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How Prince celebrated his own birthday

Photo of the exterior of Paisley Park / Photo courtesy of Paisley Park NPG Records

Later in life, Prince discouraged celebrations of his birthday as part of his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness. But starting with the year Purple Rain debuted, Prince had some memorable parties to celebrate a rotation around the sun. In honor of the 59th anniversary of Prince’s birth, here’s a look back at the highlights, as documented by the Star Tribune in its newly accessible archive.

1984: Birthday bash at First Avenue

At age 26, just before Purple Rain was released, Prince held a private concert at First Avenue. The venue offered $20 tickets to those on its mailing list. His new single “When Doves Cry” was soaring to the tops of charts. Aside from the hit single and “Irresistible Bitch,” Prince played all-new songs for the crowd. “The Revolution, the moniker of Prince’s heretofore unnamed five-member band, sounded amazingly tight for a group that hadn’t performed a concert in its 10 months and Prince seemed a bit more mature in both stage style and musical content,” Michael Anthony reported for the Star Tribune.

1985: A masquerade ball

Prince rang in his 27th birthday at the Prom Center in St. Paul for a purple masquerade ball. 800 people attended, including friends he had flown in from across the country. There, he performed with the Revolution and the Family, as documented by bootlegged recordings. “Inside were giant spiral purple staircases, two big brass beds, glittery booths, candles everywhere, mirrors, mannequins, international food stations, pinball machines and a ‘carnival atmosphere,’ according to one guest,” the Star Tribune reported.

2000: “Prince: A Celebration”

The week of Prince’s 42nd birthday, Paisley Park opened its doors for tours for the first time. About 150 people were lined up at 8 a.m. to buy tickets, even though it opened an hour and a half late, the Star Tribune reported. Every day for a week, fans could get a 10-minute, brief tour for $15. For $70, 2,000 fans got access to many of the rooms, as well as nightly parties. The VIP pass also included access to Prince’s Northrop concert that weekend.

There, 5,000 fans from across the globe took in “3½ hours that summarized the triumphs and (self-inflicted) tragedies of his 23-year career: funky and frustrating, sexy and shallow, spiritual and self-indulgent, boasting and coasting,” Jon Bream wrote. “It was not a concert, as the $50 ticket price might suggest, but rather a sprawling jam like the ones he’s regularly staged late at night on Fridays at Paisley Park in Chanhassen.”

As Andrea Swensson noted in a post about the Paisley Park Celebrations, “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.”

2001: The celebration continues

The next year, Paisley Park offered held an open house (with listening parties for The Rainbow Children) every day for the week of Prince’s birthday, with nightly parties. At a press conference on his birthday, he told reporters, “the first person to wish me a happy birthday gets dropped in the alligator moat.” Filmmaker Kevin Smith was on hand to film footage for a documentary that was never released.

He played two shows that weekend at the Xcel Energy center, where he threw in a few throwback fan favorites he hadn’t played live in years. A crowd of mostly 20- and 30-somethings enjoyed twists and turns thrown into the set, like jazz fusion or gospel numbers, Jim Meyer reported in the Star Tribune. “Only Prince brings the complexity, total unpredictability, musical range, and sense of creative risk to his show. Seeing him in concert these days, you enter a world where delicious beauty meets inspiring devotion,” Meyer wrote. “It’s not quite heaven, but it’s closer than any mainstream pop or funk group dares to reach.”

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