Entering Paisley Park one year after the date of Prince’s death was a lot less somber than the museum tours held last fall. The urn holding his ashes, which had previously been in a display case in the center of the atrium, was moved to a spot above visitors just below the skylights. The atmosphere was less like a museum, and more like the music epicenter the artist intended.
For four consecutive days, April 20-23, the “Prince4Ever” Tribute was held on the grounds of Paisley Park. Each day ticketholders had the opportunity to tour the museum, hear from a number of panelists who worked closely with Prince, see live concerts, and view rare footage of Prince in concert at different times in his career.
Approximately 1,000 people packed the grounds twice each day — morning and afternoon. VIP tickets for the full four-day experience went for $999. This writer was there for both the Thursday and Saturday festivities.
Since August of last year, Paisley Park Director of Archives Angie Marchese, who has been doing archival work with Elvis Presley Enterprises for close to 28 years, has been cataloging items at Paisley Park. “We started with wardrobe, and literally for the first six weeks we were here just taking photos — hundreds of photos a day — of clothes.”
She estimates that they have archived about five percent of Prince’s belongings that will be eventually cataloged for the museum. “It’s a new discovery everyday here… It’s kind of like Christmas morning everyday when I come to work; you never know what you are going to find.”
During the four-day celebration, each day offered a different group of panelist. On Thursday, The New Power Generation (NPG), Prince’s band from 1990-2013 featuring members Morgan Hayes, Levi Seacer, Jr., Damon Dixon, and Sonny T., told stories of first experiences with Prince. Hayes first saw Prince on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and as he watched the performance with his mother, he recalled her saying, “That boy’s the devil.” He also described a recording session years later as an NPG band member, when he and Prince worked for three days without sleep.
Saturday’s panelists were sound engineers Susan Rogers, Chris James and Dyland Dreslow. Rogers began working with Prince during the Purple Rain album. She, like Hayes, gave examples of Prince’s work ethic, including finishing a 24-hours stint in the wee hours of the morning and preparing to go home, only to have Prince come into the studio and say, “Fresh take,” meaning they had to start all over again.
But she also said that of all the artists she worked with in the past, Stevie Wonder included, no other multi-talented musician — songwriter, pianist, drummer, guitarist, dancer and composer excelled in so many areas.
According to Marchese, Prince was also involved in the design of Paisley Park. Beginning in April, she and her staff set specific goals to accomplish for the celebration in line with his wishes. One goal was getting the Lovesexy room ready for tours.
“Prior to Prince’s passing, he already had laid out the graphic design,” she explained. “He had done the graphic for the door, but that’s as far as he had gotten.” In the works for the summer are a Super Bowl section and a space to honor his Rock and Roll hall of Fame induction.
“Getting ready for this weekend has been quite a task,” Marchese said. “We knew it was going to be a hard time for people, but it’s also a healing time for people… Having them see the collection for the first time, and see the exhibits, and experience the Purple Rain room, and standing in studio A and getting that same feeling I got when I stood in studio A,” where Prince did much of his recording. “It’s kind of nice to be able to have that moment with everyone here.”
Seats were filled to capacity in the concert area. Thursday’s was a surprise performance. “We might not be Paisley Park-style, but we are Paisley Park material,” said a member of the band before introducing George Clinton and Funkadelic.
The 75-year-old funkster had been a past Prince collaborator from the Grafitti Bridge (1990) days, when the purple one brought together music elders, Mavis Staples, along with Clinton; members of The Time — his peers, and Tevin Campbell, who at the time represented the younger generation of music.
Clinton brought that tradition to the Paisley Park stage, where aged 20-something rappers, singers and dancers performed alongside seasoned musicians. Clinton and the band had the crowd up and dancing with “Flashlight.”
But after three chart singles, the rap songs that followed seemed unfamiliar to the mainly over 40s crowd, and the vocals were smothered under the clamor of the instruments. One young woman sang lead to an entire song without the audience being able to hear her. The performance energy dipped so low that not even a finale of “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)” could pick it back up.
On Saturday, Morris Day and the Time took the stage, and unlike Clinton, the energy stayed up for the entire show. After iconic clips of Day from Purple Rain flashed across the big screen, the band entertained the crowd for close to an hour with hits like “Cool,” “The Bird,” and “777-9311.”
Day, decked out in a white suit with pinstripes, called for his mirror in classic fashion. Those looking for something new from The Time would have been disappointed, but most fans danced and sang along with all hits from the ’80s and ’90s.
It was not surprising that Prince, even after his death and in video, stole the show. Thursday’s 45-minute Amsterdam 2014 concert recording with his Third Eye Girl band was the highlight, with rearranged versions of “Condition of the Heart” and “Something in the Water” and more recent songs like “Pretzel Body Logic.”
Prince told Amsterdam concertgoers that he had been to their house twice, first after his 1987 release of Sign O’ the Times. Inviting concertgoers to Paisley Park, the clip ended after Prince told them, “The next time we meet it will be at my house.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more photos from the event, visit MSRNewsOnline.com.
Vickie Evans-Nash is a contributing writer and former editor in chief at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.