Local Current Blog

First Avenue hosts all-night Prince party, plans more celebrations

Photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

In the last couple of years, I’ve heard so many touring artists pay tribute to Prince during their Minnesota tour stops that it’s been almost tempting to let the reverence become routine. Nate Ruess of fun. covered “Let’s Go Crazy” last summer; Francesco Yates (of dancefloor earworm “Sugar” fame) made the pilgrimage to First Avenue in September and told his Fine Line audience about it later that night. Just before Caroline Smith played a show at the Mainroom on April 16, opener Harriet Brown channeled Prince’s style all set long. And the foremost homage on my mind is TV On The Radio’s show-capping version of “Purple Rain,” which they covered for the first time in July at First Avenue.

Now, as the world mourns Prince, it’s become impossible to see anything about him as routine. To celebrate his life, Minnesotans (and road trippers) canceled their plans and flocked to downtown on Thursday night, first gathering outside First Avenue and then dancing all night long in the venue’s Mainroom.

Although a few passing cars blaring the hits got the crowd dancing early, the evening officially began at 8:00 p.m. with a street party hosted outside First Avenue by the venue, The Current, and the City of Minneapolis.

“If you need to cry, cry. If you need to dance, dance. If you need to hug somebody, do that,” said The Current host Jade to those gathered; many cried, and many hugged, but most people had come to dance. A cheer went up when DJ Shannon Blowtorch kicked off the night with “Let’s Go Crazy.”

Almost an hour later, local musicians started performing on a stage just outside First Avenue. Claire de Lune (of tiny deaths) played “When U Were Mine”; deM atlaS performed “Let’s Go Crazy”; Pavielle, Sarah White, Chastity Brown, and Cameron Kinghorn (of Nooky Jones) played some of their favorites, too.

Lizzo flew in to the Twin Cities to sing “The Beautiful Ones” for the street party tribute (she’d also performed it at the Fitzgerald Theater last year). By the time she arrived, the street was so crowded that the crowd had to be asked to move aside so Lizzo could make her way to the stage. “It’s the least I could do,” she said about making the special trip. Wrapping up the performances, the local musicians sang “Purple Rain” together. Blocks of people joined in.

First Avenue couldn’t open its doors to Prince fans until 11:00 p.m., since a sold-out Corey Taylor show already had the space (Taylor performed a cover of “Purple Rain” to open his set). But once they did let people in, several DJs, starting with Jake Rudh, spun all sorts of Prince songs. The crowd’s enthusiasm upon hearing the hits became the dance party’s lifeblood, so songs like “Controversy,” “Kiss,” and “When Doves Cry” played several times over the event’s eight hours.

Staff prevented overcrowding while still welcoming in many fans — even in the busiest evening hours, there was always room to dance. The screen switched between Prince pictures, which spanned from the beginning of his career to very recently, and live video of the crowd.

Paisley Park’s fate as a property is unclear at this point, but with Prince’s passing, it’s become more of a spiritual place than a location. Just like it’s always been, Prince’s home is wherever fans can gather, lose track of time, and dance. Early in the morning on Friday, one DJ asked, “Y’all want to go to Paisley Park?” But I felt like we’d already arrived.

Following Paisley Park tradition, the First Avenue area enjoyed pancakes, thanks to Outlaw Grill Food Truck. The truck started serving free purple pancakes on 1st Avenue around 6:00 a.m.

Just after 6:50 a.m., the DJ cued up the last round of “Purple Rain,” and the dance floor collectively softened. We’d jumped, sweated, grieved, and cried, but we ended in a calm, restful place. We knew each other a bit better, looking around at others who’d endured. As we parted ways, it felt like peace.

Those who missed Thursday’s dance party should look forward to the next couple of nights; on Thursday, First Avenue tweeted, “The dance party continues – tonight, tomorrow night, and Saturday night. No Cover | 18+.”