Saturday, June 22, 2024

5 most memorable moments of Prince Paisley Park Celebration 2023

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There’s a lot to unpack about the late Prince Rogers Nelson. He was arguably the most prolific and comprehensive musical alchemist in American history. 

In only 57 years of life, Prince gave fans so much: 39 officially released albums, side projects like The Time, Madhouse, and Vanity 6, and often while assuming an assortment of aliases and alter-egos, like Jamie Starr, Alexander Nevermind and Camille, to name a few. 

Another gift Prince left behind was the annual Paisley Park Celebration Festival, or just Celebration 2023 this year. At the festival, founded before his death, Prince would invite his devoted fans to Paisley Park, his home and creative facility, to discuss music and philosophy. The festival continued after his 2016 death, and Celebration 2023 falls on the seventh anniversary of his passing. 

Chaka Khan (right) has an onstage conversation with Shelby Morrison (left) of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at a June 9 session during Prince Paisley Park Celebration 2023 in Chanhassen, Minnesota. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

With number seven carrying much significance to Prince, Celebration 2023 was a special edition of the annual event. From June 8 to June 11, Paisley Park provided panel discussions about hip-hop with legends like Chuck D and Doug E. Fresh, conversations with collaborators like Chaka Khan, musical performances, screenings of unreleased concert footage, and dance parties. 

Here are the five most memorable moments from Celebration 2023.

D-Nice and Doug E. Fresh team up

Doug E. Fresh (left) and D-Nice attend the Celebration 2023 on June 9 at Paisley Park. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

DJ D-Nice was on hand to give one of his lauded Club Quarantine DJ sets to the fans at Celebration 2023. With the Paisley Park soundstage converted into Club 3121, D-Nice played Prince hits, deep cuts, and songs that the late musician loved. Just when the energy was already at a peak, Doug E. Fresh, fresh from a hip-hop panel at the event, emerged as D-Nice’s evening MC. The hip-hop legend lent his charismatic beatboxing and signature call-and-response to hype the attendees. 

Nunnabove wows the crowd

Nunnabove members (from left) Bennett, Wisdom, Cadence and Mattie perform at Celebration 2023 on June 9 at Paisley Park. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

Prince was known for mentoring and championing up-and-coming talents. One of his protégés was vocalist Shelby J., who hosted a showcase of local acts on night two. While each act had its unique flavor, the family four-piece of Nunnabove shined the brightest. The band performed with youthful enthusiasm yet had the instrumental chops of seasoned veterans. The Minneapolis Sound seems to be in good hands. 

The New Power Generation plays with Prince again

Leading a listening session on June 9 in Studio A at Paisley Park are (from left) Morris Hayes, Brandon Commodore, Tom Garneau, Levi Seacer Jr., Josh Dunham, Damon Dickson, Tony M., and Tommy Barbarella. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

Prince’s prolific output was surpassed by the music he didn’t release. His vault of unreleased material has grown in myth for decades. During Celebration 2023, a select group of fans was treated to hearing one of Prince’s unreleased recordings, with some help from his old bandmates. Members of his early 1990s band New Power Generation (NPG) went into Paisley Park’s Studio A to perform live accompaniment to a 1992 demo of Prince singing and playing the piano. NPG instrumentalists like Tommy Barbarella, Levi Seacer Jr., and Tony M. played with such tight precision and languid funk that fans pleaded to get a copy of the finished product.

Sounds of Blackness bring their vintage gospel

Sounds of Blackness members perform June 10 at Celebration 2023. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

Sounds of Blackness are a Minnesota musical institution. The vocal collective performed a 50-minute set on Celebration 2023’s third day, giving attendees spiritual uplifting and gospel encouragement. The choir started things off with a lush acapella cover of “Purple Rain” before livening things up with their classic songs like “We Are the Drum,” “Optimistic,” and “Hold On (Change is Comin’).” Other highlights included new songs like “Black Butterfly” and “You’re Gonna Win.” 

Stokley Williams captivates on his own

Stokley Williams performs June 10 at Celebration 2023 at Paisley Park. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Paisley Park)

Mint Condition is another legendary Minneapolis export. The band’s lead singer and drummer, Stokley Williams, has ventured out on his own recently, dropping two solo albums in the last four years. Following a stellar performance by Sounds of Blackness, Williams drained the audience of whatever energy they had left. The 55-year-old sang, played guitar and danced feverishly throughout his solo material, classics from Mint Condition, and a Prince medley that included “Private Joy” and “1999.”

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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