Dead & Co. Come Full Circle At Cornell’s Barton Hall

IVY LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: Dead & Co. played a May 8 benefit for MusiCares and the Cornell 2030 project aimed at combating climate change at Cornell University’s indoor track facility, Barton Hall. The venue was the scene of a May 8, 1977, Grateful Dead show that is considered by many to be one of their very best. Staff Photo

The May 8 Dead & Company benefit concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall will likely result in one of the largest donations ever made to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares charity.

Well over $2 million was raised at the intimate venue, which 46 years earlier had hosted the Grateful Dead’s widely celebrated May 8, 1977, concert. The recording of the ’77 gig was released as the live album Cornell 5/8/77, which was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012.

Along with MusiCares, the 2023 show benefited the Cornell 2030 project, a university-wide initiative to develop technological climate-change solutions and advance policies to encourage businesses and individuals to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Bernie Cahill, founding partner at Activist Artists Management, (which co-manages Dead & Company with The Azoff Company and Moir Entertainment) said funds from every revenue stream – merchandise, streaming and tickets – could generate around $2.5 million, once the accounting is settled.

“Everyone that could, did the show pro-bono,” Cahill said, noting that the players, management and agents took no fees. “MusiCares said it would be the biggest gift beside their annual event that they ever received from an artist, band or event.”

Cahill said both beneficiaries represent causes dear to each member of the band, especially original Dead members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, whose wife Caryl attended Cornell at the time of the ’77 show but didn’t see her future husband perform.

“It was an ambitious thing to go back to such a hallowed and important venue and show – and not without its risks,” Cahill said. “We were both relieved and thrilled with the outcome.”

Considering the Dead allowed unfettered recording of its shows, and the band typically toured three times a year, the 1977 Barton Hall show recording broke through hundreds of others as the holy grail of live dead bootlegs. The Dead had recently made a return to touring after taking a few years’ hiatus from the road – and anyone who saw them in 1977 knew they were firing on all cylinders, at the top of their decades-long game.
Barton Hall also hosted the Dead again in 1980 and 1981.

Bob Weir and Mickey Hart were the only original returnees of the ’77 Dead lineup that included Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. Weir and Hart took the stage with their Dead & Company bandmates John Mayer, Oteil Burbidge, Jeff Chimenti and Jay Lane.

The 16-minute “Dancing in the Streets” jam is a funky favorite and while Dead & Company didn’t go there in 2023, the band did open with the same “New Minglewood Blues” and reprised “Jack Straw,” “Morning Dew,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Fire on the Mountain” and “Estimated Prophet.” As in 1977, Dead & Company played a long set that included an obligatory drums/space sequence that this time incorporated bird calls recorded at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Cahill and his Activist partners Liz Norris and Kristina “Red” Tanner had long been contemplating how to return to Barton Hall, an indoor track and athletics facility that held about 8,000 for the Dead’s 1977 show and around 5,000 for the 2023 Dead & Co. gig.

The team decided that going back would not be about recreating the past but raising money for causes looking to the future.

“We started to do the math, looking at tickets, what we could sell there. It was bigger than the Apollo and the private residence we did in Los Angeles, and so back of envelope it looked like we could raise a couple million dollars and double what we did for Oceana,” he said. “On the back of that, we started talking to Cornell and we knew there would be excitement for this, and there was.”

Discounted $77 tickets for students and tickets for alumni and staff were released via lottery. The show was a sellout with the usual mix of Deadhead-types seeking entry outside the hall, bearing signs with age-old slogans like, “Need a Miracle.”

DEAD IN ’77: The Grateful Dead perform at Winterland on March 20, 1977, in San Francisco, about six weeks before their Barton Hall show. Photo by Getty Images

Merchandise offered at a stand next to the temporary box office outside the ticketed entrance was sold out before the show even began and Cahill expects sales to be red hot once the band’s 19-city, 28-date tour starts on May 19 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The run concludes with three nights at Oracle Park in San Francisco July 14-16.

Since 2015, Dead & Company have grossed $345,661,793 from 191 shows and 3,405,446 tickets sold. The band ranked No. 36 on Pollstar’s 2022 North America chart with a gross of $45.9 million from 19 shows that sold 392,528 tickets. The gross potential for the 2023 tour of 16 amphitheater/arena shows and 13 stadium gigs is about $70 million from 590,000 tickets, Pollstar estimates.

The band members were fired up to be in the hangar-like structure on the expansive Cornell campus as spring was turning the upstate New York landscape into a passel of greening trees and pastel flower buds — in contrast to May 8, 1977, when a snowstorm blanketed Ithaca. Dead & Company turned in a show that was by many accounts inspired.
“They felt the positivity of being on that campus and maybe a little bit of pressure,” Cahill said. “They knew people would compare these shows and they really rose to the occasion and delivered.”

The atmosphere in Barton Hall, which was originally built as a military drill hall, was at once electric and relaxed, like seeing a band in a large high school gymnasium.

Brooklyn Bowl founder and Capitol Theatre owner Peter Shapiro, who is also the founder of Dayglo Presents, said the anticipation was palpable.

“It just feels different,” Shapiro said before the show started, as he dashed off to his seat.

Management worked with a number of individuals and campus organizations in putting on the show, from school administrators to Cornell Alumni Affairs and Development and the Cornell Concert Commission, which put on the 1977 Grateful Dead show that was promoted by John Scher’s Monarch Entertainment Bureau.

Cahill praised student volunteers and others who helped make the show a success, including shouting out Mark Dowley, COO of RedBird Capital Partners; and Cornell’s Fred Van Sickle, vice president for alumni affairs and development; Lisa Bushlow, senior director of class and reunion programs; and Dan Berkowitz of 100x Hospitality.

“They were incredible,” Cahill said. “I can’t say enough positive things about that university and every single layer of support it put forward, from security to folks on the production end, to the engineers we spoke to for load-in/load-out.

“They were excellent on every level. The front-end conversations were difficult because they are not doing a volume of shows, but the execution and the smiles, you could feel that.”