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 19, 2020
Blissfully unaware of the twists of fate that would befall the world in the coming months, Dead & Company nonetheless finished off the 2020 version of Playing In The Sand with a beautifully crafted performance that could not have been a more fitting final show of the year had they consciously planned it that way.
It begins, aptly enough, with the song from which the annual event derived its name – and with which the band launched its first weekend on the beach back in 2018 – “Playing In The Band.” Long one of the Grateful Dead’s most open invitations to freewheeling collective improvisation, “Playing” fulfills its function nicely, launching a sequence that includes one of the best-loved tunes in the repertoire, “Uncle John’s Band,” then winds back around to the “Dark Star” that had first cropped up three nights earlier before returning to the “Playing” reprise. The band dips a toe in more down-to-earth first-half fare such as “They Love Each Other,” “Me And My Uncle” and “Samson And Delilah” before finishing the set in style with a full-bodied “Terrapin Station.”
The weekend’s final set begins in surefire fashion with the “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain” double play, and then the appealingly ambiguous mix of exasperated good-riddance and affectionate eulogy to a sketchy individual that is “He’s Gone.” Another pair of the most popular tunes in the repertoire, “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider” carry us full-steam-ahead into a powerfully propulsive Drums excursion, with Mickey’s deep drone on the Beam providing passage to a Space sequence that starts delicately, goes through some nice convolutions before returning to consonance and setting up a characteristically soulful John Mayer rendition of “Althea.” Jeff Chimenti’s stately piano introduction guides the band into the stunning and elegiac “Days Between,” passionately delivered by Bob Weir, before the band brings the set to a thunderous conclusion with “U.S. Blues” (hmmm… a sly bit of side-eye at Mexico’s not-always-hospitable neighbor to the north? We’ll let you be the judge).
The event’s final encore begins with the cherished marriage of Robert Hunter lyric and Jerry Garcia melody that is “Ripple,” before the band puts the perfect bookend on the weekend with the song that had started things off the previous Thursday, “Not Fade Away.”
We hope we can all meet again in person sometime in the not-too-distant future, whether on a beach, in a ballroom or at a ballpark, to dance, to laugh, to celebrate together.
Until then, please stay safe and well. In the immortal words of Mr. Holly…
“You know our love will not fade away!”