Home New England & Tri-State Music Grateful Dead Play Their Lone Cortland Show: April 18, 1971

Grateful Dead Play Their Lone Cortland Show: April 18, 1971

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1971 was an incredibly busy touring year for the Grateful Dead and on this day in April they found themselves in Cortland, NY for the first and only time. The band toured the East Coast extensively all throughout this month, playing a slew of auditoriums, music halls and college campuses as they continued to build their brand.

With plenty of gigs scheduled in New York City, this show at SUNY-Cortland’s Lusk Field House would be their only one in Central New York and the entire region was clearly on board. Tickets could be purchased in Ithaca, Binghamton and even the Syracuse University bookstore. Those that went were treated to a good one as the Dead would continue to hone their new originals, play an extremely rare cover song and take another one around the block and back.

The Dead jump off the starting block with a guitar-driven and passionate “Cold Rain and Snow.” The triumvirate of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh are turned up high in the mix and don’t disappoint. After “Snow” comes to end with a flurry of heavy vamping from all involved, and a quick PSA from Garcia harkening someone to come up to the side of the stage, “Me and My Uncle” starts up and gets played in pristine fashion with Weir leading the charge on vocals. The “Bertha” that follows gets the same treatment and shows the band clearly getting nice and familiar with this newer song that only debuted a few months ago.

Another song fairly new to the live Dead catalog at the time was their cover of “Me and Bobby McGee.” This too gets played with a noticeable comfort and ease with Garcia adding some extra tasteful guitar licks between early verses and Bill Kreutzmann serving as a one-man wrecking crew on drums. A clearly relaxed and engaged Grateful Dead then attempt to honor the Cortland audience’s request to get some spotlights turned off. Lesh comments that this “isn’t the spacecraft assembly building or anything” with Garcia sarcastically intimating that it just might be.

Pigpen then gets his lone spotlight of the first set and leads the band through a no-frills “Next Time You See Me.” At this point, the band reengages their war with the lighting crew who get caught trying to turn some lights back up. Things get so (comically) animated that Pigpen even gets involved! That’s right, rare Pigpen banter. And this one is a gem.

Like nothing ever happened, the Dead then close out the first set in Cortland with their now traditional one-two pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider.” The “Rider” starts off at a slightly slower pace but the crystal clear segue is right there and Garcia delivers a hellacious guitar solo before the set ends with a fairly standard run through of “Casey Jones.”

The second set begins with some heavy wah-wah effects on guitar as “Sugar Magnolia” begins with Weir leading the way on vocals. The psychedelic guitar interplay makes for a brief rousing jam before Weir reels it back in. The next selection is a true Grateful Dead rarity with Garcia taking over on vocals for a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion.” It was played by the Dead only seven times ever, with all of them in April of 1971. Although it would later reappear on Jerry Garcia Band setlists in the future. His stirring guitar solo on this one adds just the right amount of soul and shows why.

The Dead then delve back into their song book of originals and roll through “Truckin’” with the “Up to Buffalo” lyric getting a noticeable hand from the Cortland crowd. This sets the table for the true exploratory jam of the night with a short but joyous romp that features some cohesive interplay between Garcia and Lesh on bass serving as the musical engine.

The second one comes with the “Hard to Handle” that follows, with Pigpen once again on the mic, delivering one of his signature cover songs. He flies through the verses with ease and typical swagger and then immediately launches into a semi-coherent, bluesy scat-rap hybrid over a bed of steady groove supplied by the band. It’s essentially the Dead backing up Pigpen as he improvises before he exits stage right and the band takes their turn with a veritable funk jam that slowly gets more and more aggressive before coming to a peak.

The Dead then continue to trot out more of their newer originals that debuted earlier this year at Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. “Loser” features a pair of Garcia guitar solos rich in emotion with the second one played in a perfect tone. “Playing In The Band” follows and while it’s clear the band has the compositional part of this song down pat by now, there’s yet to be any sort of supplemental jam added to it.

One of the final musical statements from the Dead on this night in Cortland is a massive cover of The Rascals” “Good Lovin’” with Pigpen once again belting out the vocals. Once the lyrics come to an end, almost immediately a one-man “Drums” section begins with Kreutzmann using every inch of the drum kit for several minutes. Instead of moving on to something else, the band jumps right back into the “Good Lovin’” jam and Pigpen reemerges for another stream of conscious-like, bluesy rap with this one exploring various employment opportunities and the “nookie business.” This eventually fades out and the band takes over once more with a brief jam before reshaping it back into the conclusion of the song, serving as one of the true highlights of the show.

A tame, in comparison, “Uncle John’s Band” then closes out the one and only Grateful Dead show in Cortland, NY. The band would get a few days off after this show and then continue their assault on the Northeast with shows in Providence, RI and Bangor, ME scheduled after that before a legendary run of shows at New York City’s Fillmore East the following week.

Vist archive.org for a track by track listing of the show.

View this and more Grateful Dead shows from across the years in New York State with our interactive map below

Grateful Dead – Lusk Field House, Cortland, NY – April 18, 1971

Set 1: Cold Rain and Snow, Me and My Uncle, Bertha, Me and Bobby McGee, Next Time You See Me, China Ca Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Casey Jones

Set 2: Sugar Magnolia, I Second That Emotion, Truckin’, Hard to Handle, Loser, Playing In The Band, Around and Around, Good Lovin’, Uncle John’s Band

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Source: NYSmusic.com