Rohini Gupta, doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering and Grateful Dead fan, stands in Barton Hall.

Love for Dead & Co. transcends generations

Rohini Gupta grew up with the Dead.

Her family listened at the breakfast table, in the car; she danced to the music with her sister from as early as she can remember. Her father had every Grateful Dead album and bootleg, including the recording of the legendary 1977 concert at Barton Hall. In 2019, Gupta, now a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering, played an event in Barton with her own band, where she snuck in acoustic Dead covers – dedicating the songs in her mind to Jerry Garcia – and thought she’d reached a pinnacle in her relationship to the music and band.

When she heard that Dead & Company, which includes remaining members of the Grateful Dead, would return to Barton Hall on May 8, it felt almost cosmic.

“I just couldn’t believe this is happening in my lifetime, at my institution,” Gupta said. “The band has such a rich history, and they’ve been such a big part of my life and my childhood – to be a part of this now, while I’m still at Cornell, feels like everything perfectly aligned.”

The sold-out concert is part of Dead & Company’s final tour and will raise funds for Cornell’s 2030 Project, which aims to accelerate real-world solutions to climate change, and MusiCares, a nonprofit that supports the health and welfare of music industry professionals.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. on May 8, the same date as the 1977 show, which is well-known in Grateful Dead circles as one of the most iconic and beloved performances of the band’s long career.

Viewers from around the world can purchase passes to livestream the show, and tickets are on sale for an in-person livestream at the State Theatre of Ithaca – with proceeds also going to the 2030 Project and MusiCares. On campus, Cornell Chimes will play their annual Grateful Dead Concert from 6 to 6:30 p.m.

Administered through multiple lotteries, around half of the 4,800 concert tickets were reserved for Cornell alumni, staff, and students, with discounted tickets available for students. The return of the band prompted excitement and reminiscences from an older generation of alumni who remember the concert of 1977, but many current students said the music – and the community it creates – transcends generations.

For some, like Gupta, the love of the music was inherited from parents. Sophomore Carlin Reyen’s father is a longtime singer and guitarist in a Grateful Dead cover band in Binghamton, New York, and she grew up immersed in the music.

“It’s been the soundtrack of my growing up,” said Reyen, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. “And May 8, Barton Hall ’77, was considered a kind of holiday in our house, as the date of one of the greatest concerts of all time. The fact that the concert coincides with my time here is really special.”

Other students found the Dead through friends and were hooked by the music’s unique blend of styles.

“I was attracted to the rhythms,” said Brian Ruan ’25, a health care policy major in the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, who started listening to the Grateful Dead in eighth grade. “I like to think about how the music and the vibe was constructed, and I can just imagine how great it will sound on a live stage.”

Madeline Turner ’23, from the ILR School, said it was the Grateful Dead’s influence on more contemporary bands that led her to their music.

“A lot of the music I listen to wouldn’t exist without the Dead, or wouldn’t be the same,” she said. “If you look at groups like Animal Collective, or honestly a lot of artists who sample and beyond – the Dead are so influential that you know their music even if you’re not a superfan.”

Gupta noted parallels between now and the 1970s, when the Grateful Dead exploded in popularity, that make it easy for a younger generation to access and relate to the music.

“There was something really special about the music that was coming out of that time,” Gupta said. “You have young people protesting and taking a stand, not unlike today, and the music uses poetry to express those emotions, which I think is really beautiful. At the same time, the lyrics – to a song like ‘Ripple,’ for example – are really timeless to me, transcendent. There’s so much you can gain from listening to that song and thinking about your life.”

Students said the Dead’s music also serves as an entree into a special community.

“What I love about the band is that they bring this crowd of very passionate, music-loving people together,” said Alicia Lawrence ’23, a global development major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Even just seeing the logos on hats or bumper stickers, you realize you have this connection to someone.”

“Their music is welcoming to all people, it’s for everyone,” Reyen said. “The fact that people are able to come together and dance to the music and feel free and expressive – it’s super important. Their music is such a great unifier.”

The historical significance of the concert is also not lost on the younger generation.

“Being a part of the final tour, the band’s final journey, is pretty exciting,” Ruan said. “I’m hoping to meet other people who are just as excited to see Dead & Company as I am, and to try to understand what is was like to be there in ’77, too.”

“My dad has all these fond memories of going to Dead shows with his friends in college. It’s amazing that a generation later, we’ll be able to have that experience, too,” said Reyen, whose father will also attend the show. “It’s a really momentous occasion that’s going to bring a lot of joy to campus, and it’ll be a memory I have forever.”

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Rebecca Valli