I just returned from the 4-day commemorative Prince Celebration 2017 event, held at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Prince died on April 21st, 2016 and Paisley Park, to honor his legacy, hosted this event on the one year anniversary of his passing. Many of you know that I am the jewelry designer who created the ear cuffs and ear wraps that Prince and his band had worn since 1998. In the photo below, by Steve Parke , Prince is wearing my Moon Ear Wrap.
For the weeks before the commemorative Celebration 2017 event, I noticed an increase in sales of my Ear Wrap designs worn by Prince and I presumed this was because of the upcoming celebration. A customer and now friend of mine, Ro, had an extra VIP ticket to the event and offered it to me. I accepted her generous offer and booked my flight to Minneapolis.
No photos are allowed within Paisley Park which makes writing this blog post all the more challenging. A picture tells a thousand words but I will try to paint a verbal picture and describe the celebration. Paisley Park was Prince’s home as well as his creative sanctuary. There are two staggered tracks to the event. Our VIP tickets are for Track 2 which begins at 5:00 P.M. on Thursday, April 20th and alternates between evening events and daytime events over the four days. Track 1 began at 11:00 A.M. and ended at 4:00 P.M. with just barely enough time between events to clear the premises and prepare for the subsequent 1800+ attendees.
Thursday, April 20th
Each day’s schedule is divided into 5 sections beginning in the Paisley Park soundstage. Damaris Lewis, a willowy model, dancer, muse and friend of Prince is the M.C. for the event. A special video clip of an archived Prince performance begins each session and the auditorium, with a capacity of 1850, is filled. Today’s video clip is of 3rdeyegirl with Prince performing in Amsterdam in 2014. During a studio tour later in the day I will see a larger-than-life image of Ida Neilson, base player, wearing my Moon Ear Wrap on her left ear. Three floor-to-ceiling photographs from this Amsterdam show plaster one wall in the museum. The center photograph is of Prince, flanked by two other photos; Ida wearing the Moon Ear Wrap on one side and an image of the other 3rdeyegirl band members on the other side.
Each attendee’s credential badge is coded with a letter from A – G and at the end of the 45-minute video performance we follow our purple leader waving a raised “G” sign into the dining tent. As we enter the tent our phones are unlocked and we are allowed to use them and to take photographs. Earlier, when we filed into the event, our phones were secured into locking pouches and purses and oversized coats were inspected for obvious contraband. No alcohol, drink or food is allowed.
The dining tent is draped in gauzy lavender and purple fabric and two large television monitors show concert clips. The long banquet tables are covered with purple table cloths and plates of vegetarian food are at each place setting along with a plastic bottle of water banded with a Prince label.
Reportedly, the vegetarian menu was planned and prepared by Prince’s in-house chef but the food is mediocre at best. I relish good vegetarian food but the bland and sticky scoops of pilaf, pasta and undressed salad are boring and by the time we are seated the hot food is cold and the salads are warm. Strong coffee and deserts are served buffet-style. My meal critique is simply an observation, not a serious complaint. During our meal break, most everyone is animated and excited to be attending but I notice tears welling in a few eyes. I meet fans who have traveled from the U.K, the E.U. and Australia to honor Prince’s legacy. Some guests sport outrageous outfits while others simply wear jeans and a Prince T-shirt. The majority wear some shade of purple. We sit across from Lonnie and Allen from Chicago and are amused and delighted by their outgoing personalities.
Lunch concluded, our cell phones are again locked and we are ushered towards Paisley Park’s merchandise shop. The lines to purchase memorabilia are long and Ro buys so much that later she will need to purchase an extra suitcase to get it all home:) I buy a bound book of the event, a souvenir T-shirt and a silver-tone Love Symbol pendant so that I may inspect the quality. Between 1998 and 2004 I made the pewter Love Symbol pendants for Paisley Park to resell at their events. This was before China became a major player in manufacturing inexpensive jewelry and I observe that “Made in China” is printed on the backside of the pendant packaging.
Our third event for the day is a panel discussion with members of Prince’s band, the New Power Generation. They talk and share stories of what it was like being on the road with Prince. My take-away is that performing with him was a huge high for all but it had its price. Touring was intense and Prince demanded such perfection and executed such control that even free time was not theirs to enjoy as they wished.
Our G group gets a tour of the ground floors of Paisley Park, now mostly a museum. We will not see Prince’s private upstairs residence. We pass by his piano and visit the sound stage and recording studio A. We pass through the atrium; light and bright and look up to where Prince’s ashes rest behind frosted glass. Adjoining the atrium is a room designed as a diner. Two restaurant booths are built into the space and it is here where I imagine Prince took many of his meals. In another room his Purple Rain motorcycle is on display and the 1986 video of “Under the Cherry Moon” is screening. Further along is a costume hall where a Paisley Park photographer takes each of our photos in front of a purple piano, several gleaming guitars and mannequins wearing his costumes.
Tonight’s event ends with a an hour and a half George Clinton concert in the main auditorium. Even though our V.I.P tickets include reserved concert seating, Ro and I arrive too late and not wanting to be pushy, we stand at the side of the stage to watch the concert. The music is wonderfully funky and the many band members are exuberant performers. Their costuming is all over the place. George Clinton wears a sequined jacket and cap and a scantily clad red haired dancer wears a white bikini impossibly laced down to furry white leggings. There is much hair tossing and both male and female gyrating. I enjoy watching the crowd as much as hearing the band but the event seems overly crowded so as a precaution, I scope out the nearest exit signs in the event of a fire or other unexpected emergency.
Friday, April 21st
Today marks the anniversary that Prince died. Track 2 begins at 11:00 A.M. and Damaris is again the M.C. This morning’s video concert is a poignant one performed and filmed on this very stage on April 16th 2016, just 5 days prior to Prince’s death. Prince plays and sings at the piano; a kaleidoscope of rotating lights illuminating the screen behind him. He is gaunt and wears a loose and flowing magenta tunic and pants. One sleeve of his tunic is decorated with moon orbs and another full moon circle is on the chest of his tunic. Dramatic candelabras decorated the stage and flickering candles add to the otherworldly ambience at one of Prince’s final private concerts.
Following this emotional video is a panel discussion with the Revolution. Although not all 5 members of the band are present we hear from Wendy, Lisa and Matt about the evolution of hand picked characters that made up Prince’s entourage. Matt tells us that he was plucked from the pancake house that Prince frequented. They began the filming of the 1983 Purple Rain movie in a warehouse on a rainy Minnesota day under an ominously purple clouded sky. In preparation for the film, all were required to take ballet classes, acting classes and practice Jane Fonda workouts. They talk about the grueling work ethic that Prince demanded of both himself and his band but that the more they rehearsed the more fun they had.
For me, a highlight of the event is the Prince Iconography panel discussion. Three photographers are on the panel and Steve Parke, who was the conduit that connected me to Prince is on todays panel. In the fall of 1998, Steve Parke who was artist, graphic designer and photographer for Prince came to the Maryland Renaissance Festival where I had a booth and he purchased a single Wave Ear Cuff in sterling silver from my shop. He was from the Baltimore area and was good friends with my fabulous and long time manager, Zoe. When Steve returned to Paisley Park wearing my wave ear cuff, the Artist, at that time his name simply a glyph, liked it and asked Steve to photoshop it onto an image of his ear. Apparently the photoshopping was a hit and Steve was sent back to the Maryland Renaissance Fair to purchase samples of my other ear cuff designs. At the close of the panel discussion I timidly walked up to the stage and re-introduce myself to Steve. He steps down and gives me a big hug and tells me the story about the photoshopping of the wave ear cuff. He tells me that he wrote about me in his newly released book and that he wants me to talk with Karen White, a Paisley Park executive who is on the premises. He calls her from his cell phone which unlike mine, is not locked into a secure case. A few minutes later, Steve introduces me to Karen as the jewelry designer who created the ear wraps and ear cuffs that Prince wore. I pass Karen my card and she seems genuinely happy to meet me and to connect some of the missing dots of the Prince and Paisley Park history.
Today’s closing concert performance is the Revolution Live. Having had the Revolution panel discussion earlier today gives me a better understanding of this band and their music. The music is spirited and funky and Ro and I have third row seats and dance and sway to the beat of the music.
Saturday, April 22nd
Our track for today’s event doesn’t start until 5:00 P.M. so Ro and I take the opportunity to do some Prince sightseeing. I have a rental car and we ask Siri for directions to the Purple Rain House. The small, two storied house sits in an unassuming neighborhood and we take photos of the house from both the front and the back. In the brief time we are there, a tour van and several other groups of Prince fans arrive to pay homage. Someone on the van tour notices my Moon Ear Wrap and I tell them that I am the one who designed Prince’s ear wraps. Suddenly, everyone wants their photo taken with me.
We ask the tour guide what other stops are their itinerary and follow his directions to a Prince mural in the vicinity of Paisley Park. Painted on the backside of a Chanhassen theatre is an immense purple tone portrait of Prince with soaring white doves.
Today we share a taxi to the event rather than taking the provided shuttle which has been frequently late. The opening 1985 video is of Morris Day and The Time, the Afterworld Concert, filmed in Miami. Our evening meal follows and as I file into the dining tent, I see a woman wearing my Dolphin Ear Wrap. She has come all the way from the U.K. and is thrilled to meet me. A flurry of other guests overhear our conversation and I am inundated with women wanting to have their photos taken with me.
Three members from The Band Time enter the tent and sign autographs. I take advantage of a brief break in the crowd and have my photo taken with two of them. Behind this photo is an image of the album cover of the 2009 LOtUSFLOW3R triple album set; Prince with a lotus flower unfolding behind his head. I now understand why my new Lotus Flower Pendant design is getting so much attention.
Two panel discussion follow our meal break. The first is an in studio discussion with sound engineers, Susan Rogers, Chris James and Dylan Dresden. They discuss the period between 1983- 1988; the Purple Rain tour to Hit and Run Phase 2. My take away from this is that Prince had all of the tools to create music at his fingertips. His hand picked talent and his state of the art recording studios were available to make his dreams come true and in so doing, he made his fans dreams come true. The subsequent panel discussion was about the opening of Paisley Park on September 11th, 1987. Paisley Park attracted other musicians and Madonna, the B-Gees, REM and many other performers rented and made use of his state of the art recording studios. There is mention of the Vault where all of Prince’s recordings are stored and that barring a direct nuclear hit, it’s contents are secure for eternity.
Tonights closing concert is Morris Day and The Time. Morris is very full of himself which is a part of his stage persona and his act draws and references his character in Purple Rain. Half way into the concert, I notice a number of women being quietly pulled from the audience and a conga line of women are ushered onstage and a funky, shake your bootie, dirty dance party unfolds. This is followed by another conga line of both men and women and the auditorium reverberates with funk and gyrating booties.
Sunday, April 23
This is the final day of the Celebration and instead of taking the shuttle, we drive to the event and show our passes for VIP parking. The opening morning video is from a 1990 Nude Tour concert, one of 56 concerts throughout Europe and Japan. The mornings panel discussion is with Donna Grantis of 3rdeyegirl, and Shelby J of the New Power Generation. Shelby tells about her ‘audition’ with Prince; that he acknowledged that she was a good singer and asked her to learn a list of songs in the following few days and announced that her first concert would be preforming with him at the Miami Super Bowl a week later. We follow our purple leader into the NPG music club and listen to Prince stories recounted by David Z, his Minneapolis based music producer and Robert Cubby Colby his sound engineer. They recount 12 hour rehearsal days and grueling concert tour schedules. During one of these panel discussions it is mentioned that shortly before Prince died, he said that he had accomplished all that he had set out to do.
Most of the talented people Prince worked with had a 4 to 10 year run. I feel extremely fortunate to have had an active 8 year run creating his ear wraps, custom pieces exclusively for Prince and to have had the opportunity to make the Love Symbol and Rose Symbol pendants for Paisley Park. Beginning in 1998, Revolution and the NPG band members wore my Moon Ear Wraps and there are photos as recent as 2014 of Ida Neilson of 3rdeyegirl wearing my Moon Ear Wrap. Although Prince’s costumes changed regularly, until his passing, he continued to wear the Crescent Moon Ear Wrap that I designed. Throughout the Celebration I see the moon motif repeated in his costuming, jewelry and in the Paisley Park decor. A banner hangs in the main soundstage of a crescent moon and upon closer inspection, one notices that the crescent is actually Prince’s silhouette.
At the end of the four day Celebration, I have a much better appreciation for Prince’s creative process, a grasp of his genius and the price that he paid to make his magic happen.