It unfolded over five days like one of Prince’s more elaborate outfits — some tightly tailored concerts here, some looser, elastic performances and eye-opening panel discussion panels there, with flowery emotional flourishes thrown in for good measure. The one seamless element throughout the first anniversary memorial weekend for Minneapolis’ greatest all-time icon was keeping his legacy alive.
This past week’s tributes — from the big-buck Celebration at Paisley Park to the street party outside First Avenue and everything in between — made for a great and fitting start.
“You are now Prince’s encore,” Damaris Lewis, host of Paisley’s party, told the event’s truly global audience on Friday afternoon after the Revolution wrapped up its first set without an encore. “You have to keep it going.”
Similar sentiments were expressed Saturday night at the big Prince street party in downtown Minneapolis, which felt like the New Orleans second-line march answer to the more stately, church-like reverence at Paisley Park.
“How many of you were here a year ago when no one knew what do?” the street party’s co-host, 89.3 the Current jockey Brian Oake, asked.
We know a lot more about what to do now. Here are some highlights from the first anniversary, and ideas for future years.
Prince on film. Nothing compares to a performance by the man himself. The audiences at Paisley Park were reminded of this daily when they were shown portions of unreleased concert footage. The unquestionable high point was the “Piano & Microphone” concert filmed in the same room at Paisley on Jan. 21, 2016, destined to become a legendary posthumous release. It’s one of the most important concerts in Prince’s 39-year career.
More Prince on film. On the final day at Paisley, various members of the New Power Generation from different eras performed along with two members of 3rdEyeGirl. There was a special guest: Prince in a gold sequined outfit singing “Kiss” and then “Purple Rain” in concert on film. Of course, he was on a giant screen behind the stage with the live musicians. Special and strange at the same time. Sad, too.
They can finally talk about the boss. Purple employees had to sign non-disclosure agreements but now the muzzles are off. Paisley panels featured musicians, engineers and clothing designers. Priceless story: How Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink got arrested for trying to steal an airplane’s bullhorn and Prince fessed that it was his idea. Both got arrested.
Best Prince story ever. On his first of three nights at Bunkers bar, ex-Time guitarist Jesse Johnson talked about being in the laundry room at Prince’s Chanhassen house before it was painted purple. “Prince has the whites and the black and the orange together. They were in a ball. ‘What’s wrong with your clothes?’ I said. He knew nothing about regular [stuff]. He was using dish washing liquid.” But the story wasn’t over. “In his dishwasher, he had the pots facing up. That’s the dude I remember.”
Late-night shenanigans. Prince typically didn’t open the doors to Paisley Park until 10 p.m., which is when events there ended last week. Thankfully, there was plenty to do afterward. First Ave’s late-night dance parties were especially worth staying up till 4 a.m. for, with Jake Rudh’s fun video montage giving way to Lenka Paris’ and DJ Keezy’s funkified mixes. Prince’s brother Omarr Baker put together a parade of Purple people for Saturday’s late-night soiree at the Metropolitan: Andre Cymone, Dez Dickerson, Apollonia, Jill Jones, Susan Moonsie and Donna Grantis all backed by the Twin Cities’ own G Sharp & the Bizness.
Mixing it up at the street party. Not surprisingly, the free street party outside First Ave drew a much more diverse crowd than the $500-$1,000 Celebration. It had a coolly eclectic mix of performers, too, in terms of both race and age. Older rock vets like Curtiss A and Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner shared the stage with young, adventurous hip-hop stars such as Maria Isa, Dem Atlas and ZuluZuluu’s Proper T, whose “The Beautiful Ones” sparked goosebumps.
Tuned-in radio stations. With a year to plan instead of a day, 89.3 the Current put together an impressive, smart 24-hour marathon with themed blocks (“duets,” “best guitar solos,” etc.) and well-researched backstories and context from its DJs. Props, too, to KMOJ’s jockeys for first-rate, loving work all week.
The Revolution going deep. One of the highlights of the “Purple Rain” band’s reunion sets at Paisley was when it paired two unreleased mid-’80s songs from the infamous vault, “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.”
Involving Prince’s own heroes. As odd as it was catching George Clinton & P-Funk in concert at 2:30 in the afternoon on Thursday, it was cool just to have him at Paisley Park, especially since we heard many Prince acolytes say they’d never seen him perform. Prince loved turning people onto his own influences.
Involving kids. Something Paisley Park sorely missed — but could make up for soon with its proposed programs for music students — First Ave busted out the balloons, juice boxes and even a craft table for its I Would Dance 4 U kids party Sunday. It was a cool way to introduce local youth to our local icon, even if they have a long way to go. “Why isn’t he wearing a shirt?” one 7-year-old girl asked as the “Kiss” video played on the big screen.
Proving the Minnesota Nice thing. Local residents throughout the week enthusiastically interacted with out-of-towners. Locals were proud to talk up their town (and Prince’s!) and provide guidance to visitors, even the ones who wanted to go to the Mall of America.
Something doesn’t compute. Everything at Paisley was carefully choreographed, tame and on-time. That was not how Prince rolled in his house.
House rules. Cellphones and smoking are not allowed in Paisley. Neither is non-vegetarian food. One staffer was seen taking the turkey out of her sandwich before she entered the Paisley grounds. Smokers had to go outside the complex’s fence.
Family feud. When Prince’s siblings were introduced at Paisley, the older ones — Alfred Jackson, and Norrine and Sharon Nelson — arrived from one side of the stage and Tyka Nelson entered from the other side of the stage. Hmmm.
Dollars and sense. Joel Weinshanker, head of Graceland Holdings which runs Paisley, said the Celebration “couldn’t have gone better.” It will return April 19-22, 2018. He promises another event, Xenophobia, in the fall and Super Bowl-related festivities. He said the overall economic impact of the Celebration was $10 million for the Twin Cities.
International joy. It was hard to argue with the joy exhibited by fans from around the world. Alexander Mueller came from Vienna, Austria. Shelby J pulled him out of the audience to dance with her at the Dakota Jazz Club on Wednesday. He was a dancing dervish at the Paisley performances by Clinton, the Revolution, Morris Day & the Time and the NPG. He spent nearly $4,000 on his entire trip — including $800 on souvenirs and recordings. “Absolutely worth it,” he said. “Once in a lifetime.”
Ditch the Celebration’s cruiseline-like rotating schedule. Paisley Park should show full movies and do longer panels by day (let fans ask a question or two), and keep the live music only at night, allowing the bands to play full sets. One way to do this might be to whittle the schedule into two matching two-day lineups instead of four half-days, i.e., have a Thursday-Friday run then repeat it Saturday-Sunday.
More movies, period. Assuming we can’t get the Revolution every year, more of the unreleased concert films would be welcome. We’d take that over scraping the bottom of the barrel for Prince-related live talent, i.e., a Carmen Electra comeback concert (but the ticket prices should be lower in either case).
More souvenirs. Those Paisley coffers could have been richer with more options — and a well-supplied stock room — in the merchandise department. On this pilgrimage to Paisley, fans seemed willing and ready to spend money, but the shopping was too limited.
More involvement from the family. It’s still too soon to ask, but the Celebration might benefit in future years from more than just some obligatory handwaves by Prince’s siblings. Like the museum, the Celebration lacked any insight into Prince’s childhood and non-musical life.