In May 1986, a storage auction took place in California’s Marin County that would altogether change the nature of Grateful Dead tape trading, the group’s distribution of its live recordings and, ultimately, the Dead’s place in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. An advertisement in a local paper drew in a few dozen curious parties anticipating the range of memorabilia and household items that typically become available through the auction of lockers that had fallen into arrears due to lack of payments. While the popularity of such events has blossomed in recent years due to television shows such as Storage Wars, back in 1986, bidders’ expectations were often minimal and true windfalls were rare. As it turned out, however, on this spring afternoon, there was bounty to be had: Among the items up for auction that day were hundreds of reel-to-reel soundboard tapes of the Grateful Dead originally recorded by Betty Cantor-Jackson during a golden age between 1971-80.
The Betty Boards, as copies of these recordings became known, eventually found their way into the collections of longstanding Deadheads and newbies alike, ending some aspects of a tape-trading hierarchy by which certain individuals lorded over their collections, denying access to those who were unfamiliar with the secret handshake.
The appearance and subsequent dissemination of these recordings became a source of fascination and speculation for Deadheads in 1986 and the questions have only compounded over the years: How did the tapes fall into the auction? Who won them? How and why were they initially distributed? Are there more recordings that have yet to make it into circulation? And jumping ahead to the present, where are those tapes today? Just what has become of the Bettys?