The parties weren’t meant to last, Prince told us in “1999.” But the memories of this weekend’s 2022 celebration will last a very long time.
Around 800 Purple devotees turned out at 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 busy from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with an off-campus dinner break. There were panel discussions with insiders dropping purple nuggets, recording sessions with members of the Prince band, self-guided explorations of the museum including a striking new photo exhibit, ping pong on the lawn , fishing sunsets and, of course, live music.
After too little sleep and never too much Prince, here are some thoughts and pick quotes from Celebration 2022 – and some suggestions.
- The mood. The 2017 celebration, which took place a year after his death, felt like a communal mourning. People were still a little in disbelief or in denial at Celebration 2019. But after a two-year pandemic hiatus, the mood this year was undeniably joyful. Coming from all over the United States and as far away as New Zealand and Iceland, the families at Purple were thrilled to be together and eager to have a good time after being locked down by COVID issues. And they noticed that the staff at Paisley Park – no longer under the umbrella of Graceland Holdings which oversaw the first three celebrations – were friendlier.
- Prince in concert. For the third time, Celebration offered a concert featuring Prince in a film accompanied by a live band. This time was different, however, because it was one of those surprise performances Prince decided to do on short notice — Jan. 11, 1992 at Glam Slam, his Minneapolis warehouse district club — and celebratory-goers witnessed this from the privacy of Paisley Park’s formidable soundstage, compared to previous similar presentations at the much larger Armory and Target Center. Short of hits and “Purple Rain” songs, it was still unstoppable funky fun. On screen and live on stage, the Game Boys danced, the Steeles harmonized like only siblings can and Mayte Garcia pirouetted for the very first time at a Prince show. In Paisley, Levi Seacer Jr. used the exact same guitar and keyboardist Tommy Barbarella wore an outfit that mirrored the one on screen with a giant boutonniere. Great props to Kirk Johnson for organizing this thrilling performance.
- creative process. This year’s activities focused on Prince’s creative process, with separate interviews with sound engineers Chris James, Tom Garneau and Joshua Welton and photographer Randee St. Nicholas. Most intriguing, however, were the actual recording demonstrations. Festival-goers with VIP tickets were treated to recording sessions in Studio A with NPG or 3rdEyeGirl. Along with the NPG, the 50 fans listened to Prince (on tape) guide his musicians through a jam titled “Son of Sexy MF,” then fans recorded their hand claps on another take. With 3rdEyeGirl, 50 people watched 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 took autographs.
- Rare songs. From interviews with the engineers to singer/actress Jill Jones and dancer/vocalist Mayte Garcia, snippets of songs – including previously unreleased rarities – were played, adding considerable excitement to the discussion. One of the highlights was listening to the soundcheck of Prince and the Revolution’s 1985 Syracuse concert which was released on vinyl and CD on Friday. Never have people been so mesmerized for five whole minutes by someone saying “check one, two” over and over again. Because it was Prince.
- Photo exhibition. Unlike the guided tours of Paisley Park, participants were given carte blanche in different sections of the museum. What a golden opportunity to spend over 20 minutes in the magnificent “The Beautiful Ones: Prince’s Custom Shoes”, the best exhibit Paisley has ever assembled, with around 300 pairs of shoes in grand piano-like cases and a wall of guitar speakers. The brand new exhibition by Randee St. Nicholas, who has photographed Prince for more than 25 years, comes next. About a dozen of his large photos — all posed photos except one in concert — are creatively mounted amid plastic beads (scavenged from eight stores), plush sofas and purple stage lights (thanks to the ingenious specialist of production and design by Paisley, Duff Eisenschenk). The room is topped by a chandelier made by Eisenschenk from Kirk Johnson’s battery. The most memorable photo is a blurry special exhibit that looks like Prince Has Angel Wings.
- VIP rules. VIP or general admission? $900 versus $400. There was a huge difference 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, drinks and lunch), but they also enjoyed recording sessions, additional signs and a Sunday brunch at The Dakota in downtown Minneapolis, where the Steeles performed a Prince-themed Ensemble. According to social media, they offered tunes by Mavis Staples and a religious “Purple Rain” with Seacer on guitar.
- Rare memory. Every attendee at Celebration 2022 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 celebration attendees were women. And the vast majority of purple people were from out of town, not Minnesota.
- Appointment. Celebration 2022 allowed Purple families, often connected on social media, to meet in person. For me, it was a treat to spend time with, among others, the academics (including De Angela Duff, Elliott Powell and Zaheer Ali) and the younger generation (including the Englishman Casey Rain and the indefatigable KaNisa Williams from Atlanta , who took copious notes and tweeted reports, complete with archival visuals, whenever she could get 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, for me, this is the last bar. There will never be a higher bar.”
– Guitarist Levi Seacer, Jr.
“The set was the problem. We didn’t get along. It wasn’t the original script. The album was so much better than what we could create visually. It was too low. We were playing the film. It was a bit forced.”
— Jill Jones on the movie “Graffiti Bridge” from 1990
“Silence is sometimes the best compliment.”
— Tom Garneau, engineer of Prince’s reaction to his work
“The brother could hear the grass growing.”
— Joshua Weltonengineer, on Prince’s listening skills
“Not many people said ‘No’ to him. If they did, he would say ‘Why?’ ”
— Joshua Welton, engineer
“It was definitely not in my vocabulary.”
— Mayte Garcia, reacting to the lyrics “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 one to cry. I think I saw him cry once.”
— Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife
“She was a beautiful little person on the outside. A gigantic presence on the inside. There’s always a story in her eyes.”
— Randee Saint-Nicolas, photographer
“No matter how big he really is, he’s a giant.”
— Duff Eisenschenk, production and design specialist
- Performers. It’s time for Celebration to step up its game with live attractions. When Prince himself presented “Celebrations” in the early 2000s, he reached out to Norah Jones and Erykah Badu to perform. Friday’s gig by the entertaining BrownMark and the Bad Boys of Paisley Park sounded like a glorified bar band doing Prince and Mazarati covers. How about chasing some A-listers with purple connections like Mavis Staples, Stokley, Janelle Monae, Lenny Kravitz, Sounds of Blackness, Alicia Keys solo or Questlove as a DJ? Or Dave Chappelle?
- Panelists. Could Celebration be more imaginative and ambitious when recruiting panelists? Over the years, festival-goers have heard from many engineers, photographers, musicians, dancers and fashion designers. If not restricted by nondisclosure agreements, consider managers, promoters, security personnel, chefs, personal assistants, publicists, archivists, and film (or video) makers. Maybe Prince’s siblings if they could get along. Ask participants for a wish list.
- Overload. A panel should probably be limited to two or three speakers. This year’s shoe show discussion with five speakers was at least two people too many. Unaccustomed to being on stage, all but one of the panelists were either too shy or too wobbly. Not all creative people can speak in front of a large group.
- Questions and answers. Why not let audience members ask the panelists a few questions, perhaps submitting queries that can be filtered?
- More rooms. Could other nearby venues – Lake Ann Park, the Arboretum, or the Chanhassen Dinner Theaters – be incorporated in some way?
- More days. Compressing everything (except Steeles brunch and a party for the unveiling of the Prince mural in downtown Minneapolis) into a two-day marathon was too exhausting. Previous celebrations, which had many more participants (4,000 compared to 800 this year), spread the events over four days. Are three shorter days better? It’s time for an official survey of Celebration attendees.