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. bob dylan Says:


    Fireworks backwards to a chill beat

  2. dusty Says:

    I’d love to see another Miami NYE run, maybe without the legionnaires…maybe not.

  3. bob dylan Says:

    Ps the waves of 3.0 is still UIC.

    Carini in my headphones makes the day go away easier.

  4. tela'smuff Says:

    commencing Waves listening session

  5. bob dylan Says:

    13:35 in on carini would make a killer ring tone. I don’t wanna play it out so easily tho. Gotta listen to the first 13 mins to get there.


  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    last year after MSG everyone was talking about how phish 3.0 peaked in 2011 and it was all downhill from there


  7. BNCB Says:

    On Canon blogs?^

  8. tela'smuff Says:

    yeah, UIC Waves is a smoker!! damn, been awhile

    on DC Waves, Trey clearly says “See them quickly squirreling by” this version starts way more mellow. could have something to do with it still being 90 degrees at night.

  9. bob dylan Says:

    New York magazine has an article about ride being traded for drugs now. Thieves are innovative.

  10. bob dylan Says:

    That trey guitar work in UIC is one of my fav 3.0 moments.

  11. yematt Says:

    the sbix waves>wtu is up there as well. not as melodically driven but damn it is/was very lifting

  12. bob dylan Says:

    I’m usually too baked to have many solid standout memories at shows. That one is burned in my brain. Loved that shit.

  13. yematt Says:

    waves has soo much potential, just seeing how many different directions it has taken in 3.0 is fantastic. shame it doesn’t get as much play and room to breathe. but we already know this.

  14. Albert walker Says:

    Pissed the media is fuckin with bieber bout puffin

    Wonder how much my photos of him dabbing out are worth

  15. Willowed Says:

    Waves, 20 Yrs Later and 7 Below are just screaming to be in regular rotation. Those can be our new jam vehicles right there

    We get it, you like jamming out RnR and Light.

  16. Spasm Waiter Says:

    MSG was my first and only Waves. Maybe she starts chasin me and I catch the full monty…

  17. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Dabbed out photos of Bieber are going for $12k right now.

  18. MiA Says:

    “last year after MSG everyone was talking about how phish 3.0 peaked in 2011 and it was all downhill from there”

    Esp. after that 7:13 Waves from MPP in ’11

  19. tela'smuff Says:

    wow. an interesting contrast between UIC and DC. DC never comes back to second round of verses. First half of jam is very chill, hinting at the lick Trey played at UIC, but more chill, then he adds some delay on it. They get into a some funky rhythm shit, and the jam sets up much like the Gorge RnR pre-theremin jam. listen for an ever so brief Blister in the Sun tease from Mike, then Trey plays the exact lead he did from the Gorge RnR. as that ends Mike drops some meatballs setting the jam into more space, almost sounds like Trey wants Taste, but they let the jam peel out into ambiance Space Whale > Bug.

    I remember the wind literally blowing over the lawn during th speak of the Waves jam. only good breeze of the show. they do control the weather. great light show during the ambient outro.

    UIC Waves was a rawker, shreddy whale licks, part of an amazing set.

    DC Waves is more my thing. I equate Waves to Dark Star, so i like it to be chill, and i like it to explore.

    Waves Thoughts out.

  20. MiA Says:

    I’m with ya Tela’s … the funky rhythm shit sounds like the same lick/thing Trey goes for in the beginning of a Piper Jam to me.

    Space Whale Jam for sure.

  21. BNCB Says:

    Credit where it’s due. Phish makes more people more happy in less time than just about anything.

    That said, more Waves please!

  22. bob dylan Says:

    It’s funny how you associate the feeling live to listening back. I can appreciate dc waves as awesome but in the live setting it wasn’t my fav. The more I listen the more I appreciate it. But still the gushing feeling from UIC draws me to it.

  23. tela'smuff Says:

    yeah, that’s exactly it MiA. that Piper rhythm jam.

    more Waves indeed!!! I’ll also take more Pebbles & Marbles, Seven Below, Undermind, and a return of Spices and Discern. why not.

  24. HarryHood Says:

    Hey guys, looking for a code for the webcast replay of 12/30 if anyone has one and is willing to part with it. I’d be willing to cover part of the expense for your kindness. BoireC@Hotmail.com

  25. lumpyhead Says:

    fireworks backwards are awesome, as it turns out.

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