A Prince story

I went looking for the ticket stub today but couldn’t find it. I’ve kept the stubs from almost every concert and ballgame I’ve ever been to, but somehow this one slipped away. That’s OK. The memory holds.

We camped out all night for tickets. In the ’80s you had two options if you wanted tickets for a big concert. You called Ticketmaster the morning they went on sale and listened to a busy signal over and over for six hours. Or you stood in line all night at a ticket outlet. We stood in line because Prince was bringing his Purple Rain tour to the Omni in Atlanta and we had to be there.

So we took a place on the sidewalk outside a record store called Turtle’s in Athens, Ga., sometime on the evening of Nov. 30, 1984. I know the date because the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game was the next day. My friends Virgil and Perry, who went to Tech, were coming for the game anyway so they got there early to camp out for tickets. Our friends David and Andy joined us, even though they weren’t going to the show, because it sounded like fun and also because we had Jack Daniels.

Pretty soon the line went down the sidewalk and up the side of the parking lot and across the back side of the lot next to the street. It’s hard to stay up all night, even when you’re 20 years old. Andy and I amused ourselves by doing Scooby-Doo impressions. It’s possible we did this for hours, and possible that the people near us in line threatened to kill us if we didn’t stop. My memory is a little hazy on that part.

What I do remember is that Prince’s music was everywhere. Somebody had “Dirty Mind” on a boombox, and somebody else had “D.M.S.R.” blasting from a car, and everything from the “Purple Rain” soundtrack was all over the radio. It struck me how diverse the crowd was for a mostly white Southern college town. You could love Prince for the guitar licks and the funk grooves and the dirty lyrics and the perfect pop melodies. You could love him if you were straight or gay or something else. He erased every line in the sand and did it in platform shoes. He was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

If I remember right, the tickets went on sale at 10 in the morning. At 10:05 somebody with a bullhorn said the show was sold out. Only a few people at the front of the line had gotten seats. The rest of us moaned and cussed. All that time for nothing.

Then the bullhorn clicked on again.

“He’s adding more shows!”

Today I know they probably had more shows scheduled all along and just wanted to make sure people were in line to buy the tickets. But that morning, it felt like a miracle. After another half-hour or so we made it into the store and bought three seats for the fourth show of five. Our seats were behind the stage. We didn’t care. The show was five weeks away. I held that ticket close every day.

Sheila E. was the opener. Like Prince, she was gorgeous and she could really play. At the end they cut the lights and she did a percussion solo with neon drumsticks. She would have been an A-plus club show by herself. But then, after intermission, the lights went down again. It’s one of my favorite moments in the world, when you’re at a big show and all of a sudden it goes dark and you know the thing you’ve been waiting on for so long is about to happen.

Dearly beloved …

He opened with “Let’s Go Crazy” / “Delirious” / “1999” / “Little Red Corvette” — four homers to start off the game, parked in the upper deck. Nobody sat down after that. I’m not sure we breathed for the next two hours, except maybe for laughing along with “International Lover.” I can’t find a bootleg from that night — if you know of one, holler — but back then “Baby I’m a Star” was routinely going 15 to 30 minutes, with multiple solos and dances and whatnot. I remember never wanting it to stop. The band was so tight — one of the many things Prince did was bring the joy of a hot live band to a concert scene being taken over by synths and drum machines. He stood in the middle of it all, ripping guitar solos and screaming the high notes and dancing like James Brown crossed with a stripper. They hit the long breakdown to end it and walked off the stage and we all just stood there spent.

That was encore 1.

Encore 2 was “Purple Rain.”

The words of “Purple Rain” are about a breakup, but the music is gospel. They could play those chords in a Baptist church on Sunday and it would fit right in.  I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, and a couple that equaled that night, but I’ve never been to another show that was so much at once — so many different styles, so many brilliant ideas, so many connections that no one had made before Prince came along.

The music built to that last big solo, and we swayed in the purple light.








6 thoughts on “A Prince story

  1. Pingback: Recent stories | Tommy Tomlinson

  2. Hi Tommy,

    I loved this story. You have always been such a great writer.

    Thank you,

    Nancy Gilbert

  3. I can imagine that goofy group of guys at about 4am after a bottle of Jack! ❤ loved this. Having never seen him live, I shall continue to live vicariously. Thanks for taking me to that concert Tommy!

  4. Thank you for a wonderful tribute to a true Rock Legend! When “Purple Rain” was released during 1984, I was separated from my ex husband for the first time and trying to regroup after suffering a miscarriage and an abusive episode in my life. Just goes to show how people can experience the same time frame from very different perspectives. Whenever I hear any of the music from his album it takes me back and makes me realize exactly how differently my life turned out. Rest In Peace, Prince Rogers Nelson.

  5. Thank you. I never got to see Prince live–oddly enough, I was thinking about that within the past week, as I was standing at my cash register in the retail store where I work part-time, listening to him telling us to “party like it’s 1999.”

  6. A-fuckin’-MEN, my brother.

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