5 of the Most Legendary Concerts by (or to Celebrate) the Grateful Dead

Deadheads traveling from show to show, a mini-village of outdoor vendors, extended jams…there was nothing quite like a Grateful Dead concert. While every one of their shows was something of a legendary event unto itself, a handful attained legendarily legendary status (including one that celebrated the band on its 50th anniversary). These five concerts were supremely memorable not only for the music itself, but also for the circumstances that surrounded each happening.

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5. Woodstock Music Festival (August 16, 1969)

The performance at Woodstock would have been notable no matter what, simply for exposing the band to a much larger audience. It was a memorable performance for other reasons, too, though, not all of which were positive. The five-song set was delayed by rain, and then the band experienced technical problems during the performance, due in part to the tinkering of their sound engineer, Owsley Stanley (yes, that Owsley Stanley, the LSD chemist who inspired Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”). Bob Weir said he got such a strong shock during the set opener, “Saint Stephen,” that he was thrown back several feet across the stage.

4. Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead at Soldier Field (July 5, 2015)

Nearly 20 years after Jerry Garcia’s death and the band’s breakup, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann—the only remaining continuous members—teamed up with longtime drummer Mickey Hart for their final show together. The lineup was filled out with Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby, and Jeff Chimenti.

This concert was the last of five shows this version of the band would play together, with the first two coming at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and the remainder occurring at Soldier Field in Chicago. For the encore, Weir emerged wearing a “Let Trey Sing” t-shirt, and then the band launched into “Touch of Grey.” Anastasio and Hornsby each sang a verse before giving way to Weir. Barring another reunion, the second and final song of the encore, “Attics of My Life,” will be the last song performed by the remaining core members of the band.

3. Summer Jam at Watkins Glen (July 28, 1973)

This one-day event in upstate New York, which also featured The Allman Brothers Band and The Band, drew 600,000 attendees. That made it the largest audience ever to attend a Grateful Dead show. The event was also notable for the soundchecks that all three bands conducted the day before the actual show, which was heard by the numerous fans who turned up a day early. The Dead played two sets and played an encore including members from all three bands that lasted for an hour.

[RELATED: A Guide to Grateful Dead Iconography]

2. Great American Music Hall in San Francisco (August 13, 1975)

This was a rare performance during a hiatus from touring, and it was the first time the band played all of the songs from Blues for Allah in a single show. The concert occurred less than three weeks before Blues For Allah’s release, and subsequent to the performance, the show was broadcast via radio nationally. The concert included 19 songs in all, and is captured on the One from the Vault live album, released in 1991.

1. Barton Hall, Cornell University (May 8, 1977)

This show was part of a tour that preceded the release of Terrapin Station, and it spawned numerous bootlegs. One particular recording, made by Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson, circulated widely, and the quality was so good that it raised the profile of the performance to legendary status among Deadheads. That recording was released as a live album entitled Cornell 5/8/77 in 2017, nearly 40 years to the day of the concert. The show also inspired the book Cornell ‘77: The Music, the Myth, and the Magnificence of the Grateful Dead’s Concert at Barton Hall by Peter Conners.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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