Amid all the worthy tributes to Prince in the Twin Cities this week, some of his most fervent fans see one glaring omission.
“Nobody is really looking out for his legacy of giving,” observed Heidi Vader, who’s been passionate about Minneapolis’ most famous son since even before she got to see him famously debut and record “Purple Rain” in concert at First Avenue in 1983.
Now a waitress, small-business owner and mother of two living not far from where she grew up in south Minneapolis, Vader is heading up a new fan-run organization known as the Purple Playground. Now with 501(c)(3) designation, the group filed for nonprofit status on the singer’s June 7 birthday last year and is ready to get busy this summer.
With volunteers from all over the globe — plus $19,990 that it hopes to raise online — the Purple Playground is planning the inaugural Prince Academy at St. Paul’s High School for Recording Arts, scheduled Aug. 6-10.
Music teachers and musicians including some from the Revolution and the Time will offer incoming freshmen from around the Twin Cities a free crash course in Prince’s musical genius (applications are now being accepted via bit.ly/PrinceAcademyApplication). If grants and more fundraising come through, the academy could be offered in other cities, too.
“The idea represents so many things that Prince himself supported: music education, teaching kids to do it themselves and be real musicians, and in particular educating kids from in and around his hometown,” explained Willie Adams, a teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area who is now a Purple Playground board member.
The Purple Playground crew furthered their efforts this week around the second anniversary of Prince’s passing with a pair of events that demonstrate they’re also about fun: They hosted a dance party on Tuesday at Lee’s Liquor Lounge, followed by a noontime roller skating party Thursday afternoon at Roller Garden in St. Louis Park, which Prince would sometimes rent out for his band and crew for after-hour parties in the ’80s.
Even though he lives 1,600 miles away, Adams said he wanted to be a part of the Purple Playground because “it just felt like something had to be done.”
“A lot of us were still hurting from his death, and we wanted a more meaningful, real way to honor him,” he said. “That’s where Heidi came in.”
Vader’s leadership among the Purple Playground crew really started a few years earlier, when she created a Facebook fan page that became something of a bulletin board for in-town events and positive stories about the rock legend. In the weeks after he died (April 21, 2016), Vader become the de-facto keeper of the memorial fence outside Paisley Park.
“I was training for the Red Ribbon Ride, so I’d bike out there almost every day,” Vader recalled. “I’d clean up anything that looked like trash, and I’d put things up that people would send me from out-of-town.”
Of course, it was no coincidence that her rides always wound up at Paisley Park.
“I was really in a pretty deep funk for those many months, as were so many of us,” she admitted. “There wasn’t any kind of service for the public to mourn his passing.”
Vader helped organize a bona fide memorial service for her large circle of Prince fans to attend in Minneapolis in October 2016. And that’s when they started talking about trying to create some kind of long-term charitable effort.
As of this writing, neither Prince’s family nor current Paisley Park management have acknowledged the Purple Playground. Vader and the other Purple Playground volunteers — including board member Karen Ryan, who worked as a manager at Paisley Park when it first reopened last year — see their efforts as complementary to the “official” events like this week’s second annual Celebration, which at $550-$1050 has no charitable component other than keeping Paisley Park up and running.
“The family has so many other things to deal with trying to get the estate in order,” Vader said. “I understand they can’t do everything at once.”
And anyway, she and the other volunteers seem happy to do their part.
“Doing this has made a huge difference in my life, and I think it has for a lot of other people in our group, too,” she said. “It helped us find a little closure over his death. Now, it’s helping us move past that and honor his life and the things he stood for.”