The Top 100 Shows Of The Archive Off The Beaten Path, Explained.
The year of 2005 was a ridiculous treasure of riches for Deadheads. The internet website, www.archive.org (a.k.a. Live Music Archive or simply, “LAMA”) had launched the year before and almost every circulating GD show(Soundboard & Audience sources), could be instantly downloaded for free. It seemed too good to be true. And, in many ways it was.
It was December of 2004, when Sam Elkin, of the major music website, Jambase, was invited into one of modern music’s sacred shrines. David Lemieux, the luckiest man alive, successor to long time Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, was opening the doors of the vault to discuss the past, present, and future of The Grateful Dead’s legendary live music repository. On December 16th, Elkin met with Lemieux and in the ensuing interview, posed this question, "Would you ever digitize the archive to make it available for download?” Lemieux didn’t even have to think about it, he responded, “Yes, and this is something that we've been looking into for a number of years. It seems the technology is just about there, which means it's time we start looking at it seriously. I'd love to see it happen.”
It was also around this time that a friendly Deadhead, began creating daily threads on Phantasy Tour in which he would choose a favorite show and post a link to archive.org for anyone interested to stream and/or download show. Over several months, these threads became a daily meeting place for many to listen to and discuss the show of the day.
The year 2005 saw the ridiculous treasure of riches reach its zenith. At the time LAMA boasted well over 2,000 concerts (Both Soundboard & Audience sources) for download. Furthermore, the downloads were almost uniformly offered in a few different types of MP3 files, as well as FLAC & SHN lossless. Virtually every concert the band ever performed, had an entry on LAMA. Many were starting to fear that Lemieux's statements about digitizing the Vault could be the end of the free soundboard downloads, and soon it became clear that this was going to happen. This news created a frenzy of downloading as much as possible while it was still free. These developments provided the germ for an idea that was floated among the daily Phantasytour group to compile a list of the “Top 100 Shows Off The Beaten Path.” Initially it was a request made by one of the daily thread’s regulars, for the thread's creator, to come up with a personal Top 100. Of course, as rabid dead fans, a number of us immediately suggested a collaborative listening effort to round out the list. The purpose of this list was to provide Deadheads – both vets and newbies - with a resource that could be used to assist them in selecting which sources of which shows to download from the thousands available on LAMA.
As we prepared to kick off the project, we realized we had no game plan. Considering the amount of material we were proposing to cover and subsequently debate and whittle down it was agreed that setting up some parameters would be helpful. One issue we anticipated was how we would determine what constituted being, “off the beaten path.” The answer to that question was quickly decided by referencing a list of the “30 Greatest Shows in Grateful Dead History.” The list came from a rather extensive series of votes held on Phantasy Tour a year earlier. That list was intended to represent a good starting point for any Grateful Dead collection worth its salt of the so-called, “no-brainers.” That is, what most would consider the “best” and most widely circulated Grateful Dead shows of all time with little or no debate. That list, with links to where you can stream the shows, appears below:
02/14/68 Carousel Ballroom, San Francisco, CA
02/28/69 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
02/18/71 Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY
04/29/71 Fillmore East, New York, NY
08/06/71 Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA
08/27/72 Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, Veneta, OR
09/21/72 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
02/09/73 Maple Pavilion, Stanford Univ, Palo Alto, CA
02/15/73 Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI
06/10/73 RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
11/11/73 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
11/17/73 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
02/24/74 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
06/18/74 Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY
06/28/74 Boston Garden, Boston, MA
10/19/74 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
10/20/74 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
02/26/77 Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA
05/07/77 Boston Garden, Boston, MA
05/08/77 Barton Hall, Cornell Univ, Ithaca, NY
05/09/77 War Memorial Aud, Buffalo, NY
06/09/77 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
07/08/78 Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CA
06/30/85 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
09/18/87 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
07/17/89 Alpine Valley Music Theater, East Troy, WI
10/09/89 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
03/29/90 Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
09/20/90 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
09/10/91 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Another issue that needed to be addressed was how to make the list a comprehensive reflection of the Grateful Dead’s full 30 year career. For the purpose of this list, we decided that simply doing the best 100 shows would leave us with a list covering only the band’s first 12 years. After many days of what I would call heated debate we came up with this breakdown:
20 Shows from 1965-1972
15 Shows from 1973-1974
20 Shows from 1975-1978
20 Shows from 1979-1986
15 Shows from 1987-1990
10 Shows from 1990-1995
As the participants took a deep dive into Phase I of the project (i.e., 1965-72) another issue bubbled to the surface: How to deal with single-set shows most of which took place in the very fertile period of the late 1960’s? Initially the participants had agreed to exclude single-set shows from this list, promising instead to re-visit the matter in the future as a separate project. However, along came 10/20/68 - a single set, one-hour journey of intense, musical psychedelia that leaves the listener reduced to a shaking blob of rainbow-hued Jell-O. A well-respected and regular contributor to LAMA named “capn_doubledose” summed up his review of this show in one line, “one of my favorites on this whole site - no doubt+.” Accordingly, an exception was immediately carved out and the participants wisely decided to tack this gem on to the list as a special, one-disc supplement. This technique was replicated during Phase II of the project (1973-1974) allowing the necessary inclusion of the Watkins Glen sound check. Phase III (1975-1978) the single-disc supplement was modified to create a new sub-category called “honorable mention.” The purpose of this list was to recognize shows that contained significant note-worthy music, but were not extraordinary in their entirety. For example, shows having exceptional sound quality but lacking in overall performance, or shows having an exceptional performance but lacking in sound quality. A good example of the implementation of this technique was the inclusion of the second set from 11/20/78. These guidelines helped to add a bit more integrity to the process and remained intact for the remainder of the Top 100 project.
This was the format for the remainder of the Top 100 project. As we moved into the “Best Versions” projects, the contrast in approach visa vi evaluating entire shows versus single songs made some alterations to the format necessary, and with each new song a new set of issues, unique to that song, would warrant a few specialized rules for that project. You can find those by clicking on the song title from the list below. If you have any questions, suggestions, or other comments, there is a “Contact Us” link on the homepage that any and all should feel free to use.