Purple beret. Purple plastic jewelry. Purple lipstick. Jackie Williams probably bleeds purple, too, judging by her devotion to Prince.
For the second time in three years, Williams came from Los Angeles to Chanhassen for the annual Celebration at Paisley Park, Prince’s studio-turned-museum that draws fans from all over the world.
“This is not as heavy as the first year,” Williams, 56, said Thursday over a vegan lunch at Paisley. “It’s more intimate, though, because there are fewer people. It’s amazing to be here and feel the love.”
In April 2017, one year after Prince died, Graceland Holdings, which runs Paisley Park, staged the first Celebration, a four-day gathering featuring live music, rare concert footage and panel discussions with Prince associates.
The first year was about grieving. Last year was more celebratory. This year?
“It feels more like normal,” said Sharon Nelson, Prince’s oldest sister. “The emotion has subsided a bit, the sadness.”
Dee McGrath, 48, of Philadelphia, has been to all three celebrations, as well as tours of Paisley, including in October 2016 when it first opened as a museum.
“I was still in shock then. My heart stopped when I was here,” she recalled.
On her return Thursday, she was surprised to feel “not as excited as I should be.”
“I’m disappointed the crowd is smaller. I hope it’s not dwindling.”
And she was upset — and surprised — that Prince’s ashes have been removed from the atrium. “I have to look at it from the family’s point of view, but for us fans?” she said, her voice trailing off.
Nelson got to visit her brother’s ashes, which are now kept in Paisley’s private basement vault where Prince used to store his unreleased recordings and videos. She removed the cloths covering his urn and had a conversation with him.
“He’s still not resting easy until I clean up this mess,” Nelson said, referring to the ongoing disputes among the six heirs and the estate’s administrator Comerica.
At least one member of the Purple Family resolved some long-standing issues on Thursday at Paisley Park.
Jesse Johnson, guitarist for the Time, was very close with Prince in the 1980s — like brothers, the guitarist said — but they had a falling out. The depth of their divisions went viral this year when Johnson, in a private conversation, was captured on YouTube dissing Prince and saying he’d never play at a Purple tribute.
On Thursday, Johnson turned an interview session at Paisley into a 45-minute confessional monologue. A little wacky, a little humorous and totally heartfelt.
“I’m truly here to make peace in my soul,” he said to a strikingly sparse crowd. “Would I come here if he was alive? I don’t think so.”
Then Johnson talked about their friendship, their intellectual discussions and Prince’s love of children.
“He would have been an amazing father. Competitive,” said Johnson, who then lowered his voice and did an impression of Prince. “ ‘You hit the ball that far. OK, move.’ ”
Later that afternoon, Johnson let his music do the talking. The L.A.-based singer-guitarist and his band delivered a 14-minute medley that tied it all together — “Be Your Man,” Johnson’s first solo hit; followed by “Controversy,” the title song from the first Prince tour that Johnson went on in 1981, and “Jungle Love,” the Time’s biggest hit that Prince and Johnson co-wrote.
“Jesse returning here and having a personal catharsis is more heartfelt than anything I’ve heard here before,” said Philadelphia journalist Tonya Pendleton of BlackAmericaWeb.com, who has covered all three celebrations.
Still, she is concerned about the future of this event.
“They need to think innovatively like Prince did and present top talent like Janelle Monae or Lenny Kravitz instead of just retreads,” Pendleton opined. “It’s challenging. How do you get people out to Minnesota? Prince himself was the straw that stirred the drink. Without him, there is a huge void.”