I opened an email titled, “Special Request From Prince” and it read:
In celebration of the 20th anniversary #EssenceFest, Prince has requested that everyone wear purple to the Friday night concert at the Superdome. #PurpleESSENCE
Holy sh*t. This is real. I was going to be seeing the Purple One in concert! I had to scramble and find something purple that would be suitable enough for Prince. Suddenly everything in my closet sucked. Anything purple I had, was rags! I couldn’t let Prince see me like this! I didn’t have the time to get anything new. I was going to have to make something work.
As luck would have it, when I went to Kmart to buy some last minute things I spotted a dope Nick Minaj collection white crop top with a gold crown made of chains on it that was perfect! Then I remembered that I have a purple skirt that I thrifted that I’ve never even worn. Voila! My Prince-worthy outfit was made, all for less than $20! I was ready; too bad the universe tried to keep me away from him.
My flight — and many others from NYC to New Orleans — was grounded because of Hurricane Arthur on the East Coast. I sat on the tarmac without any word on whether or not I’d be making it to my final destination. Obviously a six-hour delay is infuriating, but when you have this kind of delay and Prince tickets burning a hole in your carry-on, it becomes hell on earth. Not only was it the 20th anniversary of the legendary Essence Festival, it’s the 30th anniversary of Prince’s album, “Purple Rain!” I sat on the plane with the most anxiety-inducing feeling next to the first day of high school. There was a chance that our flight was going to be cancelled and all other flights to New Orleans would be cancelled until Sunday—way after Prince graced the stage.
Oh no honey…someone was going to fly me to New Orleans that night. A hurricane couldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from the concert.
As if by some powerful force–more than likely, Prince himself–the sky finally cleared up and we were cleared to take off! My first thought? “I’m going to see Prince tomorrow!” All of the sudden those wasted hours didn’t matter.
I spent the next hours of the flight brushing up on my Prince faves: “Crazy You,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Darling Nikki,” “Adore” and pretty much his entire catalog. I was gonna sing every word along with Prince. And I did.
The outside of the Superdome was lit up in purple just for the occasion. I watched as thousands of obvious fans, dressed in purple, made their way inside. We were all excited for this because, as he reminded us onstage, 30 years ago he released his legendary “Purple Rain” film and soundtrack. It was ranked as the second-best album of the 1980s and 76th greatest album ever by Rolling Stone. This music was groundbreaking in sound, genre-blurring and brilliant. If you were breathing in 1984, you were a fan. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide to date.
I had to pinch myself when Prince came out, with his glittery Afro (yes, it was sparkling with glitter) and said the words I’d been waiting to hear live: “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” The crowd roared. I’ve never heard anything like it. Kicking the high-energy show off with “Purple Rain” classic “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince had us on our feet, where we stayed for his entire set, spanning almost two hours. During the first few seconds of being on stage, Prince screams, “We’re gonna sing 14 hits in a row.” We screamed back at him in excitement. He did way more songs than that and we ate it up!
Prince went song after song, each one of them a hit you wanted to hear. “Do you know how many hits I’ve got!” He screamed at us when he finished “Raspberry Beret.” He flowed seamlessly between songs like, “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “Controversy,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and “1999” and I couldn’t get enough. At one point, I looked over to my friend to the left of me and said, “This is my life!” She laughed and squeezed my hand.
Once I calmed my nerves enough to see what else was going on on stage, beyond Prince dancing around in what looked like comfortable white pajamas with his own face graffitied on the top, I was able to see that his band, The New Power Generation was made up of all women! Talk about girl power!
It’s been 10 years since Prince rocked the Essence stage and this is my first time ever seeing him perform. I’ve watched many a Prince concert on YouTube, so I know how crazy they can be. But Essence Fest is about that family-friendly life, so Prince couldn’t do his full on peepshow performance, but he did, at one point, turn around with his back to the crowd and did a little twerk.
There was a section of the show Prince sang Morris Day & The Time’s “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” and even hopped over to Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life.” After an hour and a half of delivering hit after hit with lots of signature falsettos and surprises like: #TeamBeautiful fave, Lianne La Havas and New Orleans native, Troy “Trombone” Shorty hitting the stage with Prince for “Sometimes It Snows in April” and Janelle Monae coming out and dancing around twin designers, Cocoa and Breezy dancing for Prince, I was in heaven.
As a matter of fact, before his set, Janelle Monaeand the legendary Nile Rogers played a set and Prince surprised the crowd by coming out during both. He didn’t say a word, he waltzed out onto the stage, guitar in hand, played a few simple notes and everyone in the crowd, including myself, lost our minds.
Right after playing “Glamorous Life,” Prince decided to leave the stage and it went dark. It was almost like he left during the height of the party. It couldn’t be over! Some of the crowd starting trickling out, but many of us stayed behind. I realized that he hadn’t done “Purple Rain” and knew that it was coming, so I waited.
And then Prince came back on the stage, bathed in purple light, singing the classic tune. “You can sing if you want to,” he told the crowd. The entire stadium started singing the lyrics in unison. I think I welled up a bit, to be honest. It was beautiful. Prince was beautiful. “Can I play my guitar,” he asked before going into his guitar solo on “Purple Rain.” Bursts of purple confetti shot out and sparks flew while Prince played the famous guitar riff from the song. With his eyes rolling to the back of his head, Prince rocked out, without a care in the world. His guitar looked as if it was on fire. It was a spectacle. The audience was shocked in a deafening admiration and many people around me had their jaws hung open.
Prince asked us to hold up our cell phones, which completely lit up the Dome. He then said, “Turn around, look at you New Orleans.” When I turned around to see the crowd of thousands with their cell phones waving, it looked like fireflies twinkling in the stadium. It was gorgeous. With such an electrifying performance, I forgot that I’d forfeited my ability to see fireworks light up the sky in celebration of the 4th of July. But who needs sparklers when Prince provided such an explosive performance?!
Once he was finished the song, Prince released a bunch of purple, black and white balloons. Sadly, it was actually over this time. Everyone deserves the experience to see Prince perform live. He gives an amazing show and proves that you don’t need oversexualized gimmicks to be entertaining. It feels like I’ve experienced my own little piece of music history.