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. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Not the Canadian pressing. I don’t get the white denim love either. Couldn’t get into it at all.

  2. roberto luongo Says:

    ya. def want to check em live. was just busy last couple times in Chicago.

    putting on their latest now.

    laterz kids
    dabs and some denim

  3. ElJefe Says:

    RL- ha that was my next question. Figured you’d love the WD and not so much the TaMe Impala. Another reason to love the BB! Love both of TI’s CDs I have. Missed GSYBE last years. Still have boot mark from kicking myself…

  4. voopa Says:

    Ya Tela’s, that BMSR EP is great too. Shit, I’ve been posting from my phone sonce yesterday morning.

    Deerhoof too, forgot. Sure I forgot some others, list is at home.

  5. ElJefe Says:

    DF- took me 4 full spins to dig the WD album

  6. voopa Says:

    lol@ sonce

  7. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    It took me one spin of white denim to delete it

  8. thedayman Says:

    nd never had a chance. sec football is the minors of the nfl. nd is a high school team compared to the majority of that conference unfortunately.

  9. roberto luongo Says:

    hah. me too DF. vocals just seemed annoying as shit and the production and sound didn’t grab me enough to work though it.

    giving it one more shot here when I can find it.

  10. BingosBrother Says:

    White Denim live is way better.

  11. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Yeah, I just found it too mediocre for my time

  12. Marcoesq Says:

    Rough night for ND. Thought they had a better chance

  13. William H. Bonney Says:


    Tribute to the National Champs….

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    @sumo – just bought some albums from those lists. hopefully worth my time. thanks for the rec.

    Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
    Woodsman – Mystic Places
    Pure X – Pleasure
    Goat – World Music

  15. tzara's Says:

    yeah that psychedelic list is cool, been going quickly through a couple. I like the Goat record. That Moon Duo seemed pretty cool, and the Gonjasufi (the previous one, A Sufi and a Killer) is trippy shit, like Devendra Banhart sold his soul to the devil.

    White Denim was a no go for me. Tame Impala also, but will givet them another try.

  16. tzara's Says:

    Six Organs of Admittance is some of the coolest shit out there. Love their first self-titled, and Asleep on the Floodplain. Haven’t heard the new one yet, it’s not on rhapsody.

  17. sumodie Says:

    Yup, the so called psych rock label is spreading wide, many bands grouped under tthat moniker sound vastly different

    White Denim took several spins before they clicked. Caught them live too & they ripped! Def a cleaner sound than others listed in the psych genre

    Tame Impala’s previous album, Innerspeaker, is terrific. Spacey, lofi heavy sound (compared with White denim). Newest album on the way. Very psyched to catch them live this winter

    Heard my first Ty Segall today, very heavy garage punk fuzz guitar. He’s playing nyc webster hall 2/1, and elsewhere but the NE. A couple live shows can be dl’d for free here:


  18. sumodie Says:

    Consider myself a babe in the woods when it comes to all these neo psychedelic bands, ive yet to hear many of them, like Six organs of admittance

    (Btw, theres a Six Organs offshoot called Rangda that sounds great:
    http://www.allmusic.com/artist/rangda-mn0002455831 )

    Favorite, truest neo psychedelic band ive heard in the last two years is Wooden Shjips. Such an awesome original heavy pink floydish sound

  19. hh sumodie Says:

    Woods, mentioned in that best psychedelic albums 2012 link, has a free live show for dl here:


  20. tela'smuff Says:

    yeah, i don’t consider White Denim a psych rock band. they would fall more in the Akron/Family, Fleet Foxes, Local Natives type sound. more accessible, much cleaner.

    after listening tonight, i’d recommend Woodsman (i see Sumo liking this one) first, then Goat. Pure X may be a grower.

    Wooden Shjips is for sure the best out of this nu-psych thing going on. they have more of that Suicide meets Krautrock thing going with lots of fuzz. glad to see they keep getting better.

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