I may have missed the fireworks but I had a pretty perfect 4th of July. We ate hot dogs, like most of the nation, but we got ours at Dreamy Weenies so they were insanely good. I had the Pothole – potato salad below the dog and chili with cheese on top. Yum! Then we watched Purple Rain to get in the mood for Prince‘s performance at the 20th Essence Fest. Janelle Monae started the evening off with a firecracker’s burst of energy. She was the perfect artist to take on a cover of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy and was rewarded for her efforts with a quick guitar solo from the man himself.
But for me the evening didn’t really kick in until Doug E. Fresh took over and played a long medley of “old school” funk and R&B as we all danced and sang along. Turns out, I’m “old school.” I should have done the math – if I’ve been waiting 32 years to see Prince live – he and I would have to be a lot older now then when I first heard Controversy while working at my college radio station.
Next to take the stage was Chic and Nile Rodgers. The show reminded me of a way-funkier version of when I saw Sammy Cahn play the Ford’s Theatre years ago and realized he’d written everything from Love and Marriage to Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Nile Rodgers just won 3 Grammys this year including those for his Daft Punk/Pherrell Williams hit, Get Lucky. The band played many of his contributions to music history including Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out and Sister Sledge’s We Are Family – joined by Kathy Sledge and Janelle Monae.
Before Rodgers started the show, he asked if we’d be patient while he took a few photos. I’ve seen musicians take shots of the crowd while performing before (yes you, John Gros) but Rodgers really did hold up the show silently walking around taking photos of the crowd. It made more sense later when he revealed that he’d survived a terminal cancer diagnosis 3 years ago. He must have been taking us all in and recording it to “taste life twice” as Anais Nin once said. In a way, that’s what the whole night was for us “old schoolers,” we were all reliving our memories to taste life twice.
Good Times sent me right back to those school-kid basement parties, especially when they flipped it to Rapper’s Delight and Doug E. Fresh joined in to rhyme. Prince came in for the guitar solo of the David Bowie hit, Let’s Dance and the crowd completely freaked out. Chic ended with Le Freak and we had a big dance party in the Dome. If I had had more room, I would’ve broken out “The Bump.”
After another Doug E. Fresh dance and singalong break, the lights went down and a voice cut through us all… “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” Prince’s slow-groove hard-rock version of Let’s Go Crazy let us know he will never stop evolving as an artist. Like Rodgers, Prince played many of the songs he created for others including Sheila E., Sheena Easton, The Time and a singalong of the Sinead O’Connor cover hit Nothing Compares 2 U. Prince may not jump around the stage as much anymore and he barely touched his guitar but he kept things spicy with his all-female (model-pretty) band 3rdEyeGirl. After slamming through 5 hits, he laughed and said, “Soundcheck’s over.”
The evening was full of memories and intimate moments. He told us “30 years ago today, this was the sound,” reminding us all that the Purple Rain album was released in the summer of ’84. He put his hand up to his ear to take in our applause and said, “That’s my favorite sound.” He asked us to put up our cell phones (those who know me know I was empty-handed) and filled the massive video screens with images of the crowd lit up like a million stars in the sky then said, “Look at how beautiful you look.” I’m not sure he sang one lyric of Kiss as we filled the Dome with our voices.
But I did get the giggles singing along to 1999. As I remembered singing that song in 1982, I realized how far away 1999 seemed then. When we sang about partying “like it’s 1999,” it was a song about the world ending in 2000 and dancing on the decks of the Titanic, as they say. Now, 1999 is just as far away – but behind me – so singing about dancing like there’s no tomorrow when I know how many tomorrows have come after struck me as funny. What did the young woman from Baltimore next to me think was meant by partying “like it’s 1999?” My guess was that she thought it meant partying “old school” with dances her parents do. So, I giggled like it was 2014.
For me, the best surprise of the night was when Prince introduced New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty. I jumped up for the inevitable standing ovation then realized no one around me knew who he was. But, now they do. Dressed in purple like the rest of us, Trombone Shorty wasn’t just a background player – he played right next to Prince for several songs. It was thrilling and I couldn’t have been more proud of our city and its son.
There were 3 or 4 encores but my favorite, by far, was when we heard a clap of thunder then the strum of a guitar. Purple Rain. That’s all I have to say about it. I was in the zone and so was Prince.
We’d been in the Superdome for almost 6 hours of music and it was amazing. As we left, I noticed even the Dome was purple. What a night.
I don’t normally discuss local politics but many of you have heard about the recent shooting on Bourbon Street. Walking Bourbon on the way to the concert, I noticed 26 police officers including many State Troopers (glad someone remembered we’re part of this state). On the way back, I spotted 32. By comparison, the night of the shooting there were 25 officers patrolling the ENTIRE 8th District which includes ALL of the French Quarter, the CBD (Central Business District) and the Marigny Triangle.
Prince said, “Love can solve any problem.” Maybe so, but increasing police presence might help solve this one so I hope we find a way to keep the patrols after the cameras have gone. For now, the State Troopers plan to help out until September.