This is part of a multi-part tribute to Prince. See the rest of the parts here, and check back in the coming days for more interviews!
Eli Flasher is best known to many in the Twin Cities music scene as a talent buyer/booker at First Avenue, but to me he is an old friend. Born 3 days apart in 1984, we met at Hebrew school when we were 9 and were Bar Mitzvah'd on the same day in 1997. From an early age, Eli was more interested than any of my other friends in attending concerts. I remember being impressed that he had attended a show at First Avenue while we were in our early teens, and it was no surprise to me that he ended up working there as an intern before becoming a full-time staff member.
Eli plays an important part in my history with Prince. Back in 2006, the two of us and our friend Drew Paterson would regularly attend the monthly Prince party held in what was then the VIP Room at First Avenue (currently known as The Record Room). The parties were sparsely attended, there were rarely many more than a couple dozen people, but those parties - and Eli and Drew - really cemented my fandom of Prince and got me exploring deeper in to his catalog. In October 2009, Eli and I went to Paisley Park for Prince's first show there in several years. That was the first time I saw Prince in concert and also the best concert I have ever seen in my life. I have seen more concerts with Eli than with anyone else on this planet.
I sat down with Eli to talk about what it was like to be inside First Avenue when Prince died, how the all-night parties took shape, and what Prince meant to First Avenue.
How did you hear the news that Prince had died?
I arrived to First Avenue at around 11:30am Thursday, and the first thing I heard was our receptionist Sarah saying she saw on Twitter that a body was found at Paisley Park. At first we were all thinking a lot of people work there, it might not be him. About an hour later when it was confirmed, that’s when shit hit the fan per se. It sunk in that Prince had died, and we had to quickly figure out what we were going to do to honor him and show our respect to someone who was so important to First Avenue.
How quickly did people start showing up outside?
Within a half hour, people were showing up and the phone started ringing off the hook. The first phone call I answered was from BBC, so we realized early on that it was going to be a global impact, and we were going to be one of the epicenters of all the press and memorial. Within an hour people were lining up by his star and leaving flowers. Local news showed up. More phone calls from Vice, Pitchfork, and every local news source. Very quickly we decided we had to do something.
What were the first steps to making the parties happen?
We work very closely with the City of Minneapolis. Our owner Dayna decided we should try and get a permit for the weekend to stay open late. We talked to the city and got permits to stay open until 7 AM that night. Initially, I thought that was going to be too much, 7 AM is a bit of a stretch on a Thursday night, but it became apparent that 7 AM would work for us. So we got the permits locked in and then it was a matter of what are we going to do? We decided that a dance party made the most sense. We started putting the pieces together, figuring out what time our show was going to be out, how to get people out, and a whole bunch of other logistics.
What was your role in the parties?
My job specifically was to plan the dance parties. Figure out who could DJ and make a schedule and kind of go from there. Everybody I talked to about that was so on board with it. They all wanted to be a part of it. Mike Davis was the first guy I asked, he said “let me know where and when, I’ll be there” and he made a flyer for us within a couple hours.
How has the response been since the parties?
The response has been fantastic. At first we weren’t sure if we were going to charge people to come to the event. We have costs as a club, expenses for the staff, plus drinks, lights, the whole nine. Normally we make our money back off of bar sales of course, but with the bar only being open until 2 AM, we didn’t have a lot to go with there, but we realized that keeping this event free to the public was important to us. The thanks we’ve gotten from people who came through that weekend has been incredible. Everybody who came in recognized the fact that our staff was over worked and sleep deprived. I think everyone who was there realized they were witnessing a very special event in Minneapolis.
How has this experience been to you not just as a First Avenue employee but as a fan of Prince?
At first for me personally, the first hour after his death I was very emotional, I was drained. I was extremely sad. Within the hour after that everybody who works there had to put that aside and figure out how to make this work, for the sake of the fans, for the sake of the city. We have to put aside our own emotions and work for a bit.
Sunday when I woke up from the long weekend I kind of went back to my mourning because someone I really care about and really enjoy seeing is no longer around. Part of the fun of working at First Avenue is every couple months we’d get a call from Prince’s camp saying that he knows what’s happening tonight and wants to come down for the show. I’ve worked there 6 years, we’ve gotten about 15 phone calls saying he was coming down but I’ve only seen him at First Avenue 4 or 5 times. Realizing that we're never going to get one of those phone calls again is really sad. There’s no one more exciting to have at First Avenue than Prince.
He came down about a month before he passed for the Are You Local Showcase, the band King was playing. We got the call and just kind of assumed it was just a phone call but we prepared just in case he showed up. This time he actually did come down. He shows up, he’s got his long hair down, he’s wearing this big white robe kind of thing, and he had a cane and a young lady by his side. He slowly walked up the stairs, no one really knows he’s there, but those who do notice turn to their friends and say “Holy shit! There’s Prince”. That was the last show he came to at First Avenue. The fact that it’s never going to happen again is mind blowing. No one else in Minneapolis creates that kind of buzz that Prince did, or ever will I think.
I would like to add a note to Eli and every other staff member at First Avenue:
Thank you! Those all-night dance parties were exactly what this city needed. That weekend was one of the most powerful and amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. I will never forget the sacrifices that you all had to make to make those parties happen, and I am eternally grateful.