As a line from a classic song not by the Grateful Dead put it…
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”
The truth of that great lyric (thanks, Joni!) was never more self-evident than in the very strange and challenging year of 2020, when a worldwide health crisis deprived us of so many things we may have previously taken for granted… one of them being the ability to do something especially integral to the life of the Grateful Dead community: gather together in public to celebrate our shared love of live music.
When several thousand lucky Dead Heads converged on the Yucatan Peninsula last January for the third iteration of Dead & Company’s popular winter ritual known as Playing In The Sand, none of us could have had any inkling that the band’s first shows of 2020 would also be their last. But just weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the United States with a terrible force, and it soon became apparent that the live music industry would take a massive hit, with club dates, concerts, festivals and all touring shut down indefinitely.
As of this writing, we’re still uncertain as to when live music will return, or what changes will occur in the way it’s presented. That makes the memory of Playing in The Sand 2020 all the more precious, and we’re happy to present this sonic memento of those three beautiful days in Cancun.
JANUARY 16, 2020
Having completed a spectacular 2019 that began in Mexico, continued through a hugely successful Summer tour plus a “Fall Fun Run” at some legendary East Coast venues, and wound up with December shows out West culminating in a hometown New Year’s Eve celebration in San Francisco, Dead & Company wasted no time proving they had more than a little left in the tank when they hit the stage at the Moon Palace for night one of Playing In The Sand 2020.
The band couldn’t have chosen a more apt mission statement than one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring anthems, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” From there it’s on to such well-chosen first-set favorites as “Hell In A Bucket,” “Row Jimmy,” “Brown Eyed Women” and “Ramble On Rose,” finishing up with lengthy and rewarding excursions into ensemble give-and-take on “Bird Song” and “Let It Grow,” providing a preview of stellar explorations to come in Set Two.
The band comes out swinging after intermission with “Deal,” then shifts the mood radically, with the opener’s bluesy coda deftly morphing into the gateway to the spaceways that is “Dark Star.” The improvisational impulse carries through to the sinuous 7/4 time signature signifying an especially strong performance of the Caribbean-inflected “Estimated Prophet,” and then to the always-welcome “Eyes Of The World,” which in turn leads to rewarding Drums and Space sequences, the latter containing some lovely bits of spontaneously created melody that resolve in the reliably uplifting “The Wheel,” followed by the moving “Standing On The Moon” and, to close the set on the rocking note with which it started, “Casey Jones.” “The Weight” makes for an effective encore to cap off night one.