Dead and Company — which is a band comprising John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti as well as former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart — performed on May 8 at Barton Hall as part of their summer 2023 farewell tour. The concert took place 46 years to the day after the Grateful Dead’s performance at Barton Hall on May 8, 1977.
The original performance, known simply as “Cornell ’77,” has become legendary amongst “Deadheads” — the nickname for the Grateful Dead’s fans — as one of the band’s greatest performances in a storied 30-year career.
“It was an amazing show,” Bill Sherman ’78, who attended the 1977 show, said. “The memory I think all of us have is, it was 60 degrees and sunny before we went into the show. Everybody was playing Frisbee in shorts and T-shirts. We came out four hours later, six inches of snow. You never saw so many people going, ‘Woah, how long were we in there?’”
The recording, which was captured from longtime sound engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson’s soundboard, is noted for its high quality and popularity even amongst Grateful Dead tapes, which were considered a forerunner of viral marketing. Due to its iconic reputation among Deadheads, Cantor-Jackson’s recording was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2012.
Even Deadheads who did not attend the 1977 show held the show in high regard. Leona Kassoff ’83 — who did attend the 1980 and 1981 shows, along with her friend Sherry Sussman ’83 — said both the recording and performance quality of the show were extremely high-quality, among the best of the bootlegged tapes that she was able to acquire at the time.
“It’s iconic,” Kassoff said. “I remember it was one of the best bootlegs that I got to that point, because it was such a fine tape. The bootlegs we had back then were garbly and not that great. And [Cornell ’77] was just a pristine, beautiful show.”
For some longtime Deadheads, the 2023 show was an opportunity to share an experience with their family, who are often also deadheads.
“My sister lured me into it,” said Kathy Holub, who attended Monday’s show with her husband and her sister, Maureen Lynch M.B.A. ’93. “It’s been a wonderful thing that we share. We still go to shows across the country — Boulder, and we’re going to San Francisco — and have been for 40 years. It’s been a great thing to share as sisters, and now I have my daughter and my husband with me as well as my sister. So it’s a great family thing.”
Some, like Todd Wolleman ’88, even brought their children, raising them as Deadheads and attending the show together as well. Mr. Wolleman, who attended the 1977 show, expressed excitement for being able to share the experience with his daughter, Lauren Wolleman ’18.
“I’m looking forward to it as a combination of the Grateful Dead and Cornell,” Mr. Wolleman said. “I’m looking forward to just being in that same room [as the 1977 show] sitting with my daughter. It closes the loop, if you will — it’s the circle of life.”
However, not all was sunshine and roses. Tickets were allocated via separate lotteries to students and alumni. Those who did not win the lottery faced an expensive secondary retail market. For a comparison, general admission tickets for the 1977 show were $7.50 — or about $37.36 in today’s money — while the cheapest tickets for Monday’s show were only available to students and sold for $77 apiece.
Students who did not attend the concert but won the lottery sold their tickets for over $300 in some cases. To procure a ticket, some students, like Max Horowitz ’23, even resorted to measures such as building bots to track social media and other digital spaces to find tickets being sold for the lowest possible price.
“Anytime someone said anything about a ticket [on social media], [the bot] would check the price against the Ticketmaster or against the GroupMes,” Horowitz said. “I set a [price] range that I was willing to consider a deal, and whenever it would hit that range, it made an instant purchase.”
Horowitz ultimately paid $345 for his ticket.
Mr. Wolleman, who won the alumni lottery, expressed discomfort at the high prices for tickets to the concert, saying it was no longer accessible to everybody.
“I paid $6 for my ticket 47 years ago, and I’m paying a lot more than that tonight,” Wolleman said. “That’s something that I find a little disturbing as well, because it’s not accessible to everybody. It’s very expensive — too expensive, in my opinion. But here we are.”
However, students and alumni alike believed that the ticket lottery was fair and reasonable to implement, given the extreme difference between supply and demand.
“There was a lot more demand than supply,” said Zach Feeler ’23. “It gave everyone a fair chance.”
Mr. Wolleman concurred with Feeler, saying the lottery was the fairest way to allocate tickets.
“I think it was fair — I have no complaints,” Mr. Wolleman said. “I don’t think they could have done it any other way.”
Besides normal ticket sales, the State Theatre of Ithaca also provided an in-person live streaming option, which welcomed many people who were not able to go to Barton Hall.
Shanny Odell and Carly Vatter learned about the show on the day of the performance. They went for a 45-minute drive from Auburn for the music and groove.
“Everything was so last minute,” Vatter said. “I didn’t see any advertising. I didn’t hear anything on the radio. It’s all through word of mouth, just from my friends.”
Shawn Sullivan first watched the Grateful Dead’s performance in 1981 and has been following the band for 30 years since his college days. He could not get a ticket through the public general lottery, so he came to the State Theatre to appreciate the onset of the band’s farewell tour.
“I kind of wish I was at Barton Hall, but I’ve been to so many shows here and we’re gonna have a great screen to watch [the concert] on,” Sullivan said. “It’s gonna be a good night.”
All proceeds from the concert, including a portion of the live stream sales, will be donated to MusiCares, a nonprofit organization offering health, financial and rehabilitation resources to musicians, and the 2030 Project, the University’s sustainability initiative to address climate change.
According to Mike Viselli, business manager of the State Theatre, the live streaming was a result of Cornell’s efforts to make the concert accessible to more people.
“When Cornell was discussing getting the live event, they knew that not many tickets would be available,” Viselli said. “And Cornell wanted the communities with people that couldn’t get tickets to be involved somehow. So they suggested that we do the live stream here.”
As one of Sullivan’s friends, Viselli mentioned that they were together in Dead and Company’s Albany concert in 2015. He felt excited to be able to revisit the band.
“The fans are in town,” Viselli said. “Everyone’s in a good mood and it’s good weather. Just happy.”
However, the excitement came with a bittersweet note, as this will be Dead and Company’s final tour. Some Deadheads, like Sherman, believed that the band would return for more tours.
“There’s no other jam band that is as good as these guys,” Mr. Wolleman said. “They invented the genre of jam bands. Everyone else is trying to be the Grateful Dead. So what I’ll miss is the originals.”