The iconic Minneapolis concert venue First Avenue has hosted thousands of musical artists since its opening in 1970, but none has been as profoundly intertwined with the club’s legacy as Prince.
The venue was originally called the Depot, then Uncle Sam’s, and then just Sam’s by the time Prince first took the stage on March 9, 1981. By 1983, the purple one was a worldwide celebrity and Sam’s had been re-christened once again as First Avenue. Prince loved the club so much that he bought out the main room for a month so that his 1984 film Purple Rain could be filmed there. The movie was a huge hit, and the club’s fame was cemented. After the film’s release First Avenue painted its black exterior walls with bright, silver stars commemorating key artists who had played there. Prince’s star went up near the main entrance, level with the crowds lined up on concert nights.
An aura of mystery surrounded Prince’s connection with First Avenue. Rumors swirled that he secretly owned the club (he didn’t), and that he secretly watched up-and-coming artists from a VIP spot overlooking the stage (he did). And after Prince’s death in 2016, a new mystery emerged: who painted Prince’s First Avenue star gold?
Prince Rogers Nelson died of on April 21, 2016. Fans around the world, and especially in Minneapolis, were devastated. A sprawling memorial was held on the street outside First Avenue, with heartbroken mourners leaving mementos and votives beneath their hero’s star. A few weeks later, on the morning of May 4, passersby discovered that the star formerly painted silver had been adorned with shiny gold.
Radio stations, local news and social media blew up over the gilded upgrade. It was assumed First Avenue themselves had made the change, but they knew nothing about it. Rumors swirled again. Later that year, the mystery painter revealed himself. Peyton Russell, a local artist with a motley professional connection to Prince, was responsible for the secret refurbishment. On the night of May 3, Russell and a small team of conspirators surreptitiously varnished over the silver star and applied the gold leaf as a tribute to the artist.
First Avenue decided to keep the affectionate embellishment and since then the star has become a secondary attraction to the club itself. To this day fans and tourists gather to take photos in front of Prince’s lustrous star.
Visitors can easily find the gold star on the right side of the club’s entrance, along with the occasional memento left on the sidewalk for the beloved musician. But to properly pay homage to the man, buy a ticket to a show and party like it’s 1999.
Know Before You Go
First Avenue is located in downtown Minneapolis kitty-corner from the Target Center.