce “Not just another show.”

  26. Michael McCully, Class of 1981

    Was a freshman. I didn’t fully appreciate how incredible the 5/8/77 performance was until the Dead came back to Barton Hall a year or two later and had an average concert.

    …and the snow.

  27. R Scott Carlson, Class of 1984

    My first show was the 5/16/81 Barton Hall date and I’ve been on the bus ever since. I’m coming in from Albuquerque for Monday. Wouldn’t miss it if the roof caved in.

  28. thank you for a great article! Near perfect except for at the end it says truckin on to Buffalo, but of course it’s truckin Up to Buffalo

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