Climbing off the first tour bus to pull up to Paisley Park on Thursday morning, Chris Brown made it sound like he had just gotten off a roller-coaster ride instead.
Only a day earlier, the 24-year-old Prince fan from Chicago thought he would not get to see the late rock legend’s suburban studio complex because of a late-hour vote from the Chanhassen City Council to disallow public tours pending rezoning approval.
Brown and his mom feared the tour tickets they bought over a month ago would be canceled.
“We were devastated,” said Brown, who made the eight-hour drive with his mom and aunt. “So it feels even more exciting being here now.”
Tours went on as scheduled Thursday, thanks to a temporary three-day reprieve by the City Council to accommodate the first round of ticket holders, estimated to be several thousand people just on Day One — most of them decked out in purple attire and bused in from a transit center 2 miles away.
As with all of the tribute events in and around Prince’s hometown since his death, opening day (or: reopening day?) at Paisley Park was marked by an unsteady mix of celebration and sadness, reverence and playfulness. It’s hard not have a little fun, anyway, when the tour includes many displays of his grandiose outfits and replays of his legendary music.
The tours actually started out with the most somber note of the visit. As fans walked into the skylight-warmed atrium area, a tour guide alerted them to what looks like a small-scale ceramic model of Paisley Park. It was actually a specially made urn with Prince’s ashes inside.
“Take a moment,” one guide told the stunned guests.
From there, the tour meandered through a maze of rooms, including two studios where unreleased tracks were played for visitors; a private office and “piano room,” and dance studios and practice spaces that have been converted to rooms themed after different albums and tours, with corresponding outfits and instruments.
The highlight for many fans was the “Purple Rain” room, with Prince’s Oscar, jacket, white guitar, motorcycle and other items from the movie.
Fans also relished the big soundstage, where they saw the purple Yamaha piano he played for his final Paisley Park performance, just this past January.
“We’re lucky to get the tickets, but we’re all unlucky for having lost such a great talent,” said Malin Kronsell, who booked her tour around a business seminar that brought her to Minnesota from Stockholm, Sweden.
In Kronsell’s tour group were three businessmen from Tokyo, including Hiro Hara, who said he “wanted to see who Prince really is” and “honor him.”
“You could feel his presence in those rooms, which was a little sad but also a lot of fun,” Donna Schwab of Eden Prairie said after taking the first tour of the day with her husband, Doug. They had never been to Paisley Park before, despite living just a few miles away.
Doug Schwab said there were “a few organizational problems” that could be fixed, but otherwise, he said, “They did a good job laying everything out and giving the rooms themes.”
‘A surreal experience’
Rhonda Watson, who came from Knoxville, Tenn., was most impressed by the private office and studio rooms, which were purportedly left untouched from when Prince was inside them. “There’s a little luggage bag on the floor of the office and audio notes he left in the studio, so it really felt like he had just been in there,” she marveled. “It was a surreal experience.”
Fans who felt lucky about having a ticket to the first of those three event days, however, did not forget the unfortunate circumstances behind the tours. Prince died in Paisley Park on April 21 from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl.
Addressing concerns expressed by some fans who believe the tours started too soon after his death, Sara Hagen of Lake Mills, Iowa, said: “Everyone involved seemed very respectful. I think they’re simply trying to honor him.”
Different members of Prince’s family also showed up for private tours Thursday, including half-brother Alfred Jackson. However, the only representative who spoke to members of the media was the executive now overseeing the facility for the family, Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker, who addressed many of the concerns surrounding the facility before the first bus pulled up.
“Every dollar that’s going into tickets and merchandise for a long time is going into just keeping Paisley Park up,” he said. “It’s a very expensive building to maintain.”
He pointed to installation of a new heating and air-conditioning system needed to make Paisley operable as a museum, plus the careful archiving and storage of the valuable items in Prince’s collection — more than 7,000 items, he claimed.
The new museum displays were overseen by two Paisley Park crew members who worked there under Prince: drummer and studio manager Kirk Johnson and website and merchandise director Trevor Guy. They purportedly followed instructions Prince himself gave them about how the place could be remade as a museum.
“This is Da Vinci’s workshop,” Weinshanker said, while urging the Chanhassen City Council to approve rezoning Paisley Park as a museum. “Once the city of Chanhassen sees how peaceful and loving these fans are, I think anyone who has any concerns, those concerns are going to go away.”
Zoning snag limits tours
Paisley Park was given a three-day event permit from City Hall to allow for tours on three different days, also including this Saturday and next Friday, Oct. 14, the day after an all-star tribute to Prince is scheduled at Xcel Energy Center.
The tours, priced at $38.50 and $100, are the first step in converting the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s studio facility and residence into a full-blown museum run by Graceland Holdings, the company that oversees the running of Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis.
In the meeting Monday night, City Council members who voted to delay rezoning — probably until December — cited concerns over car and foot traffic outside the 65,000-square-foot complex, which sits on a busy corner of Hwy. 5 away from residential areas.
Those issues were avoided Thursday by the agreement to bus fans from an off-site parking area. Paisley Park added more tour times Thursday to accommodate fans who bought tickets for other days. Many fans with tickets to the non-permitted days will have to be given refunds, though.
However the City Council’s issues are addressed in the interim, fans who took the tour Thursday all seemed to agree that remaking Paisley Park into a full-time museum is the right thing to do.
“As long as there isn’t a lot of money being made off it by an overabundance of souvenirs,” said Sweden’s Kronsell, “I think this is a nice way for fans from around the world to pay their respects.”