"There was already a lot of excitement around Prince, the Minneapolis Sound he pioneered and the legions of other talented artists who were rallying around him in Minneapolis in the early '80s," said Andrea Swensson, a music reporter at Minnesota Public Radio's 89.3 The Current and noted Prince enthusiast. "But few would argue that 'Purple Rain' was what catapulted Prince—and his beloved city—into the stratosphere."
The album ultimately spent 24 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts, and Prince collected an Oscar for the now discontinued category Best Original Song Score for the song "Purple Rain." As the 30th anniversary of the release of the album and film approaches, if you’re heading to Minneapolis, save this "Purple Rain" nostalgia tour and take it with u.
And if you can't locate your old LP, here's the film—and this tour's—soundtrack. Go crazy.
While "Purple Rain' was one of the defining moments of First Avenue, the fantastic history of this bus-depot–turned-music-venue was already legend by then. Since 1970, virtually every artist of note to visit Minneapolis has played here. The roll call of music history is literally written on the outside walls of the building: Tina Turner, Ray Charles, BB King, Iggy and The Stooges, The Cure, The Replacements, U2, REM, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Moby, Coldplay, The White Stripes and virtually any other artist you can name, popular or not, has played here. Or should have, for form’s sake.
"For proof of 'Purple Rain's' enduring legacy in Minneapolis, simply set foot inside First Avenue on a night when a band—any band, really—is performing," Swensson said. "I've seen everyone from the hippest touring electro-pop acts to the most jaded old rock icons and Twin Cities scene vets profess their love for the Purple One from that big black stage, and it's clear that old bus depot is even more vital to the city today than it was when the movie was filmed."
Though he's undoubtedly lip-synching the performance in the film, the album version of the song "Purple Rain" was actually recorded here live, using a mobile recording studio parked outside, during a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre on August 3, 1983. Since the audience that evening had never heard the song before, there was no distracting singing along—just transfixed listening.
There are events in First Avenue's Mainroom Tuesday through Saturday nights, so communing with this piece of history is usually pretty straightforward.
The house where Prince, aka "The Kid," lived in the film is still standing and, obviously, a private residence. I won't give its exact address, but determined fans can find their way to the 3400 block of Snelling Avenue South in Minneapolis and locate the house without too much effort.
Prince rode a customized 1981 Honda CB400A Hondamatic in both "Purple Rain" and the 1990 film flop "Graffiti Bridge." The original bike (painted black for "Bridge") and a "Purple Rain" stunt bike (still purple) now sit out at Paisley Park Studios, Prince's recording studio; one right in the lobby and the other (at last report) inside a recording studio inaccessible to most mortals.
Paisley Park, located in Chanhassen 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, is a private business, so simply dropping in isn't recommended. But with patience and timing you can get inside during one of the semi-regular events Prince has been staging out here recently, like the Pajama Dance Party held last October or the Paisley Park After Dark series this spring.
Naturally, Prince is always expected (or at least rumored) to play at these events, but what the Purple Yoda is expected to do and what he actually does can be maddeningly divergent.
As someone who has been victim to this no-show heartbreak several times in his life, I recommend that you attend these functions with low expectations. Then, should any colorful royalty hit the stage, you can be pleasantly euphoric.
Note: alcohol isn't served or permitted at Paisley Park.
The green rooms at First Avenue are little more than glorified closets and there is no maze-like warren in the basement as is suggested in "Purple Rain." The backstage scenes in the film were shot a few blocks away at the Orpheum Theatre. It's possible to get a gander at these areas, along with several other historic downtown Minneapolis theaters, on a public tour led by the Hennepin Theatre Trust.
When Apollonia strips down and "purifies" herself in the "waters of Lake Minnetonka," as Prince accurately states in the film (and also seen in the trailer), "That ain’t Lake Minnetonka." It's actually the north shore of Cedar Lake, part of Minneapolis's Chain of Lakes. If you want to make a day of it, Cedar Lake has three beaches, as well as a fishing dock and canoe/kayak launch on the west side. If anyone tells you about the secret nude beach, aka Hidden Beach, aka East Cedar Beach (its current official name), be warned that nude sunbathing is no longer tolerated here. It's still pleasantly isolated and peaceful, though, accessed via a block-long path through the trees from the terminus of West 21st Street.
Fun fact: It was so cold on the day they shot this scene that Apollonia was treated for hypothermia and it allegedly started snowing soon after they wrapped for the day.
Scenes from the movie were filmed on the Skyway level of the glass-enclosed Crystal Court in the IDS Center in central downtown Minneapolis. You can't miss it, it's still one of the tallest buildings in the city. A few renovations notwithstanding, the area looks similar now to when filming occurred and is open to the public seven days a week.
Special thanks to Andrea Swensson, who contributed key elements to this article.