When Prince lovers from around the world descend on Chanhassen next week to attend the four-day Celebration 2017, it will be at least the fourth time that such an event has been held at Paisley Park. Which may come as a surprise for those who were only passively following Prince’s career in his post-Warner Bros. era; as Prince became more and more focused with using the internet to connect directly to his fans, he also began hosting more public events at Paisley Park than he ever had in the building’s history.
In the late 1990s, it was common for Prince to host concerts at Paisley Park nearly every weekend. Minneapolis residents had already become accustomed to being treated to after-hours jam sessions from Prince at his downtown nightclub, Glam Slam, and by the end of the decade he had transitioned to hosting more of those 1 a.m. shindigs at his own compound. When the mood was just right, Prince and his band would emerge and play for hours; on especially epic nights at Paisley, fans would greet the rising sun and chirping birds as they exited the complex after the show.
It was obvious that Prince relished the opportunity to welcome his “fams” into his own space, and eventually these last-minute, late-night parties would morph into something more elaborate and pre-planned. They would be known as “Celebrations,” and would occur annually for much of the early 2000s as Prince figured out how to maximize his newfound freedom.
The first Celebration came at a pivotal time in Prince’s career: After years of disputing his contract with Warner Bros. and changing his name to an unpronounceable Love Symbol in protest, Prince announced on May 16, 2000 that his Warner contract had expired and he would revert back to using his birth name. At a press conference held in New York that day, Prince revealed that he would host a week of festivities billed as “Prince: A Celebration” that would throw open the doors of his studios for the first time.
“People who have supported my music through the years never really got a chance to go inside Paisley Park,” he said at the press conference, as reported in Rolling Stone. “A lot of changes have happened there recently. It’s a more public-friendly place. All the studios are opening back up, and they’ll be ready for business in August. There’s just a lot to do there and I’d like for them to see what they helped create — the interaction that went on with us throughout the years that actually painted the joint.”
Here’s a brief look at what went down at “Prince: A Celebration” in 2000 and 2001, and at a similar event called “Xenophobia” that Prince hosted at Paisley Park in 2002.
Event: Prince: A Celebration
Dates: June 7-13, 2000
Format: Seven days of tours and nightly parties at Paisley Park, plus a closing “jam” at Northrop Auditorium by Prince and special guests on June 13.
According to MTV, who reported on the announcement of Prince: A Celebration that year, “Prince will allow ticketed fans to enter his Paisley Park domain every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., during which the attendants will tour the Artist’s recording studios, personal offices, wardrobe rooms, and soundstages. Many of Prince’s own personal memorabilia will be on display for the “Celebration,” including his 20 gold and platinum certifications, his multiple Grammy Awards, and the infamous motorcycle from the “Purple Rain” album cover and film. The Paisley Park tour will also include an interactive element in which visitors can vote on which of Prince’s unreleased songs should be issued on future New Power Generation albums. Prince is also staging a series of ‘dancetildawn’ parties each night of the exhibition, with the all-night shows featuring costumed dancers, screenings of Prince’s vintage concert footage, and performances by several as-yet-unnamed guests.”
Performers: Taja Seville, TKO, Best Kept Secret, the Fonky Bald Heads, Mint Condition, Dayz of Wild, and Macy Gray each performed gigs at Paisley Park. At Northrop, Prince was joined on stage by Angie Stone, Doug E. Fresh, Q-Tip, Maceo Parker, Larry Graham, and the Hornheadz — plus, for a few shining moments, the Revolution’s Bobby Z, Dr. Fink, and Brownmark, who performed “America” with Prince.
Ripple Effects: Prince’s “fams” were ecstatic at the opportunity to tour Prince’s studios for the first time. Rich Benson, who says he’s attended well over 100 events at Paisley Park, was at the entire 2000 Celebration and recalls the exhilarating experience of stepping into Prince’s world and meeting music lovers from around the world. “I never really saw how much he touched people until that week,” Benson recalled. He says a “Purple Time Tunnel” of major moments in Prince’s career had been added to the hallway outside the studios for Celebration, which still remains at Paisley Park today, and that the tour led people through nearly every room of the complex, including the garage where Prince parked his cars and the Pre-Vault Room that leads to Prince’s career-spanning vault of unreleased material.
Event: Prince: A Celebration
Dates: June 11-16, 2001
Format: In addition to daytime tours and nightly concerts in the Paisley Park soundstage, the second installment of Celebration included group discussions guided by Prince himself. He was preparing to release his new album, The Rainbow Children, that explored religious themes and was inspired by his recent conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and Celebration 2001 was the first time anyone had the opportunity to hear the album or read the song’s lyrics. Fans of film director Kevin Smith may recall this is also the year he was tapped to visit Paisley Park to film the conversations for a documentary that was never released, and that Smith recounted his visit to Paisley in detail on his DVD An Evening with Kevin Smith. As with the 2000 event, Celebration 2001 capped off with two nights of concerts at an off-site venue; Prince and the NPG played back-to-back shows at the Xcel Energy Center on June 15 and 16.
Performers: Erykah Badu, Common, Alicia Keys, Nikka Costa, the Fonky Bald Heads, and the Time all performed at Paisley Park. The Fonky Bald Heads also opened for Prince and the NPG at the final show at the Xcel.
Ripple Effects: Attendees generally agree that the 2001 installment of Celebration was even bigger and better than the inaugural event — likely because the event was planned much further in advance and announced with enough time for even more people to travel from even further distances to attend. Highlights included a surprise appearance from Prince during Erykah Badu and Common’s performance of the song “The Light.”
Many of the reviews of the 2001 Celebration centered around the fact that the first concert Prince played at the Xcel was seriously delayed, leaving attendees crammed in the concourses of the arena for over an hour while Prince sound-checked. (“They got us packed in here like cattle,” one disgruntled ticketholder told a Pioneer Press reporter that night.) Once the show started, however, Prince and the NPG received rave reviews. “Seeing him in concert these days, you enter a world where delicious beauty meets inspiring devotion. It’s not quite heaven but it’s closer than any mainstream pop or funk group dares to reach,” Jim Meyer wrote in his review for the Star Tribune. Despite the positive reactions to his music, it would seem that the local press’s patience with Prince was wearing thin during this time; the next year’s events would barely be covered by the daily papers.
Xenophobia: 7 Nights Alone with Prince
Dates: June 21-27, 2002
Format: Clearly inspired by the more discussion-oriented format of Celebration 2001, Prince emphasized the importance of confronting and dissecting social issues with his 2002 event, Xenophobia. The seven-day gathering offered tours, panel discussions, clinics with musicians like Sheila E., and nightly concerts in the Paisley Park soundstage. And Xenophobia came with an added bonus: Prince would perform each night with a cast of special opening guests. Having just wrapped up his short One Night Alone… tour and releasing a live album of the same name, Prince performed two of the nights unaccompanied (one night he performed on piano and another on guitar), foreshadowing his 2016 Piano and a Microphone tour.
Performers: Maceo Parker, Sheila E., Victor Wooten, Norah Jones, Bernard Allison, Musiq Soulchild, and Rachelle Ferrell.
Ripple Effects: The majority of the “fams” who attended the three different Celebrations learned about the event through Prince’s websites, NPGonlineLTD.com and the NPG Music Club, and Prince seemed to want to bring his appreciation for his most devoted followers full-circle when he offered special recordings of Xenophobia to members of the NPG Music Club. “Xenophobia – Coming soon 2 a monitor near U,” a message proclaimed on the site, saying that soon members would be mailed a seven CD box set, with each disc containing a different night of the Xenophobia concerts by Prince. Unfortunately, the box set never materialized.
Event: Celebration 2017
Dates: April 20-23, 2017
Format: Daily tours and panel discussions featuring Prince’s clothing designers, photographers, web developers, and business associates, plus live performances by artists who worked with Prince throughout his career.
Performers: The Revolution, Morris Day and the Time, the New Power Generation, and 3RDEYEGIRL.
Ripple Effects: While the success of this year’s event remains to be seen, looking back on the previous Celebrations, it’s clear just how closely the 2017 installment has been modeled on the ones preceding it. Much ado has already been made about the event’s ticket prices, but with “fams” traveling to Minnesota from around the world and tickets nearly sold out, it’s clear that the desire for such an event to mark the one-year anniversary of Prince’s passing is strong. And for the Prince historians out there, this will also mark the first time that the Revolution will perform at Paisley Park — the band dissolved in 1986, a year before Paisley opened.