Prince’s Orbit

Celebrating the late artist from Eugene to Minneapolis’ First Ave, home of Purple Rain

On April 21, the day of Prince’s death, his music could be heard spilling out of bars all over downtown Eugene. A source tells us that dancers at the Silver Dollar Club were dancing to the Purple One, and Voodoo Doughnut made a “Raspberry Beret” memorial doughnut for 99 cents. At (sub)Urban Projections, the multimedia art festival put on by the city at the Hult Center, a Prince shrine was one of the most popular attractions.

Having grown up in Minneapolis in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, I can say Prince’s cultural influence permeated the Twin Cities like a fine violet mist, yet his proximity made it easy to take the Minnesota-born musical genius for granted.

That’s not to say Minnesotans aren’t as fanatical about Prince as the rest of the globe — we are, as has been illustrated this past week with fans flocking to all his stomping grounds, bridges lit up purple and the Twins and the Wild both paying homage — but there was something normalizing, even reassuring, about the Coolest Person on the Planet living in a suburb of a “flyover” state. His legendary recording studio and party pad, Paisley Park, for example, is in Chanhassen, a pretty regular, mostly white, little city of 23,000.

And Prince wasn’t as much of a recluse as the world romanticized him to be. In March, he gave an impromptu performance at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. About a month ago, he showed up at the First Avenue nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, where Purple Rain was filmed. Appearances like this at his favorite haunts were not rare, even recently.

“It never occurred to me that we would be dealing with Prince’s death any time soon,” First Ave manager Nathan Kranz tells EW. “He was just here last month. He looked great; he was dressed up. He had a date on his arm. He had a good time watching local music.”

“And it’s not even just for First Ave — for a guy who has a reputation for being reclusive, you would see him out and about,” Kranz adds. “How many people actually do that — a star of his caliber?”

Kranz says he found out that Prince had passed on his way to work April 21, and when he arrived at First Ave, people had already started to gather around Prince’s star painted on the outside of the venue, leaving flowers, balloons, artwork and letters. That night — and for the following two nights — First Ave hosted a last-minute, all-night block party.

“By the time that got rolling, there were 10,000-plus people out on the street,” Kranz says. “We were turning away thousands of people every night.”

Will Backe, a friend of mine who lives in the Twin Cities, had tickets to see Corey Taylor of Slipknot at First Ave on April 21. He says he wouldn’t have gotten into First Ave otherwise.

“The streets were just throngs of people,” Backe says. “We couldn’t even go into the main entrance of First Ave.”

Backe says he felt bad for the pressure Taylor must have been under to dutifully cover and execute well a Prince song the day he passed away.

“What pressure: You’re in Minneapolis,” he says, adding it would be different “playing in any other city or state, but you’re playing in First Ave, where Prince made that place big. He opened up with Purple Rain.”

After the show, Backe stayed on for some of the all-night dance party, and when his group tried to leave, it was, well, difficult.

“To leave First Ave was almost impossible because there was so many people lined up at the door,” he says. “By that time, they’ve closed the entire street. There was a street party, bands playing outside. It was nuts.”

The block party at First Ave in Minneapolis April 21

He adds of another Minnesota-born musician: “You know when Bob Dylan dies, you’re going to have nothing like that — an all night dance party.”

Kranz says that throughout the weekend, fans were even showing up at 5 am to get in on the dance party before going to work.

He also remembers how Prince’s spell was cast on touring musicians who came through the venue.

“I can tell you the thing I’m most amazed by is the respect that he gets from so many other musicians from across all genres,” he says. “We have musicians who play here and they all want to hear Prince stories. The number of covers I’ve heard of Prince songs during sound checks — it’s all been really amazing to me.”

Kranz himself remembers watching Purple Rain as a kid.

“I grew up seeing that movie and being very aware of Prince,” he says. “That’s really how I got turned on to First Ave is through that movie.” During his childhood, he recalls how his aunt and uncle would tell him about sightings of Prince on his motorcycle around town.

As an adult, he says one Prince memory that stands out is his last show at First Ave in 2007.

“It was the best show I’ve seen here,” Kranz says. “It was weird to set the show up; it happened fairly spontaneously. He didn’t do things the same way as other people. He played on July 7 and we got a phone call on July 4.”

Prince did not sell advance tickets for the show so people had to wait in line and buy them at the door, and because he played an earlier concert at the Target Center arena in Minneapolis that same night, the show at First Ave didn’t start until the middle of the night.

“You can imagine people started flying in from all over the country and getting in line,” Kranz says. “He played all night — well the cops shut us down — he would have played all night. He was halfway done at 4:30 am.”

By this time, Kranz was familiar with Prince’s idiosyncrasies. “He was kind of a playful guy and had a good sense of humor, and he could be a handful to deal with,” he recalls with a laugh.

The reminiscence and celebration of Prince’s life and legacy doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

“MTV is filming here,” Kranz says. “It’s been crazy for days.”

First Ave will host a more official memorial soon. “We have been talking to different people who performed in Prince’s band over the years, and people at Paisley Park,” he says.

And Kranz sums up what pretty much every Minnesotan, and fan, is experiencing right now: “I feel fortunate that we’ve gotten to be in Prince’s orbit.”

If you want to stay in Prince’s orbit locally, Corvallis’ Carmike 12 and Bijou Art Cinemas, joining cinemas nationwide, are airing Purple Rain, and Eugene’s David Minor Theater will start screening the cult classic Friday. If you want to stay in Prince’s orbit locally, Corvallis’ Carmike 12, joining cinemas nationwide, is airing Purple Rain, and Eugene’s David Minor Theater will start screening the cult classic Friday.

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