Plume Varia Remembers Prince Before Tribute at Red Rocks

The sold-out tribute to Prince at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Thursday, May 12 will start at 7 p.m. (doors at 6:15 p.m.). The event, in addition to the screening of Purple Rain, will feature a poetry performance, ten bands performing one or two Prince songs each, plus a finale including Heavy Heavies playing “Purple Rain” on instruments with members of the other bands on vocals. Because of the number of performers, bands will be sharing some equipment to bypass changing gear for every band, so the audience won't have long to wait between bands.

Kristin Nolan from the Denver Film Society produced the event and booked the bands while Britta Erikson, DFS Festival Director, booked the film for the screening and Denver Arts and Venues secured a date that would work. Initially, the movie screening sold out to the usual Film on the Rocks capacity, which is less than the full concert capacity. But when the event sold out so quickly, the full capacity of the venue was approved and it, too, sold out in record time.

“Prince's death was felt throughout the community and as such it didn't feel right to have just one band represent our grief and his work in conjunction with Purple Rain,” says Nolan. “We chose instead to bring together a cross-section of our substantial local music scene to highlight the scope of Prince's influence and the legacy of inspiration he leaves behind. The bands involved have dedicated substantial time reflecting on how they can best honor Prince in [one or two] songs that they have largely not performed before. Pulling a show of this size together in such a short time [had] its challenges, but the opportunity to see the community, and such talented musicians including the 115-person Denver Gay Men's Chorus, gather and pay tribute to the work of Prince in a venue like Red Rocks is simply without compare.”

One of the bands selected to perform, Plume Varia, has a special and personal connection to the Purple One.

“It can't be understated in saying Prince to Cherie is her Bowie, her Elvis,” says Plume Varia guitarist Shon Cobbs.

Cherie and Shon Cobbs lived in Minneapolis in the late '90s, when Prince first started using the Internet to announce his legendary parties at his home, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“In the early days of mass Internet, he was, surprisingly, considering his stance in later days, an early adopter of using the Internet to connect with fans,” recalls Cobbs. “He had this message board website called Love For One Another. Cherie would go on all the time. Since early childhood she's been a Prince fan. They would post on there, day of, 'Party tonight 2 a.m.' or '3 a.m.' and no other information. Maybe it would say 'seven dollar suggested donation.' One day Cherie saw [one of those announcements, and she] and her sister went. They didn't even know if he would be there. She had no idea what to expect. No one had GPS on their phones in '98 or '99 and they had to map it out to get there. She had to work the next morning but went anyway. They get there at midnight or 1 a.m. and there's a line of people. At the appointed time they paid their donation and went in and there were snacks and drinks. No alcohol, of course. Inside it was like a dance club in his house. There's a stage and instruments all around. He and his band then performed a show for less than a hundred people. He was notorious for throwing these parties. Sometimes he would perform. Sometimes he wouldn't.”

“Cherie went two more times," continues Cobbs. "The next time was with her sister and her sister in-law and he performed again with [Sly & The Family Stone bass player and uncle of Drake,] Larry Graham that time. The same set-up and seven dollars and same handful of people. The third time she went with my brother and he didn't perform but it was a dance party and he was either deejaying or walking amongst the crowd and hanging out and dancing. He would also show up to venues to watch bands, even locals. Right before he died he went to Electric Fetus — like [Minneapolis's] Amoeba Records or Twist & Shout —on Record Store Day and bought some records. He was so connected to that city and the scene. Cherie never met him because she was a bit shy. We were just talking today that if we could do that over again we would definitely try to introduce ourselves. What better way to pay tribute and honor him than to play a couple of songs at Red Rocks opening for Purple Rain.”

Below is the list of performers you can expect for the evening:

Nathan Lund - MC
Stephen Agyei - MC
Suzi Q. Smith - Poet
Denver Gay Men's Chorus
Ian Cooke Band with Kevin Johnson of The Bright Silence, Elin Palmer and members of Chimney Choir
Shady Elders
Wheelchair Sports Camp
Andy Rok and the Real Deal
Plume Varia
Heavy Heavies 

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.