Local Current Blog

Prince fans dance the night away at First Avenue, family parties

A fan at First Avenue. Photos by Emma Roden for MPR.

The thousands-strong singalong to “Purple Rain” at the Memorial Street Party, right at the spot where the Kid once pulled his motorcycle up to the door of First Avenue, may have been the climax to this weekend’s celebrations of Prince’s life and legacy — but it wasn’t the end. As crews efficiently started to clear away the stage and fencing, the Mainroom doors opened for the second of three sold-out Prince-themed dance parties.

DJ Cloud kicked the party off, with Shannon Blowtorch — having just shared street party spinning duties with Sophia Eris — getting ready to tag in as the second of the night’s four DJs. Neither held back on the audience favorites, alternating Prince gold with purple-penned tracks like the Time’s “Jungle Love” and Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life.” Paisley Park regulars might have been reminded of what Prince himself liked to say: “Too many hits!”

Onstage with the DJ table was a purple motorcycle that looked so real, many mistook it for the real thing. In fact, it’s a precise replica of the Purple Rain bike created by a local fan; the original is at Paisley Park.

To the west, in Golden Valley, a long line extended from the door of the Metropolitan Ballroom: a huge venue where Prince’s family were hosting the latest of their “Dance On ‘Til Dawn” parties. (The first such events were held last fall in Minneapolis, during the Revolution’s First Avenue residency.)

As those with tickets waited to get through security, the line was being constantly worked by fans desperate to land a ticket of their own to the sold-out event. Among them were many Celebration attendees who’d come from all over the world, and didn’t want to miss a chance to spend time with Prince’s family and friends.

“I just got a ticket to Paisley Park,” said a man in line behind me, striking up a conversation with other attendees, “and I didn’t think about anything else.” Another fan asked him what he thought of his first visit to Prince’s home and studio. “That man built the ultimate bachelor pad,” he said, adding that the constant reminders of Prince’s dedication to his craft “made me want to work my ass off.”

Inside, house band G-Sharp & the Bizne$$ — who also played last fall’s events, at Muse — were installed as naturally as though they’d been there forever. The grandly draped stage gave the show a luxurious vibe: more Under the Cherry Moon than Purple Rain. Between the band’s sets of Prince hits, DJ Lenka Paris held it down from a table in a VIP section where everyone from Jellybean Johnson to Betsy Hodges could be seen chatting and posing for selfies.

It was an easy stroll from the VIP tier to the stage, and over the course of the night, that stroll was made by some of Prince’s most beloved collaborators. Dez Dickerson and André Cymone shared the stage in a reprise of their SXSW duo act; Donna Grantis of 3RDYEGIRL shared some guitar pyrotechnics; and Apollonia appeared with her Apollonia 6 bandmates Jill Jones and Susan Moonsie for a take on “Nasty Girl.”

That song was originally performed by Vanity 6, predecessor group to Apollonia 6, and the Purple Rain star later paid homage to Vanity. Born Denise Matthews, Vanity died in February 2016; her death profoundly saddened Prince and her many fans. “This show is for Prince,” said Apollonia, “and for Denise.”

In the wee hours, some of the gathered musicians took turns coming up on stage and sharing stories about Prince. Apollonia told the story of her near-death experience in the icy waters of “Lake Minnetonka” during the filming of Purple Rain, and Jones talked about a time in the early ’80s when she was driving Prince’s car and got caught doing so without a license — Prince himself, unamused, had to come bail her out.

André Cymone had another car story, about the time Prince assured him that it was legal to park in a spot on the street where it manifestly was not, and they came back to find themselves towed — not to an impound lot, just up onto the grass. “We just got back in the car,” remembered Cymone, shaking his head, “and drove off.” Touchingly, Cymone also gestured to Omarr Baker, remembering how proud and protective Prince was of his younger brother.

Cymone also provided perhaps the evening’s most truly Prince-like musical moment: after playing “When You Were Mine,” he carried on past the song’s end to rip a quick, juicy solo. Smiling and shrugging as the crowd cheered, he said, “I just felt like doing that.”

First Avenue Late Night Dance Party

Photographer Emma Roden is a student at Normandale Community College.

Dance On ‘Til Dawn at the Metropolitan Ballroom

Above: André Cymone (house band in all photos: G-Sharp & the Bizne$$)

Above: Dez Dickerson

Above: Donna Grantis

Above, l-r: Jill Jones, Apollonia, Susan Moonsie

Above: André Cymone and Jill Jones

Above: Susan Moonsie

Above: Jill Jones

Above: Omarr Baker

Above: Natalya

Steven Cohen is a freelance photographer based in Minneapolis.