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Celebration 2019: Prince superfans share their favorite moments

Fans dance onstage during 'Prince: Live on the Big Screen' at the Armory, April 2019. Below: Jesse Johnson, Funk Soldiers. (all photos: Steve Parke for the Prince Estate)

A week after Paisley Park’s Celebration 2019, we asked attendees to share their impressions.

De Angela L. Duff

Traveling to Paisley Park in April has become an annual pilgrimage. This year it was hard to not be at Paisley Park on April 21. I had grown used to being there the past two years. Because Celebration was later than usual due to Easter, I was anxious to get there this year.

The day one highlight for me was by far Jesse Johnson’s performance at Paisley Park, a perfect way to begin the Celebration. Jesse Johnson was on fire. Hearing “Addiction” live from his second solo release, Shockadelica, was truly special.

The day two highlight was the Jeff Katz panel. The exclamations from the audience in response to the additional unreleased photos he shared were proof that Jeff Katz definitely needs to release a book for those of us who can’t afford to purchase the amazing, limited-edition, prints he has just revealed. I really appreciated that he only came in for these panels, despite his busy schedule and that this was his very first public talk, demonstrating that he really cared about Prince.

The day three highlight was the Bob Cavallo panel. I could have listened to him all day long. I learned a lot that I never knew. It’s my favorite panel from all three Celebrations combined. The day four highlight was seeing the Revolution perform. It’s always an amazing experience, but this time around Wendy’s guitar playing was even more stellar than usual, and Brownmark’s bass playing is always on point — particularly for “Let’s Work.” It’s a hard bass line to nail, and he’s the only person who can play it right.

However, my favorite musical performance by far was not at Paisley Park; LP music (Eric Leeds and Paul Peterson) at Icehouse on Friday night was mesmerizing. They performed the bulk of their album, No Words, which I supported on PledgeMusic and have been playing constantly since I received the CD in the mail.

Another non-Paisley Park musical highlight was seeing Sue Ann Carwell at the Minnesota Music Cafe on Saturday night. Hearing her sing the Jesse-Johnson-produced “Affecttion,” originally recorded by Ta Mara and The Seen for their 1985 debut, was an awesome extension of Jesse’s undeniable presence this year. Also, it was great to hear St. Paul sing “Mutiny,” also at the Minneapolis Music Cafe for Legacy — A Night Supporting Youth Music Education, since he didn’t sing at the LP music show.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Minneapolis, as I always do. I will continue to come to the Celebration at Paisley Park every year for as long as I live. Paisley Park must be supported so that the complex that Prince built for us can continue to be open so that we can realize his vision of us all being together and having fun.

“Fun. Now, there’s a wonderful word!”
– Prince, Under the Cherry Moon

De Angela L. Duff is creator and organizer of the Prince Batdance and EYE NO Lovesexy symposia, and producer/co-host of Grown Folks Music’s Inside the Album Prince and Prince-related podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

KaNisa Williams

This year marked my third Celebration. I always look forward to the Funk Soldiers’ concerts and once again they did not disappoint! They offered a cross-catalog musicology lesson, even performing unreleased music that Prince did that you may only be aware of if you were lucky enough to witness his stop at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2013. I also love how they incorporated local talent — from the young Black women who danced to Madhouse “13,” to the horn players who joined with the NPG horns for “Shade of Umber.” They did a great job of reminding attendees of the other work Prince did that extended beyond his “hits” and perfectly provided references by displaying associated album covers and music videos too!

The panels were also enlightening, my favorites being Jesse Johnson and Bob Cavallo. It’s so easy to forget that Prince wasn’t always a huge star: he had humble beginnings and societal challenges as well! It is important to hear accounts about a young Prince trying to find his way in an industry that pigeonholed Black artists. Cavallo speaking to this specifically, at length, was important. For Johnson, looking back to when we were all in our 20s and the mistakes we made in our lives and in our relationships, to hear his dynamic with Prince mirrors those challenges, makes them all the more relatable. It’s inspiring to know that it is possible to grow in compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and love as we grow older…and wiser too.

KaNisa Williams, better known as Darling Nisi, hosts the Muse 2 the Pharaoh podcast as a subsidiary of the Podcast on Prince by Michael Dean. Twitter and Tumblr: @darlingnisi.

Casey Rain

Celebration 2019 was firing on all levels. After 2018, I’d actually sent Paisley an e-mail of suggestions, and at the top of that list I asked them to try and book Jesse Johnson. His talk was incredible, sincere, cathartic, and heartfelt. To truly understand Prince we must acknowledge all sides of his personality, and with Jesse we have two people who both loved each other and clashed with equal force. Both his talk and his electric performance were healing for both him and us.

Other highlights for me include the showing of August 14, 2007 footage from London. Not only was I at that show, but that was the night I met Prince, so to see it again was deeply emotional for me. Finally, between the Revolution and the Funk Soldiers you get both the hits and the jams. The Revolution doing “Computer Blue” and Funk Soldiers pulling out “Old Friends 4 Sale” were mindblowing to see. Thank U Paisley Park, the family, the Estate; and thank U to all the incredible purple fam we met this week. Most importantly, thank U Prince — we love U. 💜”

Casey Rain is co-founder of The Violet Reality on YouTube, “the channel for hardcore Prince fans”!

Kim Camilia

My highlights were the showing of the Musicology LA show, particularly the acoustic part where Prince joked with the audience and seemed really happy. All the concerts are where Paisley Park really comes alive, and I loved seeing the Revolution up close, especially their emotional performance of “Purple Rain.” Also loved hearing Jeff Katz tell the stories behind iconic photos from the Parade and Sign O’ the Times eras. Jesse Johnson’s performance and talk really set the tone for the whole event too and seemed to give him a chance at closure and healing. Thank you to Paisley Park, everyone involved, and, of course, to Prince for bringing us all together.

Kim Camilia is co-founder of The Violet Reality.

Eloy Lasanta

Day one highlight: Jesse Johnson. I have to admit that I came into Celebration 2019 as a clean slate. It was up to Jesse Johnson to win me over, and he certainly did. He was incredible — he killed it. Hearing Jesse live gave me an all-new impression of him as an artist and I need to do a review of his work soon. His guitar playing really floored me. Definitely something to dive deeper into.

Day two highlight: Live on the Big Screen. Friday had a lot of things going for it, but the Prince Live on the Big Screen event was the star this year. Those who know me know that last year’s experience was quite emotional for me, but my expectations were clear going into Celebration 2019. The lineup was different on stage this year, and the setlist was focused more on Prince this time around. It made it feel like an amazing, stadium-wide singalong. We were all together enjoying the music and sharing our mutual love for this man that we call Prince.

Day three highlight: the Funk Soldiers. I know I just gushed about the band at Prince: Live on the Big Screen, but that same band performed at Paisley Park on Saturday too. They opened on “Rock and Roll is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis),” and ended on “Act of God,” two of my all-time favorite Prince songs. Chance Howard joined Shelby J. and Kip Blackshire on vocals and the three together destroyed the stage!

Day four highlight: the Revolution panel. Not only did I gain a greater appreciation for the relationship between Prince and members of the Revolution, but they spoke to certain truths that all us Prince Friends feel, but haven’t been able to vocalize. Lisa Coleman said it best: “When Prince died, he gave us to each other.” I’ve been carrying that sentiment with me ever since returning home, and I plan to carry that on into the future. It’s up to all of us.

Eloy Lasanta heads up the Prince’s Friend YouTube channel, exploring music through Prince. You can find him at http://youtube.com/PrincesFriend or @PrincesFriendYT on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Chloe Calvin

This year was my first time attending Celebration and also my first time travelling to America. I wanted to do everything!

I was worried about going on this trip because I buried a lot of grief over the past three years. I felt guilty attending Celebration because Prince asked me to come down for the PAM Gala in January 2016 but I declined because the weather was too cold. I did promise him that I would come in summer 2016 but never got the chance because he passed that April. I used this trip to fulfill a broken promise and a chance for me to gain some closure.

My highlights: Jeff Katz and Jesse Johnson panels were entertaining and informative. One day it would be nice to see Jeff Katz releasing a book on his photographs. Jesse expressing his side of his story on him being a hater but hurting and crushed on what happened between him and Prince was an eye-opener.

My favorite quotes from Jesse Johnson’s panel:
“Love, respect you. Do you!”
“It’s not the quality of the equipment. It’s the talent.”

The NPG Funk Soldiers (Kat Dyson, Xavier Taplin, Michael Herring, Ida Nielsien, and Kip Blackshire) panel in the NPG Music Club. They played “Dreamin’ About U” at the beginning of the panel. Talked about the making of “Look At Me, Look At U” for Hit N Run Phase Two (2013) and the Funky Bald Heads (’90s).

My favourite quotes from the NPG Funk Soldiers panel:
“Everything he does was intended.”
“He was pushing himself and anyone around him.”
“If it wasn’t good enough, he would leave.”

Meeting Tyka and giving her a hug gave me a sign of relief. Despite all the negative comments said about her online, meeting her made her more human to me. I had a sense of understanding that she is hurting having to deal with this massive task to preserve her brothers legacy the right way.

The opening statement for the first day of Celebration:
“Paisley Park is about Family. The family will soon take control on the estate. Give help, positivity, be kind towards the family. Keep the legacy alive. Enjoy!”

Meeting my Podcast Juice and Muse 2 The Pharaoh family. If they didn’t convince me to come this year I wouldn’t have gone. I had a moment in Electric Fetus buying Prince’s favorite essence sticks Garden of Eden; I felt his presence heavily.

I wish Bob Cavallo talked more about the making of Under the Cherry Moon, as Parade is my era. His stories on the early years of Prince’s career was quite refreshing for a young fan as myself, as I could see myself in similar struggles. The Graffiti Bridge panel was interesting when they mention it was more of an visual album, which helped me look at the film in a different perspective.

The doves cooing after my pink jumpsuit as I was the last person to leave the atrium in my tour was a fun moment because they got real loud. My bad!

Shelby J coming to dance next to me while the Revolution were performing on the sound stage at Paisley. Meeting Tony Christian from Mazarati (the bad boys of Paisley; if the Revolution and the Time had a baby it would be Mazarati). Just being in Paisley Park was good enough for me.

Magical musical moments: Watching Prince on the Big Screen at the Armory felt like he was physically on stage with the band, which was a bittersweet moment. The Funk Soldiers performing “U Make My Sun Shine” and Madhouse “Thirteen”: I was losing my mind because they were performing some of my favorite songs in the building that they were created in.

The Revolution were amazing as always. I wish that they changed some of the songs on the setlist for Celebration to make the performance a bit more special for the occasion.

Listening to the unreleased track in Studio A broke me, as I always wanted Prince to create a jazz album.

Overall impressions: The energy exchange in Paisley Park felt like I was at home. Next year they should have pancakes on the menu during the lunch break. The city, the people, and the music made me understand a bit more why Prince was the way he was. I wouldn’t change anything about my trip or Celebration; I just wish he was still here. Celebration felt like a university seminar on Purple music. As long as we can still attend the legacy will live 4ever!

The energy never dies.

Chloe Calvin, nicknamed by Prince as C.C., is a London-based radio presenter and Purple enthusiast. You can find her at chloecalvin.com, Chloe Calvin on Facebook, Instagram @chloe.calvin, or @Lil_MissCC on Twitter.

Michael Dean

The early standout was watching the Time’s Oct. 4, 1983 performance from First Ave on video. Having heard that audio on bootleg for many years, now seeing it at Paisley Park was a head-buster! I felt that was a great way to start the Celebration and lead into Jesse Johnson. As for Jesse…he was up there testifying, and the church said amen!

I also enjoyed Bob Cavallo’s panel. Hearing stories about the making of Purple Rain was very entertaining and informational. I would think Paisley could include some of his comments as video snippets in the Purple Rain room as part of the museum.

The other thing that stands out in my mind was sitting inside the recording studios and listening to songs like “Rock N Roll Love Affair.” The engineer Jason Miller played the track for us, breaking down how Prince would start with the drums and add other instruments during the recording process. I could have stayed in that room the whole weekend and listened to those isolated track parts.

Lastly, just going to Paisley Park and being in the presence of excellence is inspiring to me. It’s a true testament to Prince’s work ethic and determination that Paisley Park exists.

Michael Dean is the host of the Podcast on Prince and the Work It Like a Job podcasts, founder of Podcastjuice.net.

  • This is my third Celebration. For me, it was the best of the three. I felt our feedback was truly heard for the most part and felt this was the smoothest Celebration since 2017. Highlights for me were Jesse Johnson. He was raw, vulnerable, truthful and it was a pleasure to hear him speak about his relationship with Prince and their history as well as his regrets. I also appreciated learning more about the history of that relationship and its challenges. His show was wonderful. Jesse can shred!!

    I also loved the panels by Jeff Katz (his photos are beyond!) as well as Bob Cavallo. Wow!!! He really shared some wonderful history about the making of Purple Rain and just cemented what we know. Prince had a clear vision of his destiny at a very young age. Bob helped him realize that in many ways and it was a pleasure to hear from him! Can’t wait til next year!!

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  • JS at MN

    I’ve attended all three. This year I did VIP and spent well over 2k in all for this event. I Did email some suggestions regarding venue, food, parking and events last year. Food did not change, fold up crammed together chairs with no cushions did not change. PROS: Jessie Johnson and the Concert at the Armory and Funk Soldiers with Andre on horns and Shelby J on vocals. THE Revolution always. CONS: pretty much everything else. Crowds charge into doors when seating for PP shows and panels which is annoying and someone bound to get hurt. Those who bring kids when the kids have no interest in being there just used as pawns to get on stage also annoying. Last year was told VIP would be very special… Umm did not gather what that was except for the after party at the Armory but there were after parties all over town. So… Likely will be last one hate to say… I do miss him terribly but this just not doing it for me any longer. Needs to be totally revamped and done differently. Less sitting, more fun, more dancing and more songs…we know he has them!