The Grateful Dead’s “Ultimate Bootleg” Now Online & Added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry

dead barton hall

I have known many a Dead­head, and I’ve loved ‘em—friends and friends of friends; I’ve hung out in park­ing lots, at par­ties and camp­sites, and done what ‘Heads do in such gath­er­ings. And yet, to para­phrase St. Paul, I was in the scene but not of it, nev­er one of the faith­ful, just a hang­er-on in a world that bemused me, lis­ten­ing to music whose intense appeal I didn’t quite get. Don’t get me wrong; I thought the first album was a coun­try-rock clas­sic. But that’s where my Dead knowl­edge end­ed. Of the two six­ties bands who both once called them­selves The Warlocks—The Dead and The Vel­vet Underground—my psy­che­del­ic tastes ran decid­ed­ly in the East Coast direc­tion.

So I’m prob­a­bly as far as it gets from an expert on the labyrinthine world of Grate­ful Dead bootlegs. But I have to admit, just like the park­ing lot scene the young, aloof me observed through the eyes of my old hip­pie friends, I’m intrigued and a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ed by the obses­sive cat­a­logu­ing of Dead­head fan­dom.

My teenage punk-rock self admired the DIY ethos, despite seri­ous styl­is­tic mis­giv­ings, and now as a grown-up who couldn’t care less about labels, I’m find­ing the time to go back and re-lis­ten to some of those boot­leg record­ings. I’m catch­ing up on the his­to­ry of live Dead by read­ing Nick Paumgarten’s exhaus­tive “Dead­head: The After­life” arti­cle in The New York­er, and luck­i­ly for me, and for the real fans too, the days of trad­ing tapes are gone. Hun­dreds of hours of live con­cert audio now exist in the Inter­net Archive.

One of those con­cert recordings—the May 8, 1977 Bar­ton Hall/Cornell Uni­ver­si­ty gig avail­able above in its entirety—is said by some to be the “ulti­mate boot­leg.” I’m in no posi­tion to judge, so I’ll quote the Library of Congress’s Nation­al Record­ing Reg­istry, who write that this record­ing “has achieved almost myth­ic sta­tus among ‘Dead­head’ tape traders because of its excel­lent sound qual­i­ty and ear­ly acces­si­bil­i­ty.” The LOC also points out that “fans of the Grate­ful Dead will nev­er com­plete­ly agree about which one of their over 2,300 con­certs was the best.” Debates like this can, and should, go on for­ev­er. If they didn’t, whole sub­cul­tures would shriv­el up and die. The arm­chair anthro­pol­o­gist in me thinks that would be a shame. The music fan (and inner hip­pie) in me is hap­py to groove to what­ev­er catch­es my fan­cy these days, and I’m get­ting down to this one, for sure.

Note: You can find more infor­ma­tion on the Bar­ton Hall/Cornell con­cert here. And here you can find 13 essen­tial bootlegs select­ed by Nick Paum­garten, com­plete with links to audio from the con­certs.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

8,976 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive, Explored by the New York­er

Bob Dylan and The Grate­ful Dead Rehearse Togeth­er in Sum­mer 1987. Lis­ten to 74 Tracks.

The Grate­ful Dead Rock the Nation­al Anthem at Can­dle­stick Park: Open­ing Day, 1993

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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