July 2014: Prince thrills Essence Festival crowd at Superdome _lowres

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Prince performs during the 2014 ESSENCE Festival at the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Friday, July 4, 2014.

I’ll never forget the night I saw Prince. Not just because — well, I got to see Prince! — but because I did so under an assumed identity.

It was the 2004 Essence Fest, and as the rest of our group hiked up to our nosebleed Superdome seats, one of our friends excused herself. She knew a lot of musicians and had something of a reputation for working these things, so the rest of us figured something was up. And indeed, she eventually made her way back up to the 600 level, signaled for us to follow her, and handed out sparkly badges to stick on our chests.

They identified each of us as artists on the Soul Superlounge Stage. Hmm.

If you’ve met me, or even see my photo, you’re probably thinking that’s not really credible. Which is exactly what I thought.

Still, the badge was my passport through various checkpoints, first down to the floor level, and eventually, after a series of delicate negotiations, backstage. The whole drama distracted us from the first part of the show, frankly, but we got into position in time for Prince’s mesmerizing, acoustic slo-mo rendition of “Little Red Corvette,” the same one that my colleague Keith Spera wrote about in his tribute today.

It was magical, all the more so because we knew that at any moment we might be exposed as imposters and escorted out.

In the end, it turned out that nobody much cared, or even seemed to notice. The one exception was then-New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who spotted my sticker and gave me an exaggerated side-eye that dissolved into a big smile and joyful wink. That’s how I remember it anyway. Thomas may not remember it at all, but I always think of it as the time he could have busted me, but didn’t.

After we heard that Prince had died Thursday, my friends from that concert all reminisced on Facebook, and it felt like just about everyone else in town did the same. Prince was adored worldwide, but his refusal to be pigeonholed probably gave him a special spiritual connection to New Orleans. Hey, if he could inspire this ink-stained wretch to pose as a Soul Superlounge artist, what wasn’t possible?

‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.