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Prince memorial party: All-night joyfest at First Ave honors an icon

Thousands of Prince fans gathered in downtown Minneapolis for a memorial block party.

Thousands of Prince fans gathered in downtown Minneapolis for a memorial block party.

By 9 p.m. Thursday, the tears that spilled beneath his star at First Avenue had dried. The intermittent rain clouds that marked a dreary day in Minnesota history, too, had dissipated.

On the night of his death, thousands of Prince fans flocked to downtown Minneapolis, where a last-minute memorial concert was held outside the club he made famous. The bustling strip of Seventh Street between Hennepin and First avenues was shut down for the tribute bash.

The Mayo Clinic Square's purple lights bounced off upscale lounge Seven, where more fans lined the rooftop patio to watch as Twin Cities musicians paid their respects to the state's most revered artist by performing his hits.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life,” uttered Rhymesayers rapper Dem Atlas before bounding through the Purple One's “Let's Go Crazy.”

The song's opening line felt especially haunting less than 12 hours after Prince Rogers Nelson was found dead in his Chanhassen home at 57.

“It didn't seem right just to sit at home alone,” said Tahira Darling of Lanesboro, Minnesota. “At times like these, people need to be around other people.”

Darling and Michelle Rowley made the two-hour-plus drive from southeastern Minnesota to collectively celebrate an inimitable artist who could break the internet with a look.

Backed by a live band, Claire de Lune, Chastity Brown, Sarah White, and others blasted through Prince classics with heartfelt abandon. It didn’t matter if the songs were unrehearsed. Emotion piloted this musical joyride that included powerhouse vocalist PaviElle’s raw yet punchy “I Would Die 4 U” rendition.

In an almost Prince-like fashion, the bill’s marquee name was late to the party. Upon her arrival Lizzo, who hopped a flight from L.A. back to Minneapolis on Thursday for the event, slowly pushed through the densely packed crowd toward the stage. The ever-rising local star crushed her take on “The Beautiful Ones,” fiercely sustaining her potent high notes.

“Prince always spoke how he felt,” she proclaimed during an interlude. “It’s our duty as artists to keep that spirit alive in the Twin Cities.”

As she relinquished the mic everyone knew what was next. An icon’s most iconic song. Led by the bluesy charm of Chastity Brown, all the performers crashed the stage for an extra anthemic version of “Purple Rain” only arena-form Prince could beat.

Though the guitar hero himself couldn’t be there to wail it, the screaming solo scaled the Target Center walls behind the stage. Sidewalk to sidewalk, the crowd swayed during the coo-along crescendo.

“Sharing it with everybody that was here, and frankly sharing it with people all over the world via social media, people are appreciative,” longtime fan Tj Western said of the show.

As the block party ended, seemingly half the crowd tried to funnel into First Avenue where a free all-night dance party was about to begin. Fans who didn’t make it in, like Darling and Rowley, have another shot the next two nights as the late-night festivities return to the club (doors at 1:30 a.m.). The nocturnal Purple One would approve.

Bobby Kahn was one of the lucky ones who got inside and lasted all night. Draped in a purple boa and matching feather hat, Kahn (a City Pages contributor) showed no signs of fatigue at 6:30 a.m. “Actually, the last hour has been my best dancing hour,” he said among fellow all-nighters and third-shifters just arriving.

While rolling through slow jams and unabashed ass-shakers, the tribute to His Funkiness — led by DJ Jake Rudh’s marathon set — kept the same tone. Pure joy, Kahn said.

With the party winding down, the remaining few hundred people shuffled across a dance floor littered with neon straws and plastic cups. Downtown workers had already reclaimed the streets when “Purple Rain” boomed through the club for the last time that night/morning.

After the closing notes, the crowd would file out onto the sidewalk, back to real life. Carrying with them a legend.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be done,” Kahn said. “I was happy to honor Prince the right way.”