United in purple we stand: Prince day at the fair

Everybody in Minnesota has a Prince story, especially many of the record-setting crowd of 141,023 who attended Friday’s “Unite In Purple Day,” a celebration of the Minneapolis-born legend who died on April 21. 

“It’s bittersweet,” said longtime Prince fan Greg Dunn, as Prince music poured out of every corner of the fairgrounds. “If Prince knew that his music was being played all over the fair, he’d be like, ‘Really?’ ” Bittersweet for sure, but it also made for a funky-corny wake, with purple food, clothes, dance parties, movies, fireworks, seed art, a concert and more, including even, yes, a purple sunset. MinnPost caught up with Prince fans to hear some personal tales and tributes.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Daphne Hill and Shondra Dixon, Minneapolis. “We went to Prince’s first concert at the Capri Theater,” said Dixon. “We were in the fifth grade, and he had just turned 18. I’ll never forget it. He played all the instruments, he was a one-man show. Some people didn’t like him because he was different, and then when we were in high school, I remember we were at the roller rink and they played his song and we were like, ‘Oh my god he made it! They’re playing his music at the roller rink and he’s from the neighborhood!’”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Charlie Noied, Minneapolis. “The St. Paul Saints had a Prince night at CHS Field, and I decided to get [the commemorative T-shirt] because it’s pretty cool, and now they’re selling them everywhere. For me, personally, Prince’s music brings everyone together. I actually work a mile down from Paisley Park in Chanhassen; I paint cars for a collision shop. When Prince died, it was crazy out there. Absolutely nuts.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Quinn Miron, White Bear Lake. “This is leftover from a Halloween costume, everything purple and the puffy shirt, which is circa ’80s Prince. People’s reactions have been very positive, along with some ‘freak show’ [catcalls] but it’s all good.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Hunter and Holly Sargent, Plymouth. “I have to say that when he died I was in tears for a week,” said Hunter. “I got to actually meet Prince in 1991 when he was helping out at a Special Olympics event. I was registering people, and I wasn’t looking up at who was in front of me, and I said, ‘Man, either I need to brush my teeth or someone else does,’ and I looked up and I went, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ He said, ‘That’s OK, I forgot to brush my teeth this morning.’ My coach is like, ‘Oh great, you just insulted a legend.’ 

“A few months after that, I became an athlete because Prince really inspired me to. He inspired us as a couple that anything is possible, and a few weeks after Prince died I went out to Paisley and the best way I could bring closure to him being gone and deal with that was I hung one of my Special Olympics medals on one of the wreaths that was in front of Paisley Park as a way of saying thanks to him and his family.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Jodi Vanderbilt (far right) and crew, St. Paul. “We go to the fair every year and we make a State Fair T-shirt, with the idea that we can spot the kids wherever they are at the fair. This year we had the red T-shirts, but they wanted the Prince theme, so they hand-made a stencil of the Prince symbol and wrote Prince songs on the back. We had to go for it.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Pam Holland, Norma Wade, Phyllis Edwards, Minneapolis. “Prince is a hometown talent, and I’ve always felt a personal connection,” said Wade. “I didn’t know him personally, but I was born and raised here, South Minneapolis, and he’s Minneapolis, he’s Minnesota, and it was such a sad day I had to get out my ‘Purple Rain’ shirt.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Mary Lauber, Stillwater, and Pam Veich, Lakeland. “We were together in Europe traveling with our families when we got the news, and it was such a shock. We’re proud to be Minnesotans, and knowing that Prince was from Minnesota. He’s a hometown boy, and we all grew up with him, and this is a big deal,” said Lauber. “Besides that, Prince was proud to be a Minnesotan, right? His base was here, and he let everyone know he was from Minnesota,” said Veich.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Greg Dunn, Minneapolis. “April 21st was one of the hardest days of my life. I had the pleasure of knowing Prince to a certain extent. I got out to Paisley Park quite a bit in the early ’90s. A friend of mine was an aspiring musician, and he didn’t drive but he was doing a lot of work with Levi Seacer at the time, Prince’s bass player. So I would drive him out there, he would go into the studio with Levi, and I would hang out at Paisley Park and pretty much had the place to myself, wandering around. I was lucky enough to watch Prince rehearse many times in the soundstage he had, and I saw quite a few shows there. I had a reconnection with him in the last few years, I saw all three shows at the Dakota, and I saw him at Paisley, but I regret now losing track of him in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

“Today is bittersweet. My nieces are out here, and they’re way into it and they know what a big Prince fan I am, so if it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t be here. Same with this idea to open Paisley Park as a museum. All my friends are calling me saying, ‘Are you gonna go?’ and I don’t think so. I’m sure in time I will someday, but right now it’s bittersweet. And who would’ve thought that his music would be played all day at the fair? If you told Prince they were playing his music all over the fair he’d be like, ‘Really?’ ”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Russ, Lydia, and Dawn Vincent, New Hope. “Being from Minnesota, you’re forced to endure both coasts, and we have very few hometown heroes musically,” said Russ, “and it’s hard to argue with a man who did exactly what he wanted to do and was one of the last people you could leave in a studio himself and he’d come out with an album. I can’t think of anyone who can do that anymore, outside of Stevie Wonder.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kristin Kokkila, Maple Grove. “I painted my toenails purple on April 21st, and they’ve been that way every since. I’m a photographer, and I’m in [an online] Prince [fan] group, and I asked people if they wanted me to bring a note [to the fair on Unite In Purple Day], and I’m up to 700 notes. So these are notes from all over the world. So many people have gotten together to support each other during this hard time, and this is my way.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Amber Webb and Kenneth Caldwell, Minneapolis. “There will never ever ever be a replica of this man. He was just at his pinnacle, and there will never be another like him. Growing up, my friends and I would listen to Prince all the time and we would actually fight about whether he was our boyfriend or not, and of course I always won because Prince was my guy,” said Webb. “Growing up, my parents would play Prince music every Sunday when it was time to clean the house,” said Caldwell. “Today is important because his music continues to bring people together and we need to celebrate that Minneapolis-St. Paul spirit. The shirt was designed by me, and this was my way of giving back and showing my appreciation for one of the greats.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kelly Mitchell and Arianna Thomas, St. Paul. “I’ve got many Prince stories, but my favorite one is when I was 17, I and my girlfriends all had fake IDs and we’d go to all the nightclubs in downtown Minneapolis. We got to be friends with his security guards and we literally became groupies, following him from club to club and just staring at him. One night at two in the morning we decided to go out to Paisley Park. My girlfriend and I parked in the parking lot and went in and we get up to the front desk and it was just one security guard, a woman, and we said we were from a limousine company and that we had an appointment. She just kind of smiled and said, ‘I’ll tell him you’re here.’

“How stupid were we? Who has an appointment at two in the morning on a Saturday night? So we sat in the waiting room for what seemed like forever and then all of a sudden he just comes walking around the corner. He had two security [guards] with him and his guitar around him and a white ruffled shirt unbuttoned all the way and he just smiled at us. He knew we were full of shit.

“He said, ‘Can I help you?’ We were speechless. He goes, ‘Come on back.’ We went back into his studio and sat there for hours. We just sat there and listened to him mess around with his guitar and his keyboards. He said, ‘Get up and dance,’ and when we just stayed sitting there, the security guard goes, ‘When Prince tells you to get up and dance, you get up and dance.’ So we did. It was insane.” 

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Scott Harrison, Elk Mound, Wisconsin. “We had some extra time, and when the State Fair said we could do some Prince stuff for the Prince day, we found an image and went with it and made a [grave]stone. Me and my brother own the company, we’ve been open for five years and we work out of our family farm. I made the stone. I only know a couple of his songs, but I know he was big in this area and I like to see the local artists succeed.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kevin Mitchell and family, St. Louis Park. “I’m 41 and I’ve been a Prince fan since I was probably 4. He’s been the soundtrack to my life, basically. I’ve learned a lot by listening to his music on how to be yourself and follow your own mind. Prince always did what he wanted to do, he didn’t follow the norm, he was a trailblazer in what he did and I try to live my life the same way because of him. He played the game by his rules and there’ll never be another one like him. It’s nice to see all the purple and all the Prince shirts and all the love going around the State Fair on Prince day.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Joli Shamblott, Minneapolis and Karen Kirk, Eden Prairie. “We’re waiting in line for the Star Tribune commemorative T-shirts and special sections,” said Kirk. “We’ve been Prince fans since the ’80s and we’ve loved him ever since. We’ve seen him a lot at Paisley Park, and we always go to the State Fair so we knew we had to be here for Unite In Purple day and pay our respects.”

“Want to see my tattoo?” said Shamblott.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

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