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. ren Says:

    Who’s that ….Lionel Ritchie!?!?

  2. xpun Says:

    The name Maurice is too funny

    Nice avatar.
    Looks like a Mickey Hart mugshot on my phone though.

  3. Multibeast Says:

    Oates lives in aspen CO and is helluva a skier I guess. And he jams with Upmh McGee often. Not sure of the status of the stache.

  4. kayatosh Says:

    mickey hart mugshot

    ^^^ you guys are on a roll.

  5. btb Says:

    Research report w/ multiple PH references. Just got this in my email. Pretty funny stuff.

    http://img38.imageshack.us/img38/3883/cbreforecastphishrefere.png

  6. LutherTJustice Says:

    Jamming with Umphreys proves he’s hit rock bottom. Poor guy.

  7. tela'smuff Says:

    killin it LT.

    @multi – i’ll be ready to hit some blues with you by months end.

  8. joe Says:

    Great essay, Mr. Miner. Thanks for everything.

  9. btb Says:

    All that Daryl Hall shit is hilarious. I’m a big fan of the Hall / Oates goofs.

  10. RoosterPizza Says:

    How do I change my avatar? I completely forgot how I made mine in the first place.

  11. angryjoggerz Says:

    Reading back:

    I would say the MSG Tweezer was best in 2012, but not in 3.0. Dicks, Miami and even Red Rocks might be contenders.

    Steve Miller, not my thing, though those opening sythns on fly like an eagle are fun to drop in a dj set. Saw them open for GD a bunch, kinda boring. To me, Steve Miller Band and Traffic are the same band.

    And, to be a naysayer, I love the MSG Carini but suspect I like the Dicks Carini more, not sure why, personal taste, maybe cus I was there or because it blew me away that was happening in song 3 of the first set of the run. Anyhooo, Carini kills it in 3.0

  12. btb Says:

    Rooser – https://en.gravatar.com/

  13. RoosterPizza Says:

    Did Carini turn the corner in Essex for 3.0?

  14. Jtran Says:

    fall 2010 @rooster

  15. Jtran Says:

    msg12 tweezer
    miami tweezer
    KC tweezer
    Dicks11 tweezer

    My top 4 I think, probably not in that order

  16. MiA Says:

    Had to fix the avatar a little …

  17. Spasm Waiter Says:

    @B2B- Great taking in the 29th with ya. That dude in front of us was so nice with the hookups.

  18. RoosterPizza Says:

    Thanks BTB

  19. RoosterPizza Says:

    What should I check out Jtran?

  20. Dorn76 Says:

    The 2nd set on NYE shows how much Trey gets it, gets us, and lovingly messes with us like a big brother.

    Line up all the jam chaser favorites, and then HORSE the fuck out of ’em. Funny guy.

    Traffic was cool. John Barleycorn Must Die. Killer album!

    Can’t wait for the offseason “rate the tweezes” post.

  21. Chonz Says:

    Hall and Oates rule! I realized their aweosmeness when they did a free 4th of July show in Philly around ’05. Great tunes.

    Anyone check out the Brid and the Bee album from a couple years ago where they cover Hall and Oates tunes? I dug it.

  22. kayatosh Says:

    just had a really cold wc ipa and now a less cold one. huge difference in taste. more malt/less hops emphasis at the warmer temp.

  23. btb Says:

    Spasm Waiter

    Rule #1 at PH shows for me…make best friends w/ absolutely everybody especially your neighbors. Worked like a charm. By 2nd set that dude was just bringing up 5 beers at a time! unreal.

    Goes to show that positive energy, a great attitude, etc. all go a long way. Our section was fucking rocking. The MILF’s helped!!!

    Great seeing a show with bud. I’ll have to make it to more NE shows. All you NE cats rock.

  24. btb Says:

    ^with you bud. And with bud I guess 🙂

  25. MiA Says:

    I still hang the moon for the KC Tweezer. I do get Miami ’09 a little, because everything previous kinda sucked. But all the ’12 Tweezers to me outshine everything previous in 3.0. The Charlotte is in great contention. But it all started at Dick’s ’11 with a must listen to Tweezer.

    The Miami “Dump Dump” section is overly repetitive and boring and doesn’t do much (for me). The last 30 seconds are pretty gnarly though. Right into Caspian.

    I like the Jibboo better.

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