THUNDER BAY – Prince has been gone for more than three years, but his sound will never die.
Not with bands like St. Paul and the Minneapolis Funk All Stars keeping his legacy alive, still pursuing that First Avenue style made famous by the purple one in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as he burst from the Twin Cities onto the global stage.
Audiences may have come for Johnny Reid and Tom Cochrane and Red Rider on Friday night as the 2019 Thunder Bay Blues Festival kicked off at Marina Park, but those who came early got a fun-filled taste of the Minneapolis sound.
Led by St. Paul Peterson, recruited out of high school by Prince himself to play in his band, St. Paul and the Minneapolis Funk All Stars stole the show on Day 1.
Featuring Jellybean Johnson, who played with Morris Day and the Time and later in The Family, singer Ashley Tamar Davis, who sang with Prince on Beautiful, Love and Blessed, and keyboardist Cassandra O’Neal among the collection of talent culled together by Peterson, the band danced and sang their way through a collection of songs from their past.
Jungle Love, featured in the iconic film Purple Rain, got the crowd in the mood and then a medley of Prince favourites sealed the deal, a collection that included Cream, U Got the Look, Delirious and Kiss.
“We were all connected to Prince, except Gene (Lake),” said Tamar Davis, fresh off her scene-stealing performance.
“I worked with him for years and did a whole album. Paul and the rest came way before my time, but they did all of the Time. All of those original records, that’s all them. It was just a blessing to meet them in person and hear them live. They don’t age.”
Tamar Davis said it’s a blessing to be able to keep Prince’s music alive.
“When he’s alive, you’re not thinking about carrying on his legacy. You’re just living in the moment. Now that he’s gone, it’s like you have no choice but to carry the sound because the funk was so alive when he was here,” she said.
Cochrane, who played the festival as recently as 2016, spent his hour on stage doling out hit after hit, including Big League, released in 1988 but re-worked and rewritten last year after the horrific crash that claimed the lives of 17 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey club.
The 66-year-old said the hockey song was perfect for Thunder Bay, talking about how many NHLers originated in the city.
“I think the Staal brothers count for hundreds of them,” he joked with the crowd, later once again dedicating the song to those lost in last year’s crash.
The day began with Winnipeg’s Ariel Posen, who last performed at the Blues Festival in 2015 as a member of Brothers Landreth.
He said he felt privileged to be first on the bill at the three-day event.
“It’s my second time at the festival and to open it under my own name, my solo thing, was an honour. It was a great crowd, great weather. It was perfect,” Posen said.
Another repeat performer, Davy Knowles, turned things up a notch. An Irishman who now calls Chicago home, Knowles was last in Thunder Bay in 2009.
He’s not sure why it took so long to return.
“First and foremost, what a beautiful corner of the world you have here,” he said in a backstage interview, packing his own gear in the band’s van, an Indiana date next on the horizon.
“It’s a really gorgeous place to have a festival right on the water. And it was a really fun crowd, as soon as you get them up on their feet and get them involved.”
Reid, a country star with a pop mindset, closed out Day 1 as darkness set over the waterfront, bouncing from one side of the stage to the other, stopping to take selfies on cellphones handed over the barriers and joking with a mostly female fan base all too eager to catch his attention.
“Put your shirt on, miss, this is a family show,” he said before launching into another song.
Blues Fest continues on Saturday with Bryan Adams, Amanda Marshall, Meghan Patrick and The Trews highlighting the lineup.