Local Current Blog

First Avenue’s overnight dance parties epitomized the spirit of Prince

Top photos courtesy Bobby Kahn, bottom photo by Emmet Kowler for MPR

Like everyone else, I was completely devastated when I heard the news. Even though I had heard about the emergency plane landing a week earlier, it was still a complete shock. He still looked so young and healthy that I assumed we had a lot of time left with him. I knew right away I had to celebrate Prince that night — with as many people as possible.

First Avenue announced their party around 4 p.m. When I heard that there would be an all-night party at the House That Prince Built, it was the first time in hours I felt anything other than sadness. At 4:05 I was in my boss’s office asking if I could take Friday off. He said yes. My friend Camille and I went down early. We got to the block party on 7th Street around 9:15, but there were so many people that we decided to go around the block to the other side of First Avenue, opposite O’ Donovan’s.

I was still sad when I showed up, but the mood was, in a sense, joyous. I found close friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years, but many of my favorite experiences were with strangers. I found two women in the crowd who were wearing purple boas, just like me. We talked about Prince, we hugged and shared some laughs. I can’t remember their names, but I will forever remember those few minutes we shared.

We decided to get in “line” by the door at 9:30. There was no order to it, with people stretched out in every direction. We got as close as we could, which was on the sidewalk under the awning. As we waited, the crowd packed in, especially after the outdoor block party ended at 10. There was no security or police anywhere in sight, and a few people forcefully pushed their way through. It got scary, fights were about to break out (but luckily didn’t). It was uncomfortable, we were packed in very tight and two of my friends were pickpocketed in line. All that said, I would get in that same line next weekend if I could.

We finally made it in at around 11:45, and we were amongst the first few hundred inside. The crowd was very diverse — a rare treat in Minneapolis. I go out dancing nearly every weekend, and that was one of the best dance floors I’ve ever been on. There was a very celebratory feeling in the air. The DJs were playing many of Prince’s hits over and over, and no one cared. I ran in to friends new and old, and had many a conversation with total strangers. It was an incredible night.

As the sun came up, I was actually dancing better than I was when we first got in. I should have been sore and tired, but I felt energetic and happy. The music had taken over completely. This is the feeling I seek (but rarely achieve) every time I step on a dance floor. I saw the clock approach 7 a.m., closing time, and “Purple Rain” came on one last time. I grabbed a friend in each arm, and held them close to me. We hugged for what felt like half the song. The only time I cried since arriving at First Avenue 10 hours earlier was when the music stopped, and all that was left was the image of Prince projected on the screen.

I have had these kinds of experiences before, but never in Minneapolis. Most of them have been at a techno festival in Detroit, during which the entire city gets immersed in music for a few days. I have always wondered when I would experience something like that in my own city, and the Prince celebration was it. I was lucky enough to see Prince play live twice, but clearly I should have been to more of his shows if that was what I was after. Prince continues to bring us together, even in death.

When I finally got home at 8 a.m, I decided I needed to take a night off but I would need to go do this again on Saturday. As a techno and house fan, I was very excited to hear Mike Gervais and his System team would be putting on a party in the Entry to accompany the one in the Mainroom. My friends and I are no strangers to being on a dance floor past sunrise. It’s common practice in our world — but usually, we have to hide ourselves away from the world in some grubby building on the corner of town, hoping to avoid the eyes and ears of police. Being able to attend an all-night party at First Avenue was a dream come true.

The lineup in the Entry featured several local house DJs as well as DJ Hyperactive (whose name Daft Punk once dropped) and Bryan Black, who is best known to the world as the techno DJ Black Asteroid. Black lives in New York City currently, but is from Minneapolis and worked for Prince at Paisley Park in the 90s. His band, Haloblack, was invited to play at Paisley Park, and he was hired after the show.

Local house DJs Ghetto and Christian James got the night started before Black took over. The night started as all Prince, but it crept into house and techno territory as the party entered its second hour. The music got a bit tougher during Black’s set, but with a very clear Prince flavor. He played a set of Prince outtakes as well as covers of Prince songs he’s done over the years with various projects, and tracks inspired by Prince. He tied the whole thing together by using synths and drum machines over the top.

Hyperactive, who is from Chicago and is no stranger to Minneapolis, took the party even further down a techno path. At first when the music strayed from Prince I wasn’t happy, but I remembered that the music being played was a direct descendent of his music. Before DJ Man-X ever played house music at any late-night parties at Hair Police, Prince was going all night with anyone who could keep up. Enough of my DJ friends have good Prince stories that it’s safe to say he would have spent plenty of time in the Entry if he were there on Saturday. This was a fitting tribute to Prince.

Local house DJ E-tones closed out the night, which ended at around 6:45 in the Entry. Went over to the Mainroom to catch the end of the party in there, and I was surprised to see the dance floor still packed. At the end of Thursday’s party, there were about 250 people there — for Saturday’s, there had to be at least a thousand.

Prince makes me proud to say that I’m from Minneapolis, so it’s no surprise that a huge party in his honor like this left me in awe of the people of Minneapolis. There was some magic happening that weekend down at First Avenue, and I can’t thank the staff and the people I danced with enough for making that possible.

I was still glowing from the parties until Monday, but then the tears started coming back. Not just for Prince but for the thought that something like what happened at First Avenue this weekend can only happen for something sad.

Maybe I am wrong but I think one reason I’ve had so many great musical experiences in Detroit and not here is because the city of Minneapolis does not embrace music the way many other cities do. There’s so much red tape, and the policies are so strict. It’s time to lighten up. Now that Prince is gone and there are no more surprise invites to Paisley Park, we have a huge funky hole that needs to be filled.

What happened at First Avenue that weekend was incredible. It was a very uplifting and powerful experience, and it was worthy of Prince. I will remember small details of what happened those nights for the rest of my life. I hope we can do it again some time, and maybe this time we don’t wait for something sad to happen?

The best way to honor Prince would be to continue to get together and have a good time: “white, black, Puerto Rican, everybody just a-freakin’,” as the Artist himself once said. Minneapolis, I look forward to doing this again sometime.

Bobby Kahn is a writer, cable access television producer, performer, dance class instructor, accountant, and lifelong resident of Minneapolis. He used to be shy and scared of dancing, but since then he was chosen by the funk to serve as one of its ambassadors.

  • Matthew Lipschultz

    Just for a different, POV, me and two friends went down on Saturday night, 4-23-16. Just some quick background that at 43yrs old, I’ve been a life-long Prince fanatic, always buying his newest album, or paying to attend a live show. I expected that even despite the all-ages allowance to the club that night, there’d be a strong majority of hard-core fans that like myself, knew every word to every song. That coupled with attention on the music and dancing and celebrating, I thought my expectations were reasonable.
    That’s why i was so disappointed to find I felt mostly alone as i shook my ample ass and sang along to every song. I was the outlier, and the norm was in only knowing the biggest hits, and even then, the normative behavior for the night was hiding behind one’s mobile device and recording the action as an observer, rather than putting down the phone and living in the moment.

    The DJs themselves? Stunning that there were no B-sides or hidden gems being jammed. It was a rotation of a dozen of his most well known hit, only spread apart by roughly an hours time, before hearing “Kiss” again and again? It was a blast and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We got in around 2am, and stayed until almost 6. When we got outside, the lines along 7th and along 1st Ave were just as long as when we’d entered. Hopefully, in his passing, more of the younger generation will gain access to, and an appreciation of his artistry and extraordinary musical output. Thanks for the article.