Local Current Blog

Julius Collins talks about upcoming Prince tributes with NPG members at the Fine Line

Julius Collins performs at the Memorial Street Party outside First Avenue in Minneapolis, April 22, 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Members of the New Power Generation have announced a trio of Prince tribute concerts. They’ll fill the Fine Line Music Cafe with Prince hits and fellowship on June 8, 9, and 10. Vocalist Julius Collins — who joined the band Michael Bland assembled for last month’s Memorial Street Party — will be part of the Fine Line shows, and he recently talked with Andrea Swensson about the group’s plans. Tune in to the Local Show this coming Sunday, June 4, to hear Andrea talk with Bland as well.

Andrea Swensson: Take me back to the beginning of the life of this tribute. I was there last year, and it was at the Parkway Theater. It was fantastic, but it was also a very emotional time. I’m wondering what that experience was like for you, because just a couple of weeks had passed since Prince’s death.

Julius Collins: It was remarkable, both good and bad. I’ve been longtime friends with three of those guys that played in the New Power GenerationAt the time, I asked Mike what he wanted to do — if he wanted to do anything, frankly — and he said, “Well, if I did anything, I’d want to do something kind of small and intimate. It would be more about us getting our stuff out and expressing ourselves.” I think it was a more of a cathartic event for those guys. The rehearsals…they were [emotionally] rough. These are three, really tough dudes, with thick skin, and obviously they worked with Prince.

We’re talking about Michael Bland, Tommy Barbarella, Sonny T.

Yeah, these are my brothers, but it was really different seeing them through this process. They clearly were traumatically affected by this. There’s a lot of emotion in the rehearsals. A lot of emotion. There was a lot of back-and-forth even leading up to the show, in decisions about whether it would happen even up to the very end. It was something else.

This time around, I think it’s more of a celebratory kind of vibe. I think Michael wanted to do it again, it was his idea. Even for me, being a little bit on the periphery — I was managed by Prince. Michael and I had a rock band, that’s how I ended up in Minnesota. But it was a little bit of a different relationship, obviously, than the one they had with him — but just even being friends with those guys and knowing what I knew and being in that family on some level, there’s was a lot of heaviness.

This time around, I think it’s just about celebrating the guy and his music and their relationships with them. There are going to be no shortage of Prince tributes, I imagine, going on around the world, particularly in Minnesota. This is a very specific event and probably won’t ever happen again. For me, it’s about them. It’s about them and their experiences with him. It’s about the fact that they actually play this music in every corner of the earth. To me that’s just precious, and there’s something historical about it.

Do you have a favorite song to sing?

You know, I don’t. There’s just so much there, there’s just a ton of stuff to love. I’ve got a balladeer in me so I love “Damn U.” I love “Computer Blue,” there’s no shortage of stuff that can just really get you off [in] this music. I said “get off”…hilarious!

Maybe we should play that song, then.

[sings] “Gett off…”

In addition to the actual shows at the Fine Line Music Cafe, you’re doing some other special activities around the shows — like this Corvette show?

Yeah, one of the things that we like to do in “Collins Live” is bring sort of a three-dimensional experience to them. One of my partners, a very experienced makeup artist, she has lots of glamorous and fancy friends and fashion. So, we like to bring all of that to the party. In this case, we have some great sponsors who are helping out: Rosedale Chevrolet is donating a Corvette that’s going to be painted by Linda Clayton, who’s amazing, and we’re going to have that displayed across the street. There’s going to be some pre-parties going on every night across the street at Bark and the Bite. It will get people the chance to vamp up to the shows and have something to do, and Linda will be over there with the Corvette and some of her other art. There will be delicious food, it will just be a great vibe.