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. voopa Says:

    I think Page was having synth issues and Trey decided to just go ahead and start the tune…I seem to remember seeing trying Page play it at one point and hearing nothing. Must watch back though.

  2. ren Says:

    Something told me we’d see eye to eye on that one MiA 😉

    I swap out the Xan for a K-pin instead towards the end of the evening

  3. Guyute711 Says:

    “Steve Miller isn’t that bad.”


  4. mudbuddy11 Says:

    I didnt get to go to the shows this year, but there’s something i was curious about. i heard ck5 went ‘back’ to 90’s style lighting. I assume this means less strobe and freneticism, and more purposeful light designs. anybody pick up on this?

  5. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Great writeup Miner.

  6. MiA Says:

    Some people call me the space cowboy …
    Some call me the gangsta of love…

  7. tela's_muff Says:

    Thanks G$. I was hoping there was a fellow Steve Miller hater here. Awful.

    I’m with @pete. Never put any extra thought into the song choice other than the obvious. I guess I just don’t care. Thank god for that Carini though.

  8. MiA Says:

    Screw you too Tela’s. I bet AW loves Steve Miller.

  9. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Can’t stop spinning highlights of nights 1 and 3. haven’t even really listened to NYE yet, although i did watch a bunch with my on demand video code.

    Best Tweezer of 3.0 on the 28th? I’m leaning that way.

    How about Disease? Much more competition than Tweezer has in a best of 3.0 discussion. I loved the DTE, and UIC versions as well.

    Carini is a no-brainer IMO.


  10. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Just in case everyone hasn’t seen this:

    “I remember one time – it might have been a couple times – at the Fillmore East in 1970, I was opening for this sorry-ass cat named Steve Miller. Steve Miller didn’t have his shit going for him, so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfucker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first and then we got there we smoked the motherfucking place, everybody dug it.”

    -Miles Davis

  11. stapes Says:

    Can’t decide if I like the Tweez or Carini more. Both so good and so different. Yin and yang

  12. MiA Says:

    I like the Cincy Disease a lot too. But not as much as DTE.

    Hard to argue with anything else.

  13. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Whoever mentioned the similarities between parts of the Carini jam and Iron Man is spot on IMO. Rehearsing Iron Man definitely inspired some of the sound coming out of that dark Carini jam.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    @palmer – it appears i’m in the minority on the MSG Tweezer. i’m still not sure it was the best in 2012. there is a stretch in the middle where it gets a little boring to me. the ending is basically a Wolfmans reprise. it’s a great jam, but i’m not sure. i’d still take the DTE Disease, but that may be it over the MSG version.

  15. Luther T. Justice Says:

    DTE Disease is still my fav of 3.0 & possibly of all time. The 90s were a hazy time for me, so I need to go back & do some listening.

    So do you think there’s a good chance of some Black Eyed Peas covers?

  16. tela'smuff Says:

    i still like the Dick’s Tweezer from ’11 for best of 3.0.

  17. KOOKS Says:

    Miles Davis did the same to the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore also. People might want to try to give Brave New World and Children of the Future a listen but for some reason I think the people who are putting down Steve Miller don’t know these albums exist.

  18. stapes Says:

    Def an Iron Man groove in there.

    Tela’s you’ll come around on this Tweezer.

  19. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Kaya or anyone else- I need a good Aud source for 12-31. Please steer me in the right direction.

  20. Luther T. Justice Says:

    Most 2012 Tweezers were lacking, so at least they finished strong.

  21. Phlorida Phan Says:

    Is there a better Carini from 1.0 or 2.0, point me in that direction, cause im guessing not.

  22. sumodie Says:

    Always love 60s-70s Steve Miller! 2 best of CDs is all ive ever spun from him, 68-73 & 74-78.

    Also have bizarro memories from ~1983 of 8th grade cheerleaders singing Abracadabra while riding the bus to school. Wished i’d had some xanax for that ride.

    Never had even the remotest desire to listen to the Black Eyed Pees ;0)

    Respun 12.31.12 set 3 yesterday and still love it. Never gonna be a show with Dick’s replay value but nonetheless a 2012 highlight for me. We were deep inside the bucky ball that evening

  23. RoosterPizza Says:

    Maurice in Austin?

  24. stapes Says:

    I thought KC and CLT Tweezers were both above average for 3.0. Similar in feel and both very melodic. MSG Tweez hit a similar vibe for a minute too. Then the rock and roll ending brings it home.

  25. ren Says:

    Steve Miller isn’t so much about the musical quality as it is about “feeling good”….so many memories growing up with that song in the background…hard not to smile

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