Parties weren't meant to last, Prince told us in "1999." But the memories of this weekend's Celebration 2022 will last a mighty long time.
About 800 Purple faithful journeyed to Paisley Park in Chanhassen for the fourth posthumous celebration of all things Prince, presented in conjunction with his estate.
The schedule at Paisley Park was packed from 9:30 a.m. till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, with an off-campus dinner break. There were panel discussions with insiders dropping Purple nuggets, recording sessions with Prince band members, self-guided explorations of the museum including a striking new photo exhibit, pingpong on the lawn, peach sunsets and, of course, live music.
After too little sleep and never-too-much Prince, here are some reflections and choice quotes from Celebration 2022 — and a few suggestions.
- The mood. Celebration 2017, which took place a year after he died, felt like communal grieving. People were still in a little disbelief or denial at Celebration 2019. But after two years of a pandemic pause, the mood this year was undeniably joyous. Coming from all over the United States and from as far away as New Zealand and Iceland, the Purple fans were excited to be together and eager to have a good time after being cooped up by COVID concerns. And they noticed that the Paisley Park staff — no longer under the aegis of Graceland Holdings that oversaw the first three Celebrations — was friendlier.
- Prince in concert. For the third time, Celebration offered a concert featuring Prince on film accompanied by a live band. This time was different, though, because it was one of those surprise performances Prince decided to do on short notice — Jan. 11, 1992 at Glam Slam, his club in Minneapolis' Warehouse District — and Celebration-goers were witnessing this in the intimacy of Paisley Park's terrific soundstage, compared to previous similar presentations at the much larger Armory and Target Center. Short on hits and "Purple Rain" songs, this was still unstoppably funky fun. On screen and live onstage, the Game Boyz danced, the Steeles harmonized like only siblings can, and Mayte Garcia pirouetted for the very first time at a Prince show. At Paisley, Levi Seacer Jr. used the exact same guitar, and keyboardist Tommy Barbarella wore an outfit that mirrored the one on the screen with a giant flower boutonniere. Big props to Kirk Johnson for putting together this crowd-thrilling performance.
- Creative process. This year's activities focused on Prince's creative process, with separate interviews with recording engineers Chris James, Tom Garneau and Joshua Welton and photographer Randee St. Nicholas. Most intriguing, though, were actual recording demonstrations. Fest-goers with VIP tickets were treated to recording sessions in Studio A with either NPG or 3rdEyeGirl. With the NPG, the 50 fans listened to Prince (on tape) guide his musicians through a jam called "Son of Sexy MF" and then the fans recorded their hand claps on another take. With 3rdEyeGirl, 50 folks witnessed guitarist Donna Grantis and drummer Hannah Welton (with Prince and Ida Nielsen on tape) deconstruct a cover of Nichole Nordeman's "What If." There were brief Q&As during each session, and a few fans grabbed autographs.
- Rare songs. Whether interviews with the engineers or singer/actress Jill Jones and dancer/singer Mayte Garcia, clips of songs — including unreleased rarities — were played, adding considerable excitement to the discussion. One of the highlights was listening to the soundcheck for the 1985 Syracuse concert by Prince and the Revolution that was released on vinyl and CD on Friday. Never have people been so mesmerized for an entire five minutes by someone saying "check one, two" over and over again. Because it was Prince.
- Photo exhibit. Unlike the guided tours of Paisley Park, attendees were given free rein in various sections of the museum. What a golden opportunity to spend more than 20 minutes in the magnificent "The Beautiful Ones: Prince's Custom Shoes," the best exhibit Paisley has ever assembled, with about 300 pairs of shoes in cases resembling a grand piano and a wall of guitar speakers. A close runner-up is the brand-new display by Randee St. Nicholas, who photographed Prince over 25 years. About a dozen of her large photos — all posed shots save for one in concert — are mounted creatively amid oodles of plastic pearls (collected from eight stores), plush couches and purple stage lights (shout out to Paisley's resourceful production and design specialist Duff Eisenschenk). The room is topped off by a chandelier made by Eisenschenk from Kirk Johnson's drum kit. The most memorable photo is a blurry special exposure that looks like Prince has angel wings.
- VIP rules. VIP vs. general admission? $900 vs. $400. There was a huge discrepancy in price but more so in experience. Not only did VIPs have access to a lounge in the NPG Music Club (with breakfast treats, snacks, beverages and lunch), but they enjoyed the recording sessions, extra panels and a Sunday brunch at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis, where the Steeles performed a Prince-themed set. According to social media reports, they offered Mavis Staples tunes and a churchy "Purple Rain" with Seacer on guitar.
- Rare souvenir. Every Celebration 2022 attendee received a lovely parting gift — a 7-inch vinyl single of "Diamonds and Pearls"/"Nothing Compares 2 U" from that 1992 Glam Slam concert. Very cool.
- Women rule. My unofficial demographic survey suggests that 80% of the Celebration-goers were women. And the vast majority of Purple people came from out of town, not Minnesota.
- Meet ups. Celebration 2022 afforded Purple fams (Prince's preferred word for his followers), who are often connected on social media, to meet in person. For me, it was a treat to spend some time with, among others, the academics (including De Angela Duff, Elliott Powell and Zaheer Ali) and the younger generation (including England's Casey Rain and Atlanta's indefatigable KaNisa Williams, who took copious notes and tweeted reports, with archival visuals, whenever she could step out of Paisley and get access to her phone).
"No band could sound so funky. We had 24 versions (tracks) of him."
— Chris James, engineer on Prince as a one-man band
"Prince, to me, is the last bar. There's never gonna be a bar higher."
— Guitarist Levi Seacer, Jr.
"The set was the problem. We weren't getting along. It wasn't the original script. The album was so much more beautiful than what we could create visually. It was too lowbrow. We were playing the movie. It was a little forced."
— Jill Jones on the 1990 movie "Graffiti Bridge"
"Silence is the best compliment sometimes."
— Tom Garneau, engineer of Prince's reaction to his work
"The brother could hear the grass grow."
— Joshua Welton, engineer, on Prince's listening skills
"Not a lot of people said 'No' to him. If you did, he'd say 'Why?' ''
— Joshua Welton, engineer
"It definitely wasn't in my vocabulary."
— Mayte Garcia, reacting to the lyric "I could be your wife" in the unreleased song "Latino Barbie Doll" that Prince wrote for Sheila E and Garcia later recorded — and married him
"He wasn't the type to cry. I think I saw him cry once."
— Mayte Garcia, Prince's ex-wife
"He was a beautiful, tiny person on the outside. A gigantic presence on the inside. There is always a story in his eyes."
— Randee St. Nicholas, photographer
"No matter his actual height, he's a giant."
— Duff Eisenschenk, production and design specialist
- Performers. Time for Celebration to step up its game with live attractions. When Prince himself presented "Celebrations" in the early '00s, he reached out to the likes of Norah Jones and Erykah Badu to perform. Friday's concert by the entertaining BrownMark and the Bad Boyz of Paisley Park felt like a glorified bar band doing Prince and Mazarati covers. How about pursuing some A-listers with Purple connections like Mavis Staples, Stokley, Janelle Monae, Lenny Kravitz, Sounds of Blackness, Alicia Keys solo or Questlove as DJ? Or Dave Chappelle?
- Panelists. Could Celebration be more imaginative and ambitious when enlisting panelists? Over the years, fest-goers have heard from plenty of engineers, photographers, musicians, dancers and fashion designers. If they are not restricted by nondisclosure agreements, consider managers, promoters, security personnel, chefs, personal assistants, publicists, archivists and movie (or video) directors. Maybe Prince's siblings if they could get along. Ask attendees for a wish list.
- Overcrowded. A panel probably should be limited to two or three speakers. This year's discussion about the shoe exhibit with five speakers was at least two folks too many. Not accustomed to being onstage, all but one panelist was too shy or too wonky. Not every creative person can speak in front of a large group.
- Q&A. Why not let audience members ask a few questions of the panelists, perhaps by submitting queries that can be screened?
- More venues. Could other nearby venues — Lake Ann Park, the Arboretum or Chanhassen Dinner Theatres — possibly be incorporated in some way?
- More days. Compressing everything (except for the Steeles brunch and a party for the unveiling of the Prince mural in downtown Minneapolis) into two marathon days was too exhausting. Previous Celebrations, which had significantly more attendees (4,000 vs. 800 this year), spread events over four days. Are three shorter days preferable? Time for a formal survey of Celebration attendees.