It is now seven years since the death of global music megastar, Prince. So what keeps people coming back to Celebration at his home and studio, Paisley Park in Minnesota, year after year? I think I know, having flown out to the US from my home in the UK to party with my ‘purple family’ at two of these events.
I’d like to share what it meant to me, and how to make the most of Prince: Celebration 7. Tickets for Celebration 2023 are on sale now and the event itself kicks off June 8 at Paisley Park, although unofficial events, known to Celebration attendees as “off the tracks” commence from June 3, including with SoundAround Tours’ very own launch party on June 4 – more on that later. There are always many great gigs on at venues throughout Minneapolis in addition to the events taking place at Paisley Park. All in all, Minneapolis is always one hell of a funky town for Celebration week.
Prince & Me
I came late to the musical genius that is Prince. My good friend, Sarah Lee – co-founder of SoundAround Tours, had to explain to me why she was so upset on 21 April, 2016 – the day that Prince tragically died, which also happened to be my birthday.
As for millions of people worldwide, the music of Prince had been the soundtrack to Sarah’s life from her early teens. She had been to countless live concerts. I knew none of this until I found out that she was grieving seven years ago. Somehow, over the following weeks, we turned that sadness into joy. Nowadays I’m not sure how I managed it but somehow, I had grown up knowing nothing about Prince, except that I loved his track, Purple Rain. I wanted to understand why his music had meant so much to my friend. So Sarah began my Prince education. She spent the next eight months taking me through his music chronologically. But not just listening to his albums, she also explained the evolution and development of Prince’s music, from his early band to The Revolution, through New Power Generation, to 3RDEYEGIRL, his last band.
It was a revelation, almost in a biblical sense! Here was a guy, self taught, who played at countless instruments; he wrote music that was epic in its musicality and complexity and yet so easy to listen to and amazing to move to; his lyrics spoke of sex, romance and politics, but with humour, depth of feeling, an astute insight and humanity. His performances, which sadly I only got to see on screen after his passing, were a visual feast. Prince was a true artist in every sense of the word. He put his heart and soul into each note, each lyric and every performance. Everything I learned about Prince in that year touched my soul and genuinely moved me. Prince’s legacy is that the music and the messages he left behind will always have a resonance with anyone who has a heart. They will continue to give strength to his lifelong fans, and draw in new ones, such as myself. That I could never get to see him perform really upset me.
Then came the first Celebration at Paisley Park in 2017 on the first anniversary of his death (although, this wasn’t really the first Celebration event – Prince himself hosted a couple of Celebrations during the early 2000s, inviting fans to hang out with him at the Park). This event though gave me a great opportunity to get closer to the man and the music I had come to love. So Celebration tickets were booked and my next birthday found me in magnificent Minneapolis, birthplace of Prince Nelson Rogers and a whole musical genre, The Minneapolis Sound.
Celebration At Paisley Park, Minneapolis: What is it?
Joyous! It is the single most joyous event I have ever been to.
Think funky music, dancing from dawn ’til dusk, having fun with fabulous friends and living life to the max with your international ‘Purple Family’. Being among all those music lovers, Prince fans, and walking the same streets and partying in the same clubs that Prince had done… It felt like I’d come home. I went out there with Sarah in the April of 2017. From stepping out of the cab and onto the driveway of 7801 Audubon Road, Chanhassen – Paisley Park – I soon made many more friends.
It was a tsunami of warmth, love and friendship. People had come from all over the world, transforming Prince’s home into a melting pot of cultures, creeds and nationalities. We were united as an international community by the music and life philosophy he had created. Music lovers, Prince fans, those who partied like crazy to Irresistible Bitch, stomped their boots off to Controversy, felt their hearts race to the words of Baltimore, and cried to the lyrics of I Love U In Me and Adore. We came together because we loved the way that music made us feel. The friends made at that event have become true friends. We have come together at Celebrations since, as well as at gigs around the world and on video calls.
I will never forget the excitement of glimpsing that surreal white aluminium building from the highway as we sped towards it in a cab for the first ever Celebration event. This was where the magic happened. With its simple lines, pure form, glistening in the sunlight of a clear April day, it did, indeed, look like a magical place. I don’t think there can be anyone who made that cab ride to the opening anniversary event at Paisley Park that day who didn’t save the phone screen shot of their Google Map location!
Through The Tears
That first Celebration was extraordinarily emotional. It’s been the only birthday that saw me crying into my champagne (Sarah and I kicked the day off with a champagne breakfast in our hotel, while listening to The Current local radio station’s all day Prince coverage). That the guiding star that was Prince was gone. That so much love for him had come together in his Chanhassen home.
That we found comfort in crying and laughing together. That so many had travelled so far to honour the man whose music had meant so much to them at different stages of their lives, and would continue to do so as they journeyed onwards. It was overwhelming, heartbreaking, but also heartwarming in that we had our own community to celebrate the life of Prince and to ensure that his music would live on. At subsequent Celebration events it has been pleasing to see so many younger people, teenagers and those in their 20s, joining the hard core fans. Friends of mine who went to that first event are now taking their children along with them to Celebration and they are loving it every bit as much as their parents.
We danced, sang along and shared concert experiences, loving every second we were there. It was so emotional, but I can’t recall a time when I have been part of such a warm, supportive crowd. There was laughter and fun through the tears. The music, played live by various musicians associated with Prince, including his bands, The Revolution and NPG, on his Soundstage, in his own mega party pad on the outskirts of Minneapolis, lifted our spirits and turned a sad occasion into one that we will all remember as a happy celebration of something quite extraordinary. I felt honoured to be a part of it.
Celebration: What happens? What To Expect
The two Celebrations I attended in 2017 and 2019 followed a similar format. It was as much a learning experience as entertainment, fusing the music, live bands and partying with informative panel sessions with a selection of people who had worked with Prince throughout his career. These backstage people formed the creative hub that helped Prince realise his vision and brought his art to life. Many of them had worked with Prince for between seven to ten years, so they were speaking from a genuine knowledge of, and friendship with, the artist.
This year the four-day event runs from June 8 to 11 June, and the celebrity guest line up includes the incredible Chaka Khan, rappers Doug E Fresh and Chuck D all of whom performed with Prince, then there will be music from Stokely of band Mint Condition, who also hail from Minneapolis. Another local act that has seen international acclaim that will perform at this years’ Celebration. A full calendar of events will be available shortly. Speaking from my own experience of these events, a real highlight for me was getting the opportunity to hear members of his bands talk about the music in panel sessions, answering audience questions, and then getting to hear them play at concerts in the Soundstage afterwards. In 2017 it was a great privilege to get to hear The Revolution and New Power Generation in panel sessions and playing live.
Having heard the band members explain what Prince wanted to get from them and how he worked with them to achieve that, I was then able to listen to the music with a greater appreciation and intelligence. A panel session with sound engineers, Susan Rogers, Chris James and Dylan Dresden was also a standout for me. They talked us through the years 1983 to 1988, taking in the Purple Rain period and out to Hit and Run Phase2. These were the best in the business and it was jaw-dropping to hear them talk about how easy it was to work with Prince, who got everything right, first time. Rogers joked that she had to relearn her trade after leaving Prince’s employment, as he nailed the laying down of each track instantly, meaning that she barely needed to use her technical skills!
In another panel session, one of Prince’s former girlfriends spoke about a disagreement they had. She shared that Prince was not the best at expressing his emotions in conversation. Hitting a brick wall with him, she went off into the night to have a burger and cool off. On returning a couple of hours later, Prince invited her down to one of the three recording studios housed in the basement of PP. In the time she had been out eating her burger, he had written, laid down all the instrumental and vocal tracks, mixed them together, and produced a song for her that said all he wanted to say. I was knocked out. Completely stunned. At the same time, I felt very privileged to be able to get to know so much about a man who seemed to be something of an extra terrestrial being, possessing unworldly powers of genius and a fascinating enigma. Other sessions like this featured his hairdressers, costume designers, album cover artists, the guy who made and maintained his guitars… Those sessions opened windows on the world of Prince that I could never have looked through anywhere else.
Of course, Paisley Park is now the Prince Museum and, as such, there is much to see there that gives you yet another perspective on our icon. When you go to buy your Celebration ticket, it is likely that that you will have choices to make. Because attendee numbers are significant, the activities will likely be split into two tracks for safety and comfort of event access. If they are, be sure to specify what track you want to be on, taking into account that you need to be on the same track as your friends and attending at times that suit you best to get to the Paisley Park venue.
The basic Celebration ticket will give you access to a tour of Paisley Park – selected living areas and the three recording studios. There will also be screenings of historical and iconic concert performances of Prince on the Big Screen, as well as live concerts in the Soundstage, celebrity panel sessions, a lunch, and perhaps a party in the NPG Party Room, next to the Soundstage. There is a VIP ticket option too, coming at extra cost. The VIP Diamonds tickets are sold out. VIP Pearl tickets are still available and will give you admission to exclusive studio experiences, as well as access to areas and personal artefacts that the basic ticket tour excludes.
Your mobile phone will be locked on entry to Paisley. It will be unlocked when you leave the building, for lunch and at other times. Out of respect for the house rules, photography is not allowed on the tours or during the Prince On The Big Screen event. You are allowed to take photos in the Soundstage, but at times specifically allocated for you to do so. Phones will be unlocked for the live evening concerts at PP and other shows.
Beyond Paisley Park
Celebration this year will see a lot of extra curricular events being staged at a variety of great venues throughout Minneapolis. Taking in Celebration is a no brainer for Prince fans. However, I can tell you from my own experience, it isn’t all about Prince and his music, especially when you get out and about, Uptown and Downtown. Being the home of the Minneapolis Sound, this city has live music venues everywhere you turn.
During my visit, I booked onto a lecture at Sound 80, a single storey, unassuming building that was built as a recording studio in 1970/71. Prince did his first demo tape here that he took to Warner Bros. as a teenager. It has also seen many musical giants through its doors, including Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan. The talk was a deep dive into the musical history of the Minneapolis Sound and into the technical wizardry that goes into making a chart-topping record.
Look at what’s on at other venues before purchasing your Celebration ticket and choosing your track. You need to make sure that the times you choose to attend the PP Celebration events don”t clash with a gig you especially want to see in town. We made our own Purple Event Calendar on our phones so that we could enter the dates and times of everything we wanted to get to see. I’d recommend you do this, because you don’t want to miss a gig you were really looking forward to – it’s a long way to come back to see it again!
Off track and in town my personal favourites in terms of venues were Bunkers Music Bar & Grill, a lively bar with a stage that has seen some world-class performers, including Prince several times back in the day! Today it is the home of the fiercely funky and fabulous Dr. Mambo’s Combo, headed up by vocalist, Julius Collins. This soul and R&B band have been playing at Bunkers Music Bar and Grill since 1987 and have, naturally for such a cool band, played with Prince on this very stage.
The Dakota (Jazz Club and Restaurant) is also on my ‘not to be missed’ list when in Downtown Minneapolis. It is a classy, intimate cabaret venue. You are seated at a table, candles and all, and can dine on the most delicious dishes while seeing one of the many quality musicians and bands who chose to play here. It was one of Prince’s favourite places to go and chill of an evening too, and it is poignant to be able to glance up towards the tiny balcony opposite the stage, to see the very table which was always reserved for him. My only complaint would be that an evening here passes far too quickly.
Also check out the murals all over town – there’s so much fantastic art dedicated to Prince in the Twin Cities to explore.
What’s On Outside Paisley Park
Here’s just a taste of some of the happenings Downtown that I’d be putting in my personal Purple Calendar of events not to miss…
3 June – Party! Prince and the MPLS Sound Dance Party: DJs Brian Engel and Noah Kurth explore the musical legacies of Prince, Morris Day and The Time, Janet Jackson and others, filling the dance floor.
4 June – The SoundAround Launch Party – join us for Prince karoake! Then Dr Mambo’s Combo are partying live at Bunkers.
5 June – Celebrate the launch of SoundAround Music Tours at Bunkers Music Bar & Grill (7pm-9pm). Launching with their Minneapolis Tour, this is a great value evening at $10 on the door for some Prince karaoke, trivia quizzes and prizes, followed by dancing all night with Dr Mambo’s Combo.
7 June – Celebrating the 65th birthday of Prince, Dance Electric at the iconic First Avenue where the film, Purple Rain, was filmed. DJ Dudley D and other guests will be partying like it’s 1999 down on 701 North 1st Avenue.
8 June – Paisley Park opens its doors on the first day of Celebration. See if you can also call in to see JAYBEE and The Routine at Bunkers for an evening of soulful vibes.
11 June – Gangster Glam Skate Party offers something a little different. Party on wheels at Skateville, where you can go crazy to funky tunes on roller skates. Organised by Purple Playground, a nonprofit fan-based group which aims to honour Prince’s legacy of positivity and giving. Funds raised are used to create a free Academy of Music for local teenagers so you are giving to a good cause as well as getting some pretty unique entertainment to share with friends.
Other venues worth checking out between scheduled Celebration events include
Gluek’s Bar & Restaurant: Live Music Tuesday to Saturday. Icehouse MPLS: Restaurant and live music with an industrial setting vibe. Broad variety of musical genre and musicians play here every night. Local band, Mostly Trees, are playing there on 1 June. Known for their take on guitar-driven rock ranging from grunge to dream pop, they will showcasing their new album, Moon Dogs. Definitely one for me! A steal at $12 advance booking; $15 on the door.
The Pourhouse: A prohibition-themed bar serving tasty American-style food, it also offers Happy Hour 3-6pm Monday through to Friday, with some of the best live music in town on Friday and Saturday nights. 5 June sees Martin Kember & The Unit performing a tribute to Prince at its Downtown venue. $35 a ticket. Uptown VFW: A veteran-focused venue with bars, food and live entertainment, music and karaoke. Great ingredients for a memorable fun night out. Baseball: You might want to take in the nation’s signature sport while you are so close to a major baseball field…
The Target Field in Minneapolis will be hosting matches between The Cleveland Guardians and The Minnesota Twins from 1-4 June. Last, but not least, keep an eye out for Minneapolis legend, Jellybean Johnson. Credited as the ‘Father of the Minneapolis Sound’, Jellybean has had a long and lustrous career as a percussionist, guitarist, song writer and music producer. He kicked off his career playing the drums in The Time. He is often found playing during the Celebration week at various venues throughout the city.
Where To Stay
I chose to stay Downtown, as opposed to up in Chanhassan. With so much going on in the city, I was more comfortable being closer to my hotel so I could fall out of those late night Downtown parties and into my hotel bed. Paisley Park and Celebration event organisers have got two preferred partner hotels on board offering a group rate, as well as a shuttle bus service between the hotel and Paisley Park.
Preferred Hotel: W Hotel situated in the stylish Foshay Tower on Marquette Avenue. It is offering its Celebration guests a shuttle service out to Paisley Park for the events there. Supporting Partner Hotel: Hilton Bloomington is less than 10 minutes from the Mall of America, which opens up a whole other world of pleasure for the visitor. It is also within 20 minutes of Downtown Minneapolis for the music and Target Field for the baseball. It offers free shuttles to the Mall and to MSP Airport.
Transport To Celebration Venue, Paisley Park
Please note – there is no parking at Paisley Park itself. You should use public transport or one of the hotel shuttle services. During my visits to Celebration, I used the Uber app on my phone. There is no shortage of Uber cabs in this city and I was never let down.
I also shared the cabs to and from PP with my friends to reduce the cost. It worked very well for me. However you choose to celebrate at Celebration 7, you owe it to Prince to party like it’s 1999! Seven was a meaningful and significant number for Prince. He was born on 7 June and the number features in his songs. I especially love it in the anthem-type song, ‘7’ – we’ll smoke them all! Let’s make this seventh anniversary Celebration of Prince’s life and music even more special than the others that have gone before it.