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New Power Generation, 3RDEYEGIRL close out this year’s Celebration

NPG keyboardist Morris Hayes performs at Paisley Park on April 23, 2017 for Celebration. (Steve Parke, courtesy Paisley Park)

And exhale.

Celebration, the four-day event at Paisley Park, came to an weighty close yesterday in front of approximately 2,000 fans (1,000 people in each track). Sunday’s program capped a long weekend of storytelling, jamming, mourning, and of course, dancing in Minneapolis, all centered around the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death. From the panels to the New Power Generation/3RDEYEGIRL live performance, it felt right to experience Paisley Park alongside his global family — and reminded me how much I love home.

After a few opening remarks, Celebration host Damaris Lewis (a model and dancer on Prince tours) introduced the first session of the day: a partial screening of the Nude Tour Tokyo show from August 31, 1990 (from the beginning halfway through “The Question Of U” [Graffiti Bridge]).

My new friend, Nicola from Italy/Brazil, told me the video was a bit of a let-down after such treasures from the previous days (including 45 minutes of Prince’s Paisley Piano and a Microphone). Every hardcore fan, he told me about the Tokyo show, “already knew every note.”

He’s certainly the one to trust. At the same time, the footage had some great points — I found Prince’s international popularity and precise dancing mighty to behold. There’s even an interlude where he simply makes faces — he mostly smirks — at the audience. When Rosie Gaines starts rapping a cover of “It Takes Two,” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, he cracks, “Did I write that?”

My favorite session of the day found Shelby J. (NPG vocalist), Donna Grantis (3RDEYEGIRL guitarist), Adrian Crutchfield (NPG Hornz saxophonist), Kip Blackshire (NPG keyboardist/vocalist) and Lewis on a panel discussing their connections to Prince. They each told the story of how they “turned purple”; in almost every case, they didn’t know they were auditioning until after some performance where Prince was conveniently in the building. He’d what he heard, so he approached or contacted each of them and casually asked if they would join his band. “Life is an audition. You never know when your audition’s coming to come,” Lewis said.

Crutchfield called out a young audience member, saying, “You are the Next Power Generation.” He implored fans to pass Prince’s music on to young people. “If we do that,” he said, “Prince is immortal.”

Next up, my group went to the smaller-sized NPG Club for another panel — this time with Robert “Cubby” Colby (Prince’s front-of-house engineer on all major tours from 1980-88) and David Z (recording engineer and brother to Revolution drummer Bobby Z). The two men, plus moderator/Paisley Park recording engineer Scott LeGere, offered their perspective on working for Prince behind the scenes.

Hardcore fans would have found many of their stories familiar: for example, the one about Warner Bros. not putting out “Kiss” until Prince forced their hand. But the petite details gave the mythology life. “We’d put guitars underwater just to make them sound weird,” David said. Cubby shared, “I saw the sun rise all over the world with him.”

A story that had the crowd belly-laughing took place in a fancy resturant. David, Prince, and the band hadn’t been working together for too long when they went out for an expensive meal, kids in an ornate dining room. What no one else knew was that David had smuggled a “teeny squirt gun” in his pocket. He shot it at a man a few tables over without tipping anyone off; once Prince realized what was happening, he wanted a turn. The then-dripping patron called over the server, and while the band could hardly keep it together, he complained, “Your air conditioning is leaking!”

Following up earlier performances by George Clintonthe Revolution, and the Time, the New Power Generation and 3RDEYEGIRL teamed up to bring home Celebration’s last concert. It could’ve been billed as an NPG show featuring 3RDEYEGIRL instead of a joint show; guitarist Donna Grantis and bassist Ida Nielsen only played a few songs, and the setlist didn’t feature any of their material with Prince. But as Andrea Swensson pointed out on her “Minneapolis Sound” Local Show, Prince’s band have become like a single family.

Celebration attendees saw that in the setlist on Sunday, which featured not just NPG classics like “Cream” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” but Revolution track “Pop Life” and Sign O The Times standards “Hot Thing” and “Housequake.” While André Cymone hopped on stage for several songs, including “Uptown” and “Do Me, Baby” (which he wrote), NPG vocalists Shelby J. and Liv Warfield led “U Got The Look,” “Kiss,” and “Purple Rain.”

Well, they sort of led “Kiss” and “Purple Rain.” Liv and Shelby sang parts of both songs, backed by a band that included Grantis, Nielsen, Levi Seacer, Jr. (guitar), Tommy Barbarella (keys), Morris Hayes (keys), Blackshire (vocals), MonoNeon (bass), Kirk Johnson (drums), and many of the NPG Hornz. But for those songs, they deferred to a “Welcome 2”-era Prince performing both those songs on video. The most hotly debated component of the show, Prince’s appearance felt like a hologram to me. Its momentary comfort felt artificial, yet when it faded away, it hurt.

I was happy that so many people filled the soundstage, realizing I’d never seen it near max capacity. Paisley probably should’ve folded up most of the chairs for the show, the last event of the day; standing in rows seemed to inhibit dancing. But especially after scooting into an aisle, I enjoyed the performance.

André Cymone performs at Paisley Park on April 23, 2017 for Celebration. Photo by Steve Parke courtesy of Paisley Park Studios.

The communal lunch reminded me of a mess hall or cruise ship dining room, where strangers from all over bond over food. I met a couple from California and a woman from Texas during my meal, and all of their eyes bugged when I said I was from Minneapolis. “I should have moved here years ago,” the woman told me. They all said I was lucky.

And I am. Not just because I love the Twin Cities. But because I got to drive to Paisley Park whenever Prince announced a show. Because I got to take my then-13-year-old sister to a Prince show before it was too late. And now, I get to commute twenty minutes to meet Purple Army members from all over the world.

After such a profound, non-stop experience, it’s easy to get restless in real life. Where’s the next surprise? The emotional high? Even though I slept in my own bed every night, I feel like I’m returning to normal after from a vacation (albeit an especially intense one).

Those who miss the roller coaster can look forward to next year’s Celebration; a Paisley executive announced it onstage for April 2018. In the meantime, Lewis urged the crowd, “This was Prince’s home […] Take care of where you call home.”

I’ll be right here in Minneapolis.

Cecilia Johnson | MPR