This year marks the 43rd anniversary of one of the most musically potent periods in the Grateful Dead‘s storied career–the infamous 1977 spring tour. Deadheads are known for being both extensively knowledgeable and highly critical, and the notion that Spring ’77 was a peak for the band is about as close as you’ll get to a consensus among hardcore fans—though narrowing it down to a specific “best” show on the tour becomes much trickier.
Of course, there was the show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall on 5/8/77, the most famous show the band ever played, about which books have been written, films have been made, and countless words have been exchanged in the discussion of its merit. Then there’s the following evening’s incredible performance at War Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo (5/9/77), which is frequently used as an argument as to why Barton Hall is overrated (i.e. “Cornell ’77 wasn’t even the best show that week, man”). The two shows that preceded Barton Hall, at Boston Garden in Boston, MA (5/7/77) and Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, CT (5/5/77) have also reached legendary status in Dead circles—another pair of precious gems from the embarrassment of riches that was Spring ’77.
In 2017, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Spring ’77, the Grateful Dead issued a new box set, May 1997: Get Shown The Light, which featured remastered recordings of 5/5/77, 5/7/77, 5/8/77, and 5/9/77 and was marketed as a collection of some of the greatest shows in the history of live Dead.
But the Grateful Dead’s Spring ’77 run goes even deeper than those four storied performances. Take, for example, the show they played 43 years ago today, on 5/22/77 at The Sportatorium in Pembroke Pines, FL. The show was the third to get the remaster treatment as part of the Dick’s Picks archive audio series in 1995, but by that time it had already been cemented in the pantheon of legendary Dead shows. The show boasts a litany of incredible highlights: The first set renditions of “Sugaree” and “Peggy-O” (not featured on Dick’s Picks 3) and “Dancin’ in the Street” were all played with an emboldened sense of exploration. The second set-opening “Help” > “Slip” > “Franklin’s” is the stuff of Dead legend, one of the best versions of the classic live suite ever performed. Most of the second set was played without the Dead skipping a beat, as they worked their way through powerful performances of “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Wharf Rat” > “Terrapin Station” > a revelatory “Morning Dew”, showcasing a band in historic form.
On the 43rd anniversary of 5/22/77, take a listen to the undeniably great performance in all its glory—and take a moment to appreciate the fact that, while this show would likely have been in a class all its own had it been performed at any other time, it’s just another “run-of-the-mill-stellar” show among its time-tested Spring ’77 brethren.
Grateful Dead – 5/22/77 – Full Audio
[Audio: Matthew Vernon]
Grateful Dead – Dick’s Picks Vol. 3
Setlist: The Grateful Dead | The Sportatorium | Pembroke Pines, FL | 5/22/77
Set One: Funiculì, Funiculà, The Music Never Stopped, Sugaree, El Paso, Peggy-O, New Minglewood Blues, Friend of the Devil, Lazy Lightnin’ > Supplication, Ramble on Rose, Dancin’ in the Streets
Set Two: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Samson and Delilah, Brown Eyed Women, Good Lovin’, Sunrise, Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Wharf Rat > Terrapin Station > Morning Dew
Encore: Sugar Magnolia
[Originally published 5/22/17]