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Out of all the wonderful songs composed by the Grateful Dead, “Ripple” is one that seems to have a special magic. With it’s deep, pondering lyrics penned by Robert Hunter and the peaceful acoustic arrangement by Jerry Garcia, “Ripple” is a song that’s meaning boils down to the pure essence of the Grateful Dead. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a deadhead who wouldn’t place “Ripple” in the running for their favorite Dead songs. The American Beauty version simply shines, with Jerry, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh all nailing the harmonies, which is much key to this song and proved much more difficult for them to accomplish in the live setting.
The Dead only performed “Ripple” live 40 times, beginning in August 1970 and continuing during acoustic sets throughout that year and into some electric sets in ’71. Then it was dropped from the rotation for nearly a decade until it reappeared when the band brought back acoustic sets in 1980-81. Then it was played as the set-closing song every night during the Dead's acoustic sets. (from Extra Chill article by Chris Huber).