Essence Festival Highlights: July 4 _lowres

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

The first, and still the only, time I ever went to Minneapolis was a short, unseasonably cold weekend trip in June 2008.

I had done some recorded interviews that were going to be part of an art show there, paired with some photographs, and it was the show’s opening weekend.

“I’m off to Minneapolis,” I told my friends jokingly. “I’ll say hi to Prince for you.”

Astoundingly, it turned out that on one of the two nights the photographer and I planned to spend in Minneapolis, a club was hosting something called the Prince Family Reunion. Of course, we went.

There were about 20 artists on the bill, all of whom had played in one of Prince’s bands or with one of the long list of acts associated with him, from Dez Dickerson, Bobby Z and Dr. Fink of the Revolution to members of the Time and Mint Condition.

The Prince-associated funk band Mazarati, led by Revolution bassist Brown Mark, reunited for apparently the first time in 20 years. It was mind-blowing — the show and the strange, happy accident of the timing. I came home to New Orleans thinking that Minneapolis was one of the most magical musical places in the world.

As a member of the MTV generation, I grew up with Prince: the crackling funk, the electric passions, the identity-shifting, the uncompromising fights with the music industry, the mystical spirituality. The last experience I had with him, in any remotely direct way, was early in the morning of Saturday, July 5, 2014. He had headlined the Essence Festival’s 20th anniversary event that Friday, the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful, nostalgic show, with all the hits, and he presided over it in a manner that was as regal as his favorite color.

Cascading streams of purple light ran down the towering LED screens onstage at the Superdome. It was very grand, but I left feeling a little wanting; it had been so grand, such a victory lap, that it seemed to lack some sizzle. One of the greatest living guitar players in America had barely picked up his guitar.

Liv Warfield, a singer from Prince’s New Power Generation group, had a late-night show scheduled at the House of Blues, and we all went, hoping for one of Prince’s surprise late-night pop-ups. “Forecast tonight is purple,” read a text from someone in the know.

Mostly the crowd had been to Essence and were giddy from a long night of music. Warfield is a powerful, dynamic performer, and her soul set that post-midnight seemed infused with extra tension and excitement from the promise of Prince. It was 3 a.m., then 4 a.m.

And then suddenly, there was a flash of energy in the air. A small fleet of black cars pulled up in front of the club and unloaded musicians carrying cases — the NPG horn section — and a few large men wearing purple ties and pocket squares. They shone high-beam lights at the dozens cell phones now waving in the air trying to snap photos.

I saw him for half a second, tiny behind his round sunglasses, scurrying through the door. The crowd rushed back inside and there was Prince, onstage, strutting through the big band, firing off nasty licks from his guitar.

He was up there for all of five minutes, and then gone. It was almost 5 a.m. and we were all loopy and aglow, beaming on a purple cloud.

At that lucky concert in Minneapolis, so many people — among them, artists who had not even necessarily ended their professional relationships with him on especially good terms — had united onstage to celebrate how Prince had brought them together, to celebrate this thing called life, to get freaky and joyous.

His life and his work had been one long, sparkling, inimitable example, uniting the ecstasies of the flesh and the spirit onto one packed dance floor, all boundaries and limitations gone — if you wanted them gone — in a puff of purple smoke.

Just last month, Prince announced a plan to write his memoirs, a tantalizing promise from an artist as cloaked in secrecy as he was in glamour. Some reports say he already had chapters completed, though of course there is no word yet as to whether or how those pages might be released.

And I wonder, in a world without a living Prince, who was so careful about what he revealed and when he revealed it, if I want to read them, or to just remember how he was capable of making us feel.

“Look at you,” he had said from the Essence Festival stage. “Look at how beautiful you look.”

Alison Fensterstock writes about music. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonF_NOLA.