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Second-annual Celebration channels Prince's vibe at Paisley Park studios

Sheila E. performs with Mychael Davison in the Iconic Soundstage during Celebration 2018 at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., on Thurday, April 19, 2018. (Courtesy of Steve Parke / Paisley Park Studios)1 / 2
Mychael Davison performs on-stage during Celebration 2018 at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., on Thurday, April 19, 2018. (Courtesy of Steve Parke / Paisley Park Studios)2 / 2

CHANHASSEN, Minn.—Midway though her performance Thursday, April 19, on the first day of Celebration 2018 at Paisley Park, Sheila E. strapped on a guitar and walked through the crowd as she sang "Rockstar," which she wrote after Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose two years ago Saturday.

She returned to the stage at the end of the number, which incorporated the outro from "Purple Rain," and told the crowd, "I thought I'd be OK singing that song in this building," her voice choked with tears. "I don't want to be sad anymore." But then she triumphantly announced she wasn't and those were tears of joy and celebration.

It was a fitting description for the overall vibe at Celebration, the second annual four-day festival held at Prince's Chanhassen studio-turned-museum. Once again, fans from around the country and the world crowded the halls of Paisley Park, many clad in purple or wearing Prince T-shirts and jackets. This time, however, the overall mood was much lighter, with less mourning and more smiles as friendly, chatty devotees seized the opportunity to immerse themselves in all things Prince.

Overall, the event seemed to run more smoothly than last year. Staff members have figured out how to better control the crowds and make the most out of the space, which features Prince photos, artwork and memorabilia at every turn. Organizers didn't share an attendance number, but they said the $1,049 VIP tickets were sold out. Judging by a few banks of empty seats toward the back, it's clear Paisley Park had some $549 general admission tickets to spare.

The day began with a surprise airing of a previously unheard studio version of Prince singing "Nothing Compares 2 U," a song he wrote for his spin-off group The Family that was later exposed to the masses thanks to a hit cover by Sinead O'Connor. (The Family, who now perform under the name fDeluxe, will provide the musical entertainment on the final day of Celebration on Sunday.)

Thursday morning, Prince's estate and Warner Bros. released the song digitally along with a video featuring Prince and the Revolution practicing choreography in an Eden Prairie warehouse during the summer of 1984. Fans at Celebration, however, wouldn't learn about that — or Thursday's news that Carver County Attorney Mark Metz was closing the two-year investigation into Prince's death without issuing criminal charges — until later in the day, thanks to Paisley Park's strictly enforced ban on cell phones.

Instead, they spent the day attending in-depth panels, eating foods fashioned by Prince's private chef and dancing in the aisles to Sheila E. The vocalist and drummer sat down for an on-stage chat with Gilbert Davidson, who began working as Prince's bodyguard before going on to manage both the star and Paisley Park.

(As was the case last year, Paisley Park presented about five hours of panels and concerts twice, with two different crowds attending during the afternoon and evening.)

Sheila E. told the crowd about opening for Prince on his "Purple Rain" tour and how Davidson ended up falling for her best friend, marrying her and having six children with her. "The 'Purple Rain' tour is still going for me," Davidson said with a laugh. Sheila E. also spoke about the friendly rivalry she maintained with Prince, telling the audience she was better than him at drumming and playing pool, but that he topped her skills on the guitar.

Later, three photographers who documented Prince's life shared stories and rare images of the artist they said was a relentlessly hard worker who had strong opinions about every aspect of his image and career. Steve Parke, who spent 14 years as Prince's art director, said the dizzying experience was filled with "what just happened?" moments.

Another panel featured Brent Fischer and Mike Nelson, who worked on orchestral and horn arrangements for the superstar. Fischer assisted his late father Clare on string arrangements for Prince's 1986 album "Parade" and continued to sporadically work for him through his career.

Fischer surprised the crowd when he announced he'd only ever met Prince in person once, at rehearsals for the 2004 Grammy Awards, and that Prince specifically requested never to be introduced to Clare, lest it ruin the idea of the elder Fischer that Prince had conjured in his head.

Fischer also had fans salivating after announcing about 70 percent of the songs he worked on for Prince remain in the vault and naming the unreleased 1985 track "All My Dreams" as a personal favorite.

Sheila E.'s hour-long performance wrapped events for the Celebration 2018 kick-off. She opened with the first three songs from 1987's "Sign o' the Times" — the title track, "Play in the Sunshine" and "Housequake" — which is generally considered to be Prince's finest work. It made perfect sense, too, as she served as the drummer and musical director on the record's tour.

From there, Sheila E. spent time both at the front of the stage and behind a drum kit, while allowing her backup singers the opportunity to sing lead and her four-piece band, trombonist and sax player to each take solos. The set included her own hits ("The Glamorous Life," "A Love Bizarre," "The Belle of St. Mark") more Prince songs, some in medley form ("America," "Erotic City," "Baby I'm a Star") and a few other surprises, like a slowed-down, jazzy take on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There."

Celebration 2018 continues through Sunday at Paisley Park. Attendees get the best seats at Celebration's centerpiece event — a concert Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, featuring Prince's bandmates backing up previously unheard audio and video of the Purple One — although tickets also are available to the general public through Axs.

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