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. HarryHood Says:

    #Line > 20YL from SPAC 09 is still one of my favorites…….

  2. P.S.H.S. Says:

    nye miami 03, bought an eight ball off a cubano that was maybe 13 at most, straight fire. looked down the rr tracks next to that sketchy lot and saw some serious players that he was running back to. place is bonkers.

  3. HarryHood Says:

    Damn, bottom pg’d…… Third try on this post…..

    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

  4. BNCB Says:

    The reasons for a return to Miami continue to mount!

    Has anyone mentioned the obvious? Like white sandy beaches. Walking around in shorts and T shirts? Cool mansions to peep.

  5. P.S.H.S. Says:


  6. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Some nice moments for Page on MSG DWD

  7. roberto luongo Says:

    Imo uic waves ) undermind is some of the only interesting Tory of the return

    There are better full band jams no doubt but trey was on fire that little segment

    The shredded waves

  8. Spasm Waiter Says:

    Great fishing in Miami, Keys are a stones throw away, stone crab claws are readily available, easy to score drinking powder, beautiful women in bikinis everywhere….
    Thats a start.

  9. Stupendous Says:

    hittin the beach on the 31/2009 and then seeing the boys at night was awesome. it wasnt even chilly that day in MIA….beautiful weather….

  10. Mr. Palmer Says:

    They should play Miami next month…fuck 2014

  11. voopa Says:


    You have emails

  12. Willowed Says:

    Hey Miner,

    I know you’re always looking for things to write about. Maybe you can review your MSG wish list and go into a bit of detail about the results.

    I know you got your Tweez and a Bowie with teeth.

    Wondering about the rest. I think I know the answer, just throwing out ideas.

  13. BNCB Says:

    Palmer is a genius.

  14. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Feb tour- Miami, the carolinas, Texas, New Mex, Arizona… South X Southwest tour

  15. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Dick’s Light remains the best and most dynamic jam the band has played since their return. Lots of other amazing shit has gone down, but that is the pinnacle of 3.0 IMO. Coupled with the GA and fuckerpants beforehand and Mike’s>No Quarter>Week that came after makes 9/1/12 the best set of ’12. BGCA is #2. Fizzles after completion of xeyed sandwich- unless your name is BNCB and you love to dance the meatstick.

  16. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Digging into some Alpine ’12 Light>Ghost.

    How about this for that 12/30 set II ?

    DwD>20 YL> Carini>No Quarter>Numberline, Slave….

    NQ would have brought the darkness full circle. Would have been freaky. Silly may have been stabbed..

  17. joe Says:

    just read this story about a woman dying after the show on New Year’s (well, after the disco biscuits show to be exact). awful


  18. vegas wolfmans Says:

    NQ is awesome. That would have been an excellent set- maybe even omit Numberline and have Slave serve as the resolution tune? (w/Hood enc)

  19. MiA Says:

    Did they have that lit up light festival next door in tgat park in Miami in ’09 like they did in ’03?

    Good video of the 29th floating around if that Miami ’03 show.

  20. MiA Says:

    Palmer is a genius.

  21. Mr. Palmer Says:

    “Palmer is a genius.”

    ^ only on a 2nd grade level

  22. BNCB Says:

    Palmer>>>>>>Red Light

    Numberline let the air out of the building. Lizards, No Quarter, 2001 any would have made that a sick full set.

    GA>Caspian>Light, $$$$
    The rest of the set was piling on. Showing off.

    I’m now haunted by Ride Captain Ride, in addition to the Meatstick.

    I deserve a Scents or Ocean Sings for my malaise.

  23. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Alpine Light>Ghost is great. Should be added to any and all Phish listening “to-do” lists. The Crosseyed Ghost before the Light is with it as well.

  24. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Make that Crosseyed>No Quarter

  25. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Which Deer Creek show is the one everyone raves about? The one with the Waves?

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