During a career that spanned 30 years, more than 2,300 concerts and more than 500 different songs played, The Grateful Dead's most-played song started life as a drum pattern in an odd time tapped out by a member who was about to (temporarily) quit the band.
But "The Main Ten" -- named for its 10/4 time -- grew into "Playin' In The Band," and then that song grew into something else entirely.
The song could come at the start of a set, a fast-paced tempo setter indicating a good second half awaited; or sometimes it would appear out of thin (or heavy) air in the middle of a show, the space reserved for one of the Dead's lengthy, epic vehicles -- and if "Playin'" was any kind of vehicle, it was a space ship that could zip to Jupiter and back...before crossing into another galaxy altogether. And then the second verse started.
To celebrate the song the Dead played more than 700 times (no one time similar to any other, really), Mickey Hart, the drummer whose sticks first gave life to the "Playin'" rhythm posted to Twitter and Facebook this week a video that's a composite of a live performance from one of the Dead's late 1980s concerts, more recent video of Hart beating the skins of his personally designed drum set and numerous fan videos of Deadheads performing the song.
The Deadhead performances vary in terms of numbers of members, key the song is played in, tempo and talent. But there's no disparity between the Dead and the Deadheads in the sincerity with which the song is performed. That lyrical and musical honesty is what kept the Dead together for 30 years (and beyond), and what's kept the Deadheads coming back -- from just a few folks who happened to be hipper than the rest enjoying a slice at Magoo's Pizza Parlor in California in 1965 to the throngs that still descend on stadiums nationwide to watch the band's latest incarnation (for The Dead never die), Dead & Company.
I first saw the Grateful Dead as a 2-year-old in 1988 (my dad saw them in Brooklyn in 1970, dragged my mom onto the bus a decade later and then a few years after that made sure I was born on it). Now, I'm a 33-year-old journeying to Citi Field or Madison Square Garden to watch Bob Weir pick oddly-shaped chords and belt out "Playin' In The Band."
Like the fans that Hart tweeted videos of, I made my own version of one of the Dead's (numerous) seminal songs. Hopefully, it sounds sincere.