“Be glad that you are free / Free to change your mind / Free to go most anywhere, anytime.”
These lyrics from the beautiful and poignant “Free” have not left my mind since Thursday night. I’m writing to share my perspectives and thoughts of this perfect and most magical evening. I hope you enjoy.
Prince’s “Gala Event” at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, MN was all of what you’d consider a Gala Event to be and more. I live outside the Twin Cities, so the 45-minute drive was nothing as compared to those who came, literally, across the world to see Our Purple One. When the event was announced 3 weeks beforehand (versus several day’s notice), I knew this was going to be something different, unique—something unexpected. But this evening was above and beyond anyone’s expectations.
My wonderful husband and fellow Prince fan accompanied me to the elusive Paisley Park Studios. It never fails–about 5 miles away I begin to smile, my body temperature rises and my stomach is filled with small, happy butterflies. The place I only imagined being inside when I was 15, the place where magic occurs, the place where iconic music is created–*I* was about to enter through its doors. Although this wasn’t my first time there, arriving each time is like your first.
I splurged for VIP tickets to the event (I mean, if you’re going to go, go big!). Having no idea what was in store for us upon arrival, the tears started welling up as we entered the parking lot. Not only did we get front row parking during a January winter in Minnesota (thank you, Prince!), but we were welcomed by the best staff ever. Smiles on their faces, welcoming us there, not rushing us through like most club attendants. I stopped at the gates per their request. My mood changed for the worst, as I thought it was to inspect our cars for safety. Every time I go through this exercise, no matter where it is, it makes me sad. “Why do we have to live this way?” I thought. “Even at Paisley Park, the Mecca of Love, there’s still a bit of fear.” BUT, my mood immediately shifted when I found out I was absolutely WRONG! Not only were our cars not being checked for suspicious items, but we were presented with GIFTS from the Man himself!
Through the passenger side window, a huge, round, purple box filled with surprises was handed to us. All I could do was cover my mouth so I didn’t scream and scare everyone involved. “He gave us gifts!” I squealed to my husband, holding back tears. The roller coaster ride of Love had begun.
Luckily, we only had to drive a few more feet as I think I was holding my breath. “What could be in there?” I thought. “All we needed was a VIP pass.” Once we carefully removed the event poster and the new Hit n Run Phase Two CD off the cover, inside the box we found a bunch of fun, fan merch—a Musicology CD, a tour t-shirt (all random per box) and our VIP passes placed gently on top. Crinkled, purple paper confetti strands made it even more special. I don’t think I will ever get rid of that box.
All of a sudden I noticed it wasn’t as cold as it had been when we started our journey. I was breathing in the chilly, Paisley winter air allowing it to give me renewed energy. As we approached the doors, the staff all dressed in purple once again welcomed us with smiles. Relaxed and happy, we entered Paisley Park. The positive energy is palpable there and all you want to do is talk to people.. or hug them. Everyone was buzzing with excitement and time stood still. I showed my husband a bit of the foyer area and the iconic Prince motorcycle as we made our way to the VIP lounge. Food and drink were placed out for us. Impeccable. We took a seat at one of the huge Alice in Wonderland velvet chairs and enjoyed the surroundings. All the food was on point (Chips and Guac, Red Beans and Rice, Mac n Cheese, etc.) and I felt honored and blessed to be there. It was hard not to think we were the only VIPs with the way we were treated in the first 15 minutes.
As it was approaching 7pm, the doors to the main room were about to open for VIP seating. All of us were anxious and excited to get in, making sure we got a great seat. As Prince promised the week before, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house with the major updates of the space. Whether it was the scattered throw pillows up front, side stage, center, VIP couches or standing, the intimate venue made it awesome for all. Even if you were on the right side of the stage, you may not have been able to see his face much, but you could watch him play his beautiful, purple piano. I switched seats to a center spot after getting those first, but as a musician myself, I’m thinking we should have stayed stage left so I could watch his fingers glide, almost not touching the keys. Lesson learned.
As we were all getting settled, everyone wanted to chat. With no cellphones in hand to call, text, or take selfies, we were left to our own devices. It’s actually a relief to not have the technology there. I always think back to concerts back in the day, when cell phones weren’t even available yet. We talked, chatted, wondered about the set list and hoped for a great show. We lost track of time. It was time to get closer to friends, make new ones and share in the excitement. Yeah, Prince knows what he’s doing.
An hour or so went by and the natives were getting restless, but just as it was getting a bit louder, a voice over the PA alerted us that the last shuttle was on its way and that Prince would be waiting for them to arrive. Pure class. We didn’t have to wait long and not being worried about the time and if our show would be cut short (there was a second show at 11p), this allowed us to keep feeling the love, enjoy the classical music (yup) and revel in each other’s company.
The lights went down at 8:40p. Fog then enveloped the stage and through the huge double doors with Prince’s famous glyph, the man strutted, rather floated, onto the stage. He arrived at his piano, stood behind the stool for a few seconds and bowed his head to his hands. He said a little prayer (I assume), got himself centered and became One with the piano. He sat down, banged out one chord and stepped around the piano like he was trying to conquer it. We all laughed thinking this was a tease, but we soon came to find out, this would be one of the most emotional shows of his career.
Without words or acknowledgement of us, he whispered into the microphone what was going through his mind as a 3 year old boy. Being 3 and not being allowed to play his father’s piano, he was scared but enamored of what it was capable of after watching his father, a master pianist and his best friend, play. Thankfully, I immediately realized we weren’t just watching a rock concert, we were about to be part of a journey through Prince’s musical life. I felt I was the first to notice this. I’m not sure if I was, but it doesn’t matter. I had my first intimate moment with Prince. As most people know, Prince is one of the most private celebrities and has been most of his life. This is intentional. Being privy to what I was experiencing, I knew this was going to be emotional for ALL of us. No one had an idea of the set list, no one knew what was coming next. More theatrics, more music, more storytelling? It was absolutely fabulous.
THOUGHTS ON THE LOVE
Although I have seen Prince several times since 1987, there were songs from his early catalog that I thought I would NEVER hear live. Not only due to the fact that he stated a few years ago that he won’t play much of his back catalog anymore, but that there’s also literally hundreds of others to choose from. When we arrived at the part of his musical journey where he knew he could play piano well, he knew he could write music and sing, but now, as a teen, it was time to find himself. He started to play “Dirty Mind” and the crowd, including myself, lost it. Although all of us there were fans, many of us, like me, haven’t heard these songs in years, if ever. Especially the next song, “Do Me Baby.” For me, that song has always been one of the most sexy and sensuous songs ever written. And I pretty much swore off that I’d only see it performed on video. But there, at the piano, the first notes of said song began. My arms went up, eyes closed, YES this is happening! I started to sing along with him but then just had to be in the moment. Listening to those words, his falsetto, just the piano. I could have been the only one there. It still stirs up emotion deep down.
At this point, the music kept on coming. “Free” began and another huge smile came to my face. But after singing the first verse and part of the chorus, he stopped, put his head down to his clasped hands and said: “Peace to David Bowie. I only met him once. He was very nice to me.” He paused. “I heard he was nice to everyone. I just wanted to say that.” And he continued on. I bowed my head, got present and the tears started flowing. It had been a tough couple weeks since David Bowie’s death for me personally. The world, it seemed, was in mourning. When I got present to Prince, who I consider a musical genius, give props to another musical genius before him who died too soon, I just couldn’t contain myself. I was convinced that I was connected to Prince spiritually now, feeling what he was feeling with each note. I so appreciate that he stopped during the song, unrehearsed. He didn’t have to stop; he didn’t have to say anything, but he did. He wouldn’t have been fully present and that would have taken some of our experience away, even if it was subtle. Just that ONE moment is a true testament to how this man lives his life and treats his fans.
The music, fun and singing continued as we rolled through his catalog playing deep cuts as if they were #1 hits (see set list below with dates). Hearing the instrumental songs from Around The World In A Day and Parade were absolutely stunning and I just kept shaking my head in awe. Was this really happening? He’s sitting in front of me playing “Condition of the Heart”?! The answer was: Yes.
The roller coaster of love continued as we all stood up and sang “Paisley Park” IN Paisley Park (are you kidding me??) along with our friends. Smiles abound.
There were 2 encores that led to some of the newer songs like ”Baltimore” and “Rock and Roll Love Affair,” but we came back home with “Starfish and Coffee,” “The Breakdown,” and last, “Anna Stasia” from Lovesexy.
None of us wanted the party to end, but it was time. The lights came on and the staff lovingly started kicking us out as the next show was about to begin. I had NO idea how Prince would be able to do another hour and a half with basically giving us his all earlier, but if anyone could do it, he could. We left with smiles on our faces, music in our hearts and love in our souls. I think everyone there knew that we experienced an event that was once in a lifetime. And even if Prince toured with this exact set list, no show would be the same. It’s not many times in life that you witness history in the making. A thousand of us were there to be part of it– and he was too.
With a quick jaunt to the merch booth, I snagged an old shirt from the Lovesexy tour (my first one) and another CD. I desperately wanted to linger, but out the doors we went back into the Winter night. But right outside the door, there was a broken branch on the ground with flowers still on it from the flower bush left of the doors. I took it home as a memento and I see it every day as a reminder of what’s possible and that dreams do come true.
Thank you, Prince, for the music, for the love and for bearing your soul on stage. You crated a space for all of us to be glad that we are free, free to change our minds, free to go most anywhere, anytime. You’re a true inspiration that in turn has me look for how I can inspire others. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
Piano and a Microphone, Gala Event
@ Paisley Park, Chanhassen, MN, USA
Jan 21, 2016 / 8:00PM
- Batman (TV Show Theme, 1966)
- Who’s Loving You (Miracles cover, 1960)
- Baby (from For You, 1978)
- I Wanna Be Your Lover (from Prince, 1979)
- Dirty Mind (from Dirty Mind, 1980)
- Do Me, Baby (from Controversy, 1981)
- Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) (from 1999, 1982)
- Free (David Bowie Tribute) (from 1999, 1982)
- A Case of You (Joni Mitchell cover, 1971))
- (Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child (Paul Robeson cover, 1930s)
- The Beautiful Ones (from Purple Rain, 1984)
- U’re Gonna C Me (from One Nite Alone, 2002)
- How Come Your Don’t Call Me (from b-side of 1999 single, 1982)
- Condition of the Heart (from Around The World In A Day, 1985)
- Venus de Milo (from Parade, 1986)
- Raspberry Beret (P gives props to Wendy & Lisa) (from Around The World In A Day, 1985)
- Paisley Park (Sing along) (from Around The World In A Day, 1985)
- Sometimes It Snows in April (from Parade, 1986)
- Eye Love U But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore (from Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, 1999)
- The Ballad of Dorothy Parker (from Sign O’ The Times, 1987)
- Unchain My Heart (Ray Charles cover, 1964)
- Baltimore (from HNR Ph2, 2016)
- Rock and Roll Love Affair (from HNR Ph2, 2016)
- Starfish and Coffee (from Sign O’ The Times, 1987)
- The Breakdown (from Art Official Age, 2014)
- Anna Stesia (from Lovesexy, 1988)
(For a wonderful review of the 8pm show, feel free to click here.)