For the fifth time since Prince’s tragic passing a little more than seven years ago, Celebration returned to Paisley Park June 8-11. Although the brand new purple street signs in honor of the late legend have yet to be posted, for the first time ever, fans from all around the world made their way out to Chanhassen on what is now known as Prince Rogers Nelson Memorial Highway.
VIP ticket holders were given early access to the building Thursday morning, June 8, where in addition to their self-guided “Museum Experience” tour, they were given “access” to Prince’s fabled vault, hearing seven songs never previously heard by the general public or found in the extensive purple bootleg universe. These lucky souls also witnessed 45 minutes of pro-shot footage from Prince and The Revolution’s final concert at Japan’s Yokohama Stadium on September 9, 1986.
Celebration 2023 officially kicked off Thursday night with a dance party at W Minneapolis – The Foshay, before general programming started for all guests on Friday.
As in past years, there were many experiences to keep guests engaged, but Celebration is centered around the Paisley Park soundstage and its celebrity panels and live musical performances.
The panels, which over the years have showcased Prince associates and collaborators from literally every aspect of his professional life, always provide some of the most evocative and enlightening moments of the weekend.
This time around, the first-ever “fam” panel was convened, a gathering of high-profile Prince fans who leverage their influence and love of Prince to lift up his legacy in the arenas of academia, podcasts, social media, and other platforms. Moderated by WCCO-TV’s Reg Chapman—the first local journalist to announce the news of Prince’s death in 2016—participants on this panel included NYU professor De Angela Duff, digital creator Rodney Fitzgerald, Jeremiah Freed (aka Dr. Funkenberry), and Kim Camilia and Casey Rain of the Violet Reality.
Another panel focused on the number 7, which was of particular importance to Prince and served as the theme of Celebration 2023. But more than talking about a number and what it meant to their former boss, New Power Generation bandmates Levi Seacer, Jr., Morris Hayes, Tony Mosley, and Damon Dickson, along with engineer Michael Koppleman and Rosie Gaines’ daughter Latoya, spoke candidly about Prince’s big heart and his benevolent side, which included quietly donating large sums of money to schools, charities and other causes across the nation.
2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee— the one and only Chaka Khan—headlined her very own panel where she was interviewed by the Rock Hall’s Director of Artist Relations & Curatorial Operations, Shelby Morrison. Though a few may have drawn tears, Khan’s stories mostly drew laughs such as her famous refusal to ever put any money in Prince’s “swear jar,” which he first instituted in the late 1990s.
“That’s one of the most beautiful things about me,” she declared to the captivated audience, “How I cuss!”
Perhaps the tale that garnered the biggest reaction was Khan’s retelling of the time she first met Prince, who in 1977 at only 19 years of age, was in the Bay Area recording his debut album “For You” at Sausalito’s legendary Record Plant.
Somehow discovering that Khan too was in San Francisco, Prince dialed her hotel room and convinced her to drop by the studio by pretending to be Sly Stone. After traveling a considerable distance and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, she arrived at a “creepy, darkened” studio where she eventually encountered Prince, who confessed to the ruse while adding that she was one of his musical heroes.
Although the two Warner Brothers label mates would become fast (and life-long) friends, Khan, who didn’t even know who Prince was before that fated night, admitted without prevarication that at the moment, “Yeah, I was pissed.”
Possibly the most anticipated panel of the weekend, save for Khan’s, was the celebrity hip-hop panel consisting of the NPG’s Mosley and two of the most renowned emcees in the history of the genre—the “human beatbox,” himself, Doug E. Fresh and Public Enemy frontman Chuck D.
All three gentlemen had the chance to reflect on the first time they met Prince, and their friendship, and each addressed Prince’s complicated relationship with hip-hop in the beginning, referencing the Prince song “Dead on It,” from “The Black Album”
By contrast, Chuck D confirmed that, at least to his mind, the hip-hop world and particularly those that came out of the DJ culture such as he did, were always in tune with Prince. Then he added the revelation that while Public Enemy was touring Europe in 1987, Prince’s magnum opus “Sign O’ The Times” was at the top of his playlist and significantly influenced both P.E.’s second and third albums, which remain the two most acclaimed and best- selling in the group’s catalogue.
Chuck later had the crowd in stitches when reminiscing about his first trip to Paisley Park to record “Undisputed” for Prince’s “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.” On arrival at the gates, he saw an endless array of guitars, amps, and other gear outside, everywhere. And then there’s Prince, negotiating prices with interested buyers. “It was a garage sale,” said Chuck, unable to hide his amusement, “Prince is out there giving this woman $100 off on a guitar. I couldn’t believe it. Is this really happening?”
Chuck left Paisley Park that August in 1999 with a small token of his Prince’s appreciation, a pendant of his iconic symbol, something Chuck took with him everywhere. But when traveling shortly after 9/11, security agents checking his bag asked, “What is this?”
“That’s Prince’s symbol,” he responded, hoping they wouldn’t confiscate it. But as Chuck explained to the crowd, his plea was to no avail and the TSA took the pendant from him, citing its potential use as a weapon. “Dang,” was the only word he could muster while lamenting the loss of his cherished gift, as much of the room sighed.
It was all right, though. As Chuck exited a few minutes early to catch his scheduled flight, Doug E. Fresh picked up the mood with an unannounced 20-minute set where he deftly rhymed over a few Prince’s classics while sharing some of his own.
Real Music by Real Musicians
Friday’s live performances on the soundstage began with another Celebration first—the New Artist Showcase. Rapper Nur-D, a rising star in the Twin Cities, ripped through a jubilant four-song set highlighted by the infectious single, “Glorious.”
NUNNABOVE, which has been dubbed the “next generation of the Minneapolis Sound,” closed out the showcase. Made up of four siblings (Cadence, Mattie, Bennett, and Wisdom Nunn) between the ages of 18 and 23, NUNNABOVE quickly brought the crowd to, and kept them on their feet, with three originals and a blistering cover of Prince’s 1985 b-side, “She’s Always in My Hair.”
NPG veteran and solo artist, the incomparable Shelby J, put a cap on Friday’s live music with an hour-long performance with a selection of songs from her debut album “10,” Prince covers “Chelsea Rogers” and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” and a lively rendition of The Doobie Brothers’ 1973 smash “Long Train Runnin’.”
Saturday’s musical performances included the three-time Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness, directed by musical director Gary Hines, and former Mint Condition frontman and BluRaffe Entertainment recording artist Stokley Williams.
The legendary Sounds, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022, opened with “Purple Rain,” before longtime vocalists Jamecia Bennett and Carrie Harrington shared the lead through a number of the group’s classics like “Optimistic,” “I Believe,” and “The Drum (Africa to America”).
Stokley, who spent the years prior to the pandemic performing with The Revolution and taking the lead on Prince standards such as “Uptown,” “Let’s Work,” and “DMSR,” released his second solo record, “Sankofa,” in 2021.
Currently on tour with his band, Stokley & the Vü came off the road to deliver, per usual, a sensational performance that was highlighted by a pair of Minneapolis Sound classics from 1981, “Private Joy” and “Cool,” before ending the set with Mint Condition’s biggest hit “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), from their Jellybean Johnson produced debut album “Meant to Be Mint.”
Without question, there were a number of other highlights during Celebration 2023. VIP ticket holders took part in a live listening/recording session in Studio A, where they assisted original (and current) Paisley Park engineer Tom Garneau and NPG members (Seacer, Hayes, Mosley, Damon Dickson, Tommy Barbarella, and Josh Dunham) in a re-creation of Prince and the NPG’s “Love 2 the 9s.”
All guests were treated to a two-day screening of Prince and the NPG’s final show of 1993’s Act II Tour at Wembley Arena in London.
On Saturday, came one of the weekend’s most emotional moments, when the incomparable Rosie Gaines was presented with the first annual Prince Legacy Award. Although still unable to travel due to health concerns, Rosie shared a voice message from her home in Richmond, California, which lifted the spirits of the many admirers in attendance. Rosie’s daughter Latoya was there to accept the award in her place.
Both Friday and Saturday night’s festivities concluded with late-night parties, respectively showcasing the turntable talents of DJ D-Nice and DJ Rashida, the latter of which, included a tribute to the recently departed Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner.
Sunday morning’s gospel brunch was graced by youth choir Known MPLS before guests finished their experience participating in the studio tour and gathering on the Paisley Park lawn to socialize with fellow Prince fans from across the nation and the oceans as Celebration came to an end.
All in all, it was what Prince himself might have called, “the perfect weekend.”