A Garden Party

MSG 2012 (Graham Lucas)

Since New Year’s Eve, many people in the online Phish community have been making meaning of the band covering Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” to open the final show of the year. Though investigating the origin of the song, one can find potential significance in this seemingly out-of-the-blue selection.

Ricky Nelson became a childhood star on the 1950s television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was set in 1950s suburbia and conveyed an idyllic image of American family life. Nelson started his music career by playing songs on the popular show, and in the late ‘50s he branched off from his family’s sitcom and formed an early era rock band. Nelson became one of rock and roll’s first teen idols and became known for his excessively clean cut image. Between 1957 and 1962 Nelson charted 30 Top 40 hits, more than any other artist besides Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Garden Party (1972)

Though Nelson continued to record albums, his success was stymied by the British Invasion of the 1960s. Consequently, he gravitated towards country music, becoming a pioneer of the country rock genre. After his change of tune, however, Nelson reached the Top 40 only two more times in his career—once in 1970 when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and for the final time in 1972 with “Garden Party,” a song written in reaction to the following incident. Nelson performed as part of a “Rock and Roll Revival” concert at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971, sharing the bill with other early rock legends, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, among others. Nelson emerged on stage looking different than his fans remembered him, sporting the ’70s fashion of  bell bottoms, a purple velvet shirt and shoulder-length hair. Though he began with his older classics, Nelson soon played his new country-rock material and was subsequently greeted with boos from an audience who didn’t approve of his stylistic shift. He left the stage mid-set and didn’t return for the show’s group finale. Nelson wrote “Garden Party” in disgust, documenting this experience. Confident in his new musical direction, the lyrics of “Garden Party”—“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”—became his personal creed.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Fast forward to December 31, 2012. Phish decided to debut Ricky Nelson’s song in Madison Square Garden 26 years to the day of the plane crash that took Nelson and his band from the world. While the move was a clear nod to the American legend, Nelson’s “Garden Party” clearly held parallels to Phish’s experience in the modern era. Phish has always endured a hypercritical fan base, something that Trey, himself, noted in 1997’s documentary, Bittersweet Motel. The level of public critique has only increased in 3.0 due to the onset of Phish blogs, podcasts and the always-expanding use of Internet discussion forums. As a burgeoning population of seasoned fans all have particular ideas on the way Phish shows should be played, band analysis and criticism has reached a high point in this era. Whether it’s more bust-outs, not enough funk, a lack of a second jam in “Mike’s Song,” the need to shelve “Time Turns Elastic” or playing less songs per 90-minute set, everyone has an opinion on the band’s performances and isn’t shy about sharing it. The fact that Phish fans care so much about what form the band takes is a testament to their undying passion, though I’m sure if the band members ever tuned into the omnipresent online discussions, they’d be quite amused by the copious demands. Sometimes, a sentiment in the fan community is so widespread and intense that it’d be nearly impossible for it not to get back to them. Some modern examples of this are the ardent endorsement of 2011’s Super Ball festival and the overall disappointment after the lackluster Holiday Run of the same year.

12.31.12 (J.Herzog)

Perhaps Phish’s inclusion of “Garden Party” was their own coy response to their rabid fan base, embracing Nelson’s motto of being true to themselves in the face of any and all critique. By following up “Garden Party” with “Possum,” a song that is universally considered to be overplayed in this era, and “Roses Are Free,” a song from which everybody and their mothers have called for more jams, it’s hard to ignore this probability. While “Garden Party” may have been a playful musical retort, it’s quite dubious that the maneuver represented anything more than that towards their fan base—a loyal cadre they have consistently gushed over for the duration of their careers. Phish has enjoyed one of the famous love affairs in music history with a fan base that would travel to the end of the earth to see them perform. More likely than a jab at their loyalists, “Garden Party” was positive affirmation of their own place in time. The message didn’t feel like a defensive “Hey, quit your bitching!” but rather a mature statement saying, “Everyone is welcome to have opinions, but we are here to please ourselves. Take it or leave it.” Understood in this regard, such a statement simultaneously frees their fan base to be critical and allows the band not to worry about it at all.

In all likelihood, the cover of “Garden Party” had a bit to do with several aspects of the night—the fact that Phish had, literally, created a garden out of the Garden for New Year’s Eve, the 26 year anniversary of Ricky Nelson’s passing and a tongue-in-cheek comment to their feverish fan base that Phish will be Phish. And in the end, though fans will be fans, I don’t think there is anyone who really wants them to change. If they are happy, we are happy and if we are happy, they are happy. This has worked for 30 years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

12.31.12 (Richard Lawless)

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1,320 Responses to “A Garden Party”

  1. btb Says:

    Bell’s Hopslam is out early this year. Already on shelves in MI. Hits OH and a few others on Monday.

    Tried Bell’s ‘the Oracle’ this year for the first time. Very nice DIPA.

  2. kayatosh Says:

    DWD>20yl was an ace pairing. 20yl is not a throwaway tune; really growing on me.

  3. snow Says:

    @Bob, I know the stupid one and down posts are annoying but they keep it real because people think stuff like that… and really they do no harm. As Strongbad would say, Pete is just making himself look bad.

    damn, you guys got a lot done by 10:30.

    nice write up Mr Miner. I wonder if it has PT crying…

    I have a new shortcut to phantasy tour… just type in phish plus anything crude and PT comes right up in the results.

  4. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Pretty triumphant entry to the Tweez jam

  5. roberto luongo Says:

    20 yr later probably would grow on me if Tory dropped a jam instead of the classic rock style guitar hero solo

    just seems like one of those tracks like zero of faulty plan that just are never gonna come off the rails

    classic rawk phish

  6. Mr. Palmer Says:

    The ghost, boogie on from way back in Woosta this summer is a top ten jam for 2012 I think. in the 8-10 range probably. Will be damn tough to come up with a top 10 for this year. Lots of greatness.

  7. kayatosh Says:

    composed part of miami tweez $$$. and a recognizable jam from the first few notes. good ole miami tweez. more of a skanky groove jam. love page here. really works.

  8. BingosBrother Says:

    Stay strong rl. Dreaming of cigs over here. Very annoying. Subconscious still holds out hope. Not gonna break.

  9. Guyute711 Says:

    Check this, loved this set he put on.


    Go Steve Winwood go!!!!

  10. Mr. Palmer Says:

    I don’t think 20YL is a jam tune. Rather, a song that resolves a huge jam or foreshadows one to come, like on the 30th. I like it in that role a lot.

  11. roberto luongo Says:

    for me the Carini and Boogie are def top 10 contenders from DCU

    Boogie is a no brainer. type I or not. that shit is just rippin phish.

    I like the Ghost but still think AV may have the winner with that pinner little dive into phish electronica heaven. still can’t believe that little jam.

    am a huge fan of woosta ghost though. I LOVE that set.

  12. RoosterPizza Says:

    I am going to see Archie Shepp at Goddard in a couple of weeks. I am very excited about this!

  13. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Looking forward to Miners top 10, or top 20 list whenever he feels compelled. Will make for some sold discussion.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    yeah, it’s a landing pad like Caspian. it took a couple years for Caspian to get any treatment at all. 20YL out of Blossom #Line was pretty nice.

  15. roberto luongo Says:

    agreed palmer

    but from the couch bitchin. which is what i do from the couch.

    I like more jam at the start of set II

    why Xeyed > Light > Sally is tops for me

    DWD > Carini > 20 yr later I wouldn’t have shit to say. but choppin up the jams with the rocker just didn’t work as well for me.

    I like the big 40 min + straight jam chunk to start

  16. Guyute711 Says:

    Well that video sounded like shite. Here is the whole set.


  17. marcoesq Says:

    1st respin of Slave, sounds nice

  18. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Cincy Twist and Alpine Fee are top 10 contenders. AC Birds is probably in the second group of 10.

    The JB Golden Age is the best of the year IMO.

    LBC RnR

  19. tela'smuff Says:

    it’ll be tough to pick a top 10 list this year without including segments of music, like….

    1. xeyed>light>sally
    2. GA>Caspian>Light
    3. Disease>20YL>Carini

    etc.. i look at some of these as complete sections you have to listen as a whole. like Pittsburgh. the Weekapug>Seven Below are kind one jam to me.

  20. kayatosh Says:

    tough to top xeyed>light>sally for fluidity of jam

    maimi tweez really is all that. still holds up. less innovative than some of the ’12 tweezs but it’s hooked up and triptastic — $$$

  21. roberto luongo Says:

    think I got a show for tonight


  22. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA – $$$
    Laguinitas IPA – $$+
    Ithaca Flower Power IPA – $$$
    Titan IPA – $$+
    Dogfish Head 90 Min – $$ – (not really my stylee)

  23. BNCB Says:

    Willing to bet that if one of us had the guitar and Trey was a head in the crowd, he’d be a critic. Thus his pedal sign, thus his love for the fans.

    Mkdevo Tweezer vid. The illness

  24. Spasm Waiter Says:

    MKDevo Tweez—>

  25. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    MSG tweez, very LBC RnR stylee. very ’73 dead dark star. love the free flowing form of it.

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