CHANHASSEN, Minn. Matt Conrad has seen Prince perform seven times, and he's visited the singer/songwriter's Paisley Park studio twice before, for "Dance 'Til Dawn" parties.
But despite a daunting price tag, he knew he had to make the trek from Indianapolis to take a "VIP" tour of the R&B icon's 65,000-square-foot complex.
"I ... wasn't sure if I should shell out the $70 for the VIP tour or just pay $15 for the regular tour," Conrad said of his visit to "Prince: A Celebration" a weeklong event featuring tours of the studio, nightly parties and the artist's first performance as Prince since he announced his name change in May.
In the end, Conrad paid the extra $55, and he was glad. Not only did it get him on the tour, but it also got him a choice seat for Tuesday's (June 13) concert at Minneapolis' Northrup Auditorium. By noon Monday, the $15 tour, which ran every half-hour, was sold out.
That didn't stop fans who were either disappointed that they didn't get in or elated they did from milling about the Paisley Park gates, sharing memories and making plans for Monday night's party, which was to have a "Purple Rain" theme. Prince has thrown the VIP-only parties every night since May 7, when Macy Gray who was in town for a performance the next night sang several songs.
A man from Oakland, Calif., who refused to identify himself was walking around the grounds carrying a ventriloquist's dummy resembling Prince, which the man called "Mo Less." He interviewed people and jokingly claimed he wrote "Purple Rain" and was in town to collect his royalties.
You Get What You Pay For
It turned out that the $15 tour didn't reveal much anyway. A report in Thursday's Minneapolis Star Tribune described a rushed, 10-minute jaunt through the complex, with stops in two studio control rooms, a look at Prince's gold and platinum records, and a visit to the Paisley Museum, which includes the motorcycle the singer rode in the 1984 movie "Purple Rain" and gold and purple versions of the singer's guitar shaped like the symbol he took as his name in 1993.
Every room in the complex has some sort of musical significance. For example, Prince recorded his 1993 song "Pope" in the building's three-story atrium. Also, every room in the building is wired for sound, so Prince can record wherever he wishes, Conrad said his tour guide told him.
"It was kind of lame," said Dwayne Clair of St. Paul, Minn., who took the $15 tour. "The museum was cool, but I really thought we'd see more."
The 2,000 fans who purchased VIP passes did. When they registered in the parking lot, they received their tickets to Tuesday's concert, a laminated pass and an itinerary resembling a CD jacket.
In addition to the sights shown to the $15 tour-takers, a $70 ticket got a visitor into the studios' performance rooms, Paisley Park's office area, a game room with pinball machines and pingpong tables and an instrument room containing guitars and keyboards, Conrad said. They even got to see the garage where Prince shot his "Sexy MF" video in 1992.
They didn't get to see the inside of "The Vault," where Prince stores his unreleased recordings. But they got to spend as much time wandering around the complex as they desired. Conrad spent most of his time in the museum, where he said he tried to re-create the percussion parts of songs from Prince's 1982 album, 1999 (RealAudio excerpt of title track).
Conrad, who helps manage a Prince fan site at www.prince.org, drove more than 10 hours to take the tour. Others came from even farther away. The line of vehicles that stretched from the studio for a mile alongside Audubon Road included license plates from Virginia, Florida and Manitoba, Canada.
Prince built Paisley Park in 1985, after "When Doves Cry" (RealAudio excerpt) became the biggest-selling single of 1984. The complex is on the outskirts of an industrial park, its bright white facade standing in stark contrast to the gray brick office building and yellow steel warehouse just to the east.
Security guards at the gates did not know how many people had taken the tour since Prince opened the doors to visitors Wednesday, his 42nd birthday. But they said Monday was the first day the tours had sold out so quickly.
Some Disappointments, Some Surprises
Several of those who got turned away at the gate were locals who decided to come down at the last minute, after learning about the tours from the media.
"Even though I knew we wouldn't get to see everything, it still would have been cool to see the museum," Annette Peterson of St. Paul said. "It kind of sucks for me, but I really feel sorry for people who drove a long way and couldn't get in."
Many of the VIPs, such as Conrad, decided to wait until Monday the last day of the tours to visit, since they're staying in town for Tuesday's concert. Conrad, a first-year law student at Indiana University at Indianapolis, said he ran into Monte Moir, keyboard player for Prince associates The Time, in the museum. He said Moir told him to expect several special guests, though the musician wouldn't name names.
Conrad's VIP seat is in the 38th row on the floor, but he says he doesn't mind he stood in the front row at his first Prince performance on Jan. 18, 1997.
"He's such a musical genius, I don't care where I sit," Conrad said. "As long as I can hear the music."