I worked for Prince for several years, but only on occasion. I did not travel with him. I worked mainly on Friday nights at Paisley Park. Prince would open up Paisley after bar close, which in those days was one a.m., and have an after party for whoever wished to make the effort to see, undeniably, the best ever series of unheralded concerts in the history of man. I mean, I’ve seen Prince play for three hours for 17 people who made the trek to Paisley during a snow storm on one of these Fridays. Seven-teen…fucking…people. For three…fucking…hours! Can you imagine that, guards included, of which I was one, a total of no more than 25 people witnessed this concert?!!! That’s like being in attendance at a dinner party when Shakespeare told you about a little story he was thinking about called “Macbeth” before he put one word of it to paper.
This isn’t about those Paisley nights, tho. Although, I will most likely divulge some of those eventually. This is about a festival in Minneapolis commonly known as the Mill City music festival. It took place in downtown Minneapolis. Basically, a bunch of bands played a concert in a parking lot that was the size of a city block. It was always a good time. Prince had never played it. Until this night.
The particular parking lot where the event was held was maybe three or four blocks north of First Avenue, the club that Prince made famous. Like I said, I was working for The Purple One at this time, mostly at Paisley Park, but also whenever he came into the Twin Cities, which was often enough for me to not look for other work. Prince playing the Mill City festival was a big deal. A really, really big fucking deal.
Back in those days, the late 1990s, early 2000s, there were no cell phone cameras. I know, right?! Can you even imagine! But…no…there weren’t. One of the main functions of us “satellite”, or non-primary, guards was to locate people taking video or pictures and kindly ask them to stop while confiscating their film and/or video recording mechanisms. I truly don’t think this was because Prince didn’t want to be filmed, I truly believe it is because he wanted EVERY EXPERIENCE TO MEAN SOMETHING UNIQUE! He wanted you to BE THERE to share the time with him. The moment. The experience.
To that end, I was situated on the roof of a three-story building that ran flush with the stage and overlooked the entire city-block-wide parking lot and surrounding massive buildings. Mostly old-style brick and mortar city buildings with windows and ledges and gargoyles. The corner of the building I was posted at had a crumbling ridge of decaying brick, so I was unable to lay on it sniper-style, as I had hoped.
The event was MASSIVE. The crowd was more electric than anything I have ever seen previously or since. This is partially due to the fact that I had a vulture-eye view, but mostly because Prince had not played a free event in Minneapolis in, I don’t know…forever!
Every single inch of every single inch available was covered by humanity. It was as if it had snowed humans. Every nook and cranny of every ledge of every windowsill of every gargoyle head of every flagpole on the fifth floor jutting out over death had a human being on it. Before Prince played (yes, there were other performers, whom I don’t remember), all I did was look and marvel at how packed this space was. On top of cars, on top of school buses, on top of city buses, on top of bus stops, on top of fire hydrants, on top of light poles, halfway up light poles….people. Everywhere snow could settle, people had settled. As if Purple Rain had actually fallen and turned into people.
Minneapolis was electric and alive and volatile and respectful. Awaiting their hero. Their champion. Which, make no mistake, Prince was and always will be.
The highlight of the concert, for me, was a moment with Larry Graham. Larry Graham is a legendary bass player, who, when I worked for Prince, played with Prince. Larry Graham, before this, was probably best known for being a part of Sly and The Family Stone. If you are familiar with Sly and The Family Stone, you will recognize Larry Graham as the one singing “I’m gonna add some bottom…so that the dancers just won’t hide” on “Dance to the Music”. If you are unfamiliar, Youtube that shit. Classic joint.
At any rate, near the end of the show, as I watched up on my own third story perch, as a living gargoyle, some roadies (I use the term because I don’t want to name names) wheeled out a large case usually used for transporting musical equipment while on tour. I watched as they made their way from the back of the stage, which was fenced in by a make-shift chain-link fence, out into the crowd. The crowd was preoccupied with Prince, of course, who was in the last song of his amazing hour-long-plus set. This equipment case flowed through the crowd as if the crowd were a river flowing around a rock. The equipment case was wheeled into the center of the crowd, about 40 or 50 yards away from the stage. Then came the ripple.
Without anybody really knowing or paying attention…even those who were right next to it…two of my brethren bodyguards opened up the box and Larry Graham got out. They put the lid on and Larry Graham stood on top of the box. Prince, from the stage, said something like, “Hit ‘em, Larry”, and Larry Graham struck his bass and went into an amazing solo. As soon as he struck that bass, tho, from where he was standing atop that box, a ripple…a seismic human circular wave expanded from his position outwards until it reached the rooftops and reverberated through the last human entity on the last space of elevation before sound became sky. It was FUCKING AMAZING!!!
After the set, the head of security was frantically repeating (frantically is a term I only use to tell the story…Prince’s head of security at the time never got “frantic”…he was ICE cold),
“Everybody get down to backstage!” Again, backstage was just a make-shift chain-link fence with a tarp around it to dissuade picture takers.
While we were all in this backstage area, I remember fans trying to climb the fence. Like, really fucking trying. It was like one of those survival movies where the sane people’s camp was being threatened by the crazy fuckers. The chain link fence was rocking with outside humanity trying to get backstage. There was screaming and insanity and pandemonium. I remember that…and please understand the absurdity of this next sentence…either Steve Guttenberg was producing a local play that Woody Harrelson was starring in or Woody Harrelson was producing a local play that Steve Guttenberg was starring in…and Woody Harrelson looked me dead in the eyes and asked, “Is this safe”? I replied the only way one who had worked many venues for Prince could reply…
“This is normal”