A couple weeks ago I caught myself at my first Spafford show at a local venue. It was sold out and particularly packed. When I was stumbling through the tight venue I bumped into a man holding a microphone and a stick. Of course, this was a taper. This individual taper was the only one at the show.
The morning after the show, I made my morning cup of coffee and made my way into in my car and headed to my university. During my commute, I opened up nugs.net and just like magic Spafford’s entire show I saw the night before was available. Including a particularly hot “Feel Like a Stranger” cover in the first set.. Grog Shop 1/14/18 for the curious out there.. Of course, the dots connected in my head between who was responsible for the recording I was listening to. It was the taper gentleman I had bumped into the night before inching through the crowd.
As I sipped my caffeinated delight I thought to myself, “Gosh, I wish I would’ve thanked this man for his labor towards the music.. this show is fire”. In past days of Shakedown Street, there was a common saying, “Thank a Taper”. In 2018, as a 21-year-old Deadhead, I must say I am of the opinion that the taper has become an underappreciated segment of our culture.
Let’s take a look at 5/8/77, for example. The “holy grail” of Deadhead recordings at Cornell on the Dead’s legendary 1977 spring tour. Many make the claim that this show is merely the pinnacle of excellence that it is said to be because the excellent taping quality and large trading base it reached. Although it is irrefutable that Jerry and the boys were objectively out of this world that night in Ithaca, it is also reasonable to say they were just as tight any other night of Spring 77.
Because of its highly traded status, many Deadheads have found fond memories with the Cornell 77 tape. Perhaps a memory of their first smooch to Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain or one of a particularly introspective joint over the thunderous Morning Dew one night. Synonymously Deadheads love their 5/8/77. But have you heard 5/22/77? I’m sure most of you have, but not nearly as many as those who have heard of 5/8/77. It features a monolithic setlist. My personal favorite Help > Slip > Franklin’s of all time joins a rare, Sunrise, and a cosmic Wharf Rat > Terrapin Station > Morning Dew encore. Dick Latvalva, late Grateful Dead tape archivist, and pioneer behind the Dick’s Picks series claimed that this 5/2/77 evening in Pembrook Pines, Florida blew Cornell’s show out of the water. In his mind, both of these shows were five stars.
With his vast Deadhead knowledge and trained listening ear, it is reasonable to say Dick portrayed an objective look at both shows. This brings up the question, “Well, why is 5/8/77 more popular?”. Well, 5/8/77 was traded in huge numbers thanks to Grateful Dead audio engineer Betty-Cantor-Jackson. 5/22/77 was not as lucky and was not released until Dick’s Picks 3. With the Cornell tape being in the hand of more heads that created an environment where an individual could create lasting memories with those songs as they replayed the tape over and over again. 5/8/77 won as “the best show” by the word of mouth, I believe.
Speaking for myself, I know I need to go back and listen to a show to confirm if it was as good as I thought it was. Imagine how many heads left 5/22/77 in Pembroke Pines with the conviction that it was the greatest show that they had ever seen.. only for that thought to be erased by a show from a tape that they acquired when they could never quite find a copy of 5/22/77 on the lot.
Presently, one can find any Dead show online on archive.org. Certainly, it would be a very long time for a Deadhead’s individual musical palate to get its fill of the Dead’s different sounds. From a sun-soaked 66’ Palo Alto “Other One” to a 94’ “Lazy River Road” it is hard to run out of tunes. Once upon a time, that palate was fairly limited to the physical records and tapes a Deadhead could get ahold. Although 2018 does not have Jerry Garcia, a Deadhead can hear nearly any Jerry tune in the blink of an eye. From the classic studio American Beauty to a rare “Mindbender” jam from the Acid Tests. There is a lot of chatter about the negative aspects of the live music experience in the digital age. Yet there is little chatter about the incredible feat to listen to nearly anything recorded in a heartbeat. Furthermore, going into the future heroes such as the man I bumped into taping Spafford are guiding the way into the future with sources like nugs.net.. As Dead and Company’s summer 2018 tour looms you can get your fill of all of their soundboards on nugs.net thanks of your local taper. The times have changed for music formats but the music never stopped.
P.S. Thank a taper