TRUE STORY: I Saw Prince In Concert For The First Time In My Life & I Am Changed
I opened an email titled, “Special Request From Prince” and it read:
In celebration of the 20th anniversary #EssenceFest, Prince has requested that everyone wear purple to the Friday night concert at the Superdome. #PurpleESSENCE
Holy sh*t. This is real. I was going to be seeing the Purple One in concert! I had to scramble and find something purple that would be suitable enough for Prince. Suddenly everything in my closet sucked. Anything purple I had, was rags! I couldn’t let Prince see me like this! I didn’t have the time to get anything new. I was going to have to make something work.
As luck would have it, when I went to Kmart to buy some last minute things I spotted a dope Nick Minaj collection white crop top with a gold crown made of chains on it that was perfect! Then I remembered that I have a purple skirt that I thrifted that I’ve never even worn. Voila! My Prince-worthy outfit was made, all for less than $20! I was ready; too bad the universe tried to keep me away from him.
My flight — and many others from NYC to New Orleans – was grounded because of Hurricane Arthur on the East Coast. I sat on the tarmac without any word on whether or not I’d be making it to my final destination. Obviously a six-hour delay is infuriating, but when you have this kind of delay and Prince tickets burning a hole in your carry-on, it becomes hell on earth. Not only was it the 20th anniversary of the legendary Essence Festival, it’s the 30th anniversary of Prince’s album, “Purple Rain!” I sat on the plane with the most anxiety-inducing feeling next to the first day of high school. There was a chance that our flight was going to be cancelled and all other flights to New Orleans would be cancelled until Sunday—way after Prince graced the stage.
Oh no honey…someone was going to fly me to New Orleans that night. A hurricane couldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from the concert.
As if by some powerful force–more than likely, Prince himself–the sky finally cleared up and we were cleared to take off! My first thought? “I’m going to see Prince tomorrow!” All of the sudden those wasted hours didn’t matter.
I spent the next hours of the flight brushing up on my Prince faves: “Crazy You,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Darling Nikki,” “Adore” and pretty much his entire catalog. I was gonna sing every word along with Prince. And I did.
The outside of the Superdome was lit up in purple just for the occasion. I watched as thousands of obvious fans, dressed in purple, made their way inside. We were all excited for this because, as he reminded us onstage, 30 years ago he released his legendary “Purple Rain” film and soundtrack. It was ranked as the second-best album of the 1980s and 76th greatest album ever by Rolling Stone. This music was groundbreaking in sound, genre-blurring and brilliant. If you were breathing in 1984, you were a fan. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide to date.
I had to pinch myself when Prince came out, with his glittery Afro (yes, it was sparkling with glitter) and said the words I’d been waiting to hear live: “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” The crowd roared. I’ve never heard anything like it. Kicking the high-energy show off with “Purple Rain” classic “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince had us on our feet, where we stayed for his entire set, spanning almost two hours. During the first few seconds of being on stage, Prince screams, “We’re gonna sing 14 hits in a row.” We screamed back at him in excitement. He did way more songs than that and we ate it up!
Prince went song after song, each one of them a hit you wanted to hear. “Do you know how many hits I’ve got!” He screamed at us when he finished “Raspberry Beret.” He flowed seamlessly between songs like, “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “Controversy,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and “1999″ and I couldn’t get enough. At one point, I looked over to my friend to the left of me and said, “This is my life!” She laughed and squeezed my hand.
Once I calmed my nerves enough to see what else was going on on stage, beyond Prince dancing around in what looked like comfortable white pajamas with his own face graffitied on the top, I was able to see that his band, The New Power Generation was made up of all women! Talk about girl power!
It’s been 10 years since Prince rocked the Essence stage and this is my first time ever seeing him perform. I’ve watched many a Prince concert on YouTube, so I know how crazy they can be. But Essence Fest is about that family-friendly life, so Prince couldn’t do his full on peepshow performance, but he did, at one point, turn around with his back to the crowd and did a little twerk.
There was a section of the show Prince sang Morris Day & The Time’s “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” and even hopped over to Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life.” After an hour and a half of delivering hit after hit with lots of signature falsettos and surprises like: #TeamBeautiful fave, Lianne La Havas and New Orleans native, Troy “Trombone” Shorty hitting the stage with Prince for “Sometimes It Snows in April” and Janelle Monae coming out and dancing around twin designers, Cocoa and Breezy dancing for Prince, I was in heaven.
As a matter of fact, before his set, Janelle Monaeand the legendary Nile Rogers played a set and Prince surprised the crowd by coming out during both. He didn’t say a word, he waltzed out onto the stage, guitar in hand, played a few simple notes and everyone in the crowd, including myself, lost our minds.
Right after playing “Glamorous Life,” Prince decided to leave the stage and it went dark. It was almost like he left during the height of the party and. It couldn’t be over. Some of the crowd starting trickling out, but many of us stayed behind. I realized that he hadn’t done “Purple Rain” and knew that it was coming, so I waited.
And Prince came back on the stage, bathed in purple light, singing the classic tune. “You can sing if you want to,” he told the crowd. The entire stadium started singing the lyrics in unison. I think I welled up a bit, to be honest. It was beautiful. Prince was beautiful. “Can I play my guitar,” he asked before going into his guitar solo on “Purple Rain.” Bursts of purple confetti shot out and sparks flew while Prince played the famous guitar riff from the song. With his eyes rolling to the back of his head, Prince rocked out, without a care in the world. His guitar looked as if it was on fire. It was a spectacle. The audience was shocked in a deafening admiration and many people around me had their jaws hung open.
Prince asked us to hold up our cell phones, which completely lit up the Dome. He then said, “Turn around, look at you New Orleans.” When I turned around to see the crowd of thousands with their cell phones waving, it looked like fireflies twinkling in the stadium. It was gorgeous. With such an electrifying performance, I forgot that I’d forfeited my ability to see fireworks light up the sky in celebration of the 4th of July. But who needs sparklers when Prince provided such an explosive performance?!
Once he was finished the song, Prince released a bunch of purple, black and white balloons. Sadly, it was actually over this time. Everyone deserves the experience to see Prince perform live. He gives an amazing show and proves that you don’t need oversexualized gimmicks to be entertaining. It feels like I’ve experienced my own little piece of music history.
Live Review: Prince at New Orleans’ Superdome (7/4)
I love U baby
But, just not like I love my guitar
Uh uh, not like I love my guitar
— Prince, “Guitar”
Ground lights shine up at the New Orleans Superdome, changing the stadium’s color scheme to reflect each night’s theme. This Fourth of July at the 20th anniversary of the Essence Music Festival, the entire Dome was bathed in purple as a record 45,000 grown-n-sexy folks herded their way inside to witness the timeless genius of Prince.
I love Prince. I consider him the greatest rock musician of all time. I even sang and played guitar in more than one Prince tribute band. I am a fan who places no musical demands on The Artist; I’m happy hearing him pursue whatever muse he’s currently chasing, no matter how obtuse. Recent online videos showed him and his new all-girl band, 3rd Eye Girl, playing groovy, guitar-heavy, virtuosic pseudo-metal with long prog-rock bridges—and for all of Prince’s various talents, I love his guitar playing the most. Either way, I assumed he could do nothing to make me regret spending $100 apiece for two tickets.
Now that Prince’s Fourth of July concert has passed, my assessment mirrors that of New Orleans’ resident Prince expert, DJ Soul Sister, who stated afterward, “Prince put on a great show tonight … Prince can do no wrong.”
But while Prince did sing and dance for two straight hours while leading his amazing band through a stunning array of revolutionary pop singles, I can’t get around the fact that, out of more than two-dozen songs, Prince played guitar on just two songs.
As Prince blasted through his greatest hits set, I imagined him backstage beforehand, reduced to playing The Kid from Purple Rain, with the Essence Fest honchos hovering over, ordering him, “Listen Kid, that crowd out there is grown-n-sexy, and they don’t abide by all that heavy metal guitar solo bullshit, you feel me? So, you get out there, and you dance, and you stick to the hits.”
“Grown-n-sexy” is the self-identification of the Essence Fest crowd. Traditionally, this older crowd looks and smells amazing. The fest’s music reflects the unofficial dress code (this year hosting Alicia Keys, Trey Songz, Mary J Blige, and Lionel Ritchie), and the small margin of rap music that is allowed (this year Nas) is decidedly controversy free. As this year’s crowd awaited Prince in the Dome, human beatbox Doug E. Fresh MC’d over a set of pre-recorded slow jams meant to pump up the crowd: “Who here is over 40?” Doug E shouted, to big applause. “Who here is over 50?!” he asked, to bigger applause. Doug gave a shout-out to Jesse Jackson, seated near the front of the stage. Tyler Perry was also in the house. Both men are grown-n-sexy.
Middle-aged white folks like me and my wife (who customized a shiny gold “Love Symbol” onto her pregnant belly) numbered pretty low, but with all of us combined, Billboard magazine predicted this year’s Essence ticket sales would exceed 2013’s record number by over 10 percent—and 2013’s Beyoncé Essence had seen a 30 percent increase from 2012. Essence now draws a crowd bigger than Coachella or Lollapalooza.
Before Katrina, I’d heard local stories that Essence invited Prince to play every year. Prince often said “maybe,” and so supposedly Essence kept a special truck full of whatever specific equipment Prince would need to just show up and jam—which of course he never did. Then in 2004, Prince finally agreed to headline. When I interviewed DJ Soul Sister for my recent NPR piece on Prince, she named his 2004 Essence show as her favorite concert ever: “He had all these special guests!” she gushed. “He’d be like, ‘Okay, here’s Maceo Parker! Here’s Chaka Kahn! Here’s Larry Graham! Here’s Wendy! Here’s Sheila E! It was one after the other!”
But this Fourth of July Prince offered no surprise guests. Before his set, Prince did pop out to shred on hyperactive opener Janelle Monáe’s loyal version of “Let’s Go Crazy”. Then later, dressed in sunglasses and leather, Prince reappeared during Nile Rodgers’ set to noodle a few bars on the Rogers-produced David Bowie hit, “Let’s Dance”.
At almost 11:30pm (an hour behind schedule), Prince finally took the mic, promising to play “14 hits in a row!” Wielding his axe, he led a slow, T-Rex stomp version of “Let’s Go Crazy”. He then put the guitar aside to do about two-dozen songs without it.
Aside from that, he played no other instruments. Any real Prince fan knows that he almost always plays piano at his shows and often will grab the bass guitar and/or sit behind the drums for a spell. But on July Fourth he stuck strictly to singing and dancing. He did maintain perfect interaction with his four singers and dozen dancers; Prince is a truly great dancer, seemingly everywhere at once, displaying a constant flow of cool, fun, and funny moves. His voice, too, was in top form, especially the falsetto he chirps out so gracefully. But like Andre 3000 on The Love Below, Prince all but ignored his greatest talent.
The show was still fun and impressive but, designed for casual fans, sometimes felt like ’80s night to me. I do acknowledge that Prince has millions of people begging him to play all the hits back-to-back like this all the time, and so it’s almost cynical of me to be the one guy complaining that Prince wasn’t more self-indulgent … but here we are.
Prince certainly didn’t just serve up reheated oldies; his big band, built around Third Eye Girl, pulled off amazing musical stunts during new arrangements of old classics like the slowed down “Let’s Go Crazy” and a ballad take on “Little Red Corvette”. The band gave “U Got the Look” a subtler funk (and the new, holier Prince still suggested aloud that we “get to rammin”). The ambitious arrangements and boundless energy of his 11-piece NPG Hornz section—augmented by New Orleans superstar Trombone Shorty—were outstanding, especially on unexpected oldies like “Hot Thing” and “Controversy”, and a gorgeous “Sometimes It Snows in April”, featuring Lianne La Havas.
The band dropped away a few times as Prince ducked behind a screen where he seemed to operate a sampler during one-man versions of “Sign O’ the Times” and “When Doves Cry”—very cool interpretations, though I noticed with bitterness that the sultry, evil opening guitar riff from “Doves Cry” was sampled, rather than played live. Same with the guitar hook from “Kiss”.
Another downside to greatest hits shows in general is the artist constantly aiming the microphone at the audience to let them sing each song’s best lines. The Essence crowd sang most of Prince’s hooks and almost the entirety of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. And yes, I am that guy complaining that Prince shouldn’t play the greatest hits, but if he does, he needs to sing them exactly as they were written.
My wife claims the graphics on the video screens were pretty crappy and the cameraman never focused on what was important; I vaguely noticed this, too, but focused instead on the sound of the amazing musicians. To that end, I heard more than a few clearly audible washes of feedback that lasted for what seemed like minutes. Prince was forced to address the soundman several times directly from stage—a total professional no-no. I can’t imagine that someone wasn’t later fired. The end of Soul Sister’s official statement on the show read, “They were the worst sound problems I’ve ever heard in anyone’s concert ever. A true professional keeps it rolling and that’s exactly what Prince did. But I sure hurt for the guy. From horrendous bass rumble to the sound engineer just plain ignoring cues, that sound was a struggle all night.”
None of this seemed to hinder anyone else’s good time. The masses were certainly appeased by the onslaught of hits, and Prince finally picked up his guitar one last time for what is now his traditional closer, “Purple Rain”.
It is strange to complain about such an energetic display of musical mastery throughout a set brimming over with some of America’s most important musical landmarks. But honestly, had I been warned that Prince would play almost no guitar the entire night, I might have saved $100 per ticket by staying home.
Let’s Go Crazy [slow version]
Take Me with U
U Got the Look
Don’t’ Stop Till You Get Enough [Michael Jackson]
Cool [The Time]
Nasty Girl [Vanity 6]
When Doves Cry
Sign O’ the Times
Little Red Corvette [slow version]
Nothing Compares 2 U
Sometimes It Snows in April [feat. Trombone Shorty and Leanne Lahavas]
What Have You Done for Me Lately [Janet Jackson]
Act of God
The Bird & Jungle Love
Glamorous Life [Sheila E]
Days of Wild
Ain’t Nobody Love Me Better [Chaka Kahn song]
Michael Patrick Welch is a New Orleans musician, journalist, and author of several books. His work has been published at Columbia Journalism Review, Vice, Salon, McSweeney’s, and many other venues. Follow him on Twitter at @mpatrickwelch
Prince returns for Essence’s 20th celebration
Article by: CHEVEL JOHNSON , Associated Press – Updated: July 5, 2014 – 6:33 AM
NEW ORLEANS — Uttering his signature, “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life,” Prince opened his set for the 20th celebration of the Essence Festival and showed thousands Friday why a 10-year wait isn’t a bad thing. As the first licks of “Let’s Go Crazy,” rang throughout the Superdome, thousands in the audience — already on their feet in anticipation — stayed there until the final rifts of “Purple Rain” left the air. It was the second time the crowd got a taste of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Earlier, he made a surprise cameo appearance during Janelle Monae’s rendition of the song.
Prince closed the festival’s main stage with a litany of his hits, including “Kiss,” ”Raspberry Beret,” ”When Doves Cry,” ”Controversy,” ”1999,” and a slowed-down version of “Little Red Corvette” and “Nothing Compares to You.” Ten years ago, Prince headlined that anniversary, reuniting with some of the players in his musical past — Morris Day and The Time, guitarist Wendy Melvoin and former protege Sheila E. The high-energy show ended with an emotional performance of Prince’s megahit “Purple Rain.”
In 2014, he again ended his show with “Purple Rain,” to the delight of the crowd.
Singer Lianne Le Halvas joined him in a duet on “Sometimes It Snows in April,” before New Orleans’ own Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews contributed a soaring solo. Andrews jammed the final portion of the show, which included covers of “The Bird” and “Jungle Love,” made famous by Prince associates, Morris Day and The Time and Shelia E’s “Glamorous Life.”
He left the stage, telling the crowd, “Good night, New Orleans.” For at least two minutes, the stage stayed dark before the familiar strains of his signature song, “Purple Rain,” wafted through the air and his silhouette returned.
“Thirty years ago today this was the sound,” he said. “You can sing if you want to.”
And sing, they did.
Earlier in her set, Monae danced and strutted across the stage, working up a sweat as she entertained the crowd with her songs, “Primetime” and “Electric Lady.”
When guitarist Nile Rodgers took the stage, Monae joined him for a performance of “We Are Family,” led by Kathy Sledge, who with her sisters “Sister Sledge” made the song famous.
Chic ran through their top hits, “Everybody Dance,” ”I Want Your Love,” and “Le Freak.” Prince also joined his set, playing guitar on their song, “Dance, Dance, Dance.”
The band’s last song was “Good Times” and Rodgers invited members of the audience to join them on stage to dance along for an old school dance party.
To mark the festival’s 20th celebration, organizers said they wanted the milestone anniversary to be as special or better than anything anyone had ever experienced. And, who better to help make that happen than Prince, said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc.
The festival runs through Sunday, with free daily programming and events inside the city’s convention and nightly ticketed concerts in the Superdome.
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