“U can go home — I’m getting in 2 C Prince!”
or How I Talked My Way into a Midnight Prince Concert
On Thursday, November 10, 1988, Prince brought his “Lovesexy ’88” tour to Oakland, California. My friend, Darren, and I secured our tickets two months earlier by sleeping outside of a Warehouse record store in downtown Oakland. Back then, camping out for Prince tickets was what you did if you wanted good seats (or get in at all).
But after what happened to me in the days leading up to the concert, I could have cared less about those tickets.
Monday, November 7, 1988
I first learned about the late-night Prince concert while listening to the radio before school. The announcement was sparse: a Midnight concert takes place at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre after his Oakland Coliseum engagement; tickets go on sale in two days.
The implications were astounding. I’d read about these “surprise” aftershows in my copies of Rolling Stone and Spin; there was no telling what songs Prince would play in these smaller venues: covers, rarities, even music the public has never heard. Also, Prince aftershows were reported to be scaled down from their highly produced and orchestrated arena counterparts, lending to a more relaxed performance. And most importantly, I would be a legend if I attended.
But one, insurmountable problem faced me: I was a 17 year-old high school junior. And according to the radio, I needed to be 21 to buy tickets (with proper I.D.) and get inside (also with proper I.D.). It looked bleak, and I sulked most of the day.
I had a job in a law office after school. That very day, talk about the concerts came up among the paralegals and me. (Even then, Prince was an event.) At a certain point, I lamented over not being able to go to the aftershow due to my age. One of the women said, “I didn’t know you liked Prince. My brother plays guitar in his band.”
I almost passed out.
Tuesday, November 8
At school, I cornered Darren in the hallway as soon as I saw him.
“Dude, how could I know? Anyway, Trisha (not her real name, by the way) said we can meet up at the Coliseum after the concert and go with her to San Francisco. Miko has her on the guest list, and she’ll walk us in as her guests. But,” I said pointedly, “we still have to have our own tickets.”
Both of us knew this was easier said than done. Still, the larger, central problem of getting inside was solved. We just needed to figure out a way to buy the 21-and-over-with-I.D. tickets.
When I next saw Trisha that afternoon, she gave me a small, manila envelope. Smiling as I took it, she said, “I think you’ll really like this. Miko made it from the soundboard.”
With eyes wide, I pulled the narrow clasps foreard to open the envelope. Inside was a black TDK SA-90 cassette tape. Handwritten in purple felt-tip ink, the label read: Prince ~ The Black Album.
Once I got home, I went straight to my room, plugged in my headphones, and spent the next 44 minutes and 38 seconds immersed in urban myth. My first listen of the then-unreleased Black Album (or The Funk Bible, as it was also known) felt like Travolta openening that briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Intended for release in December 1987, only a hundred or so copies survived a manufacturing recall ordered by Prince himself just a week before the scheduled date. That it even existed wasn’t widely known—even by sworn Prince fans who would gladly…
…who would gladly buy 21-and-over-with-I.D. Prince tickets for me if I gave them a copy of my crystal-clear cassette.
I immediately phoned Darren. After demanding his own copy of my tape, we re-worked this new advantage into a plan: I leave now to (yet again) camp outside an out-of-the-way Ticketmaster location. Then tomorrow morning, while I’m at the front of the line, Darren would find someone further back to take my place and buy our tickets. We’d use the tape as further incentive as needed.
An hour later I was dropped off at a Rainbow Records in a lonely strip mall, armed with a lawn chair, blanket, three layers of clothing, and my Walkman. There was no one else in sight.
It was perfect.
Wednesday, November 9
“Dude, wake up—Arthur!”
Darren was shouting at me. In a stupor, I shifted suddenly in the lawn chair, the blanket sliding to the pavement.
“C’mon, dude… let’s go.”
“The store’s open?” I said, shielding my eyes from the daylight.
Darren turned towards the car, “No; let’s go. I’ll tell you about it.”
Still groggy, I collapsed the chair, pulled the blanket under my arm and dropped the items in the trunk of his car. That’s when I saw that no one else was in front of the record store.
“It’s just you,” Darren started out. “Nobody camped out. I drove by six stores on my way over. Dude… nothing.”
This was unheard of—not one person, other than me, pulled an all-nighter for Prince tickets? “They go on sale today, right?” I asked, questioning what I’d known to be true. He glanced at me with a furrowed brow, “Yeah. I heard it again on the radio on my way over to get you.”
We went for breakfast (school wasn’t going to happen); it gave us a chance to sit and think. If there was no long line outside the store, then there wasn’t much leverage. I still had my Black Album tape, but that might not be compelling enough by itself. Especially if we drew attention from the staff by hawking a tape to their patrons.
With little more than an hour before ticket sales, Darren felt I should go it alone. “I’ll drop you back. At least you can scout it out and maybe talk to somebody.” I reluctantly agreed.
There was still no activity outside and very little foot traffic inside the small Rainbow Records. As I perused through the aisles of music, my mind raced to come up with something to salvage the plan. These past two days weren’t chance, but fate. Without saying it, Trisha Weaver offered me something more than an unreleased Prince album and an invitation to a concert. She was giving me access to Prince himself. This was a million-to-one shot, and I had nothing.
“We’ll start a line going for Prince,” announced a clerk from behind the counter.
By that time, several people had gathered toward the front of the store. Making small talk, a woman asked him, “You buying any for yourself?” Ticketmaster Guy grinned, “I’ll be able to earmark a pair.”
And that’s when it happened: he was a fan.
With only minutes left until Go time, I moved to the counter. Ticketmaster Guy was prepping the ticket terminal and acknowledged me without looking up, “Can I help you?”
I pulled out my cassette and got right to it. “How’s it going. I’m not old enough to buy the Prince tickets, but I’ve got something that says you’ll sell me two of them anyway. It’s The Black Album. You heard of it?”
I set the tape on the counter without breaking eye contact. He stopped typing and looked down at the tape, then leaned forward to get a better read of the label. “Is this real?”
I unclipped my Walkman, inserted the tape, and handed the headphones to Ticketmaster Guy. His eyes widened once I pressed PLAY. Soon, I pressed STOP. Then FAST FORWARD. Then PLAY.
He was satisfied. “Line up and show me your I.D. like everyone else. Pass me the tape when you give me your money.”
Darren was parked in front the store when I walked out. He tried to read the expression on my face. “What happened — are we good?”
I produced the small, familiar-looking Ticketmaster envelope.
“Let’s go see Prince.”
Friday, November 11
In the early hours of November 11, 1988, standing outside the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, my best friend decided he’d had enough.
I couldn’t blame Darren. It was cold, he was tired, and this looked like a lost cause. What did it matter that we had Prince aftershow tickets if we couldn’t get past the front doors? Admittedly, it was a fool’s errand from the beginning when we first learned of the surprise concert. We never thought we could actually go.
But everything changed in a few day’s time. And now, the reality was that despite a series of impossible events, being born four years too late meant that we were outside the Warfield and Prince was inside.
Things were fine just a few hours earlier, however. Darren and I left the Oakland Coliseum with Trisha and her husband after his Lovesexy tour concert. The plan was to stop at their house (we did), have a snack (we didn’t), then head to San Francisco where we’d all enter at the rear of the Warfield around 12:45 in the morning.
But while at her home close to Midnight, Trisha Weaver yawned. And from there it all unraveled.
“I’m really tired,” she exhaled. “I don’t think I’ll go.”
“Wait, what?” I piped up, “We’re supposed to walk in with you.”
Trisha swung both legs onto the couch. “I know… but I have to work tomorrow, and we just saw Prince twice in L.A.,” nodding toward her husband.
“Well, I’m still going,” her husband declared. Seeing my growing panic, he quickly added, “Can I take them in?”
Trisha shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I think Miko had us both on the list. They have tickets, though.”
I tried desperately to pull it back together. “We do have tickets, but we have to show I.D., remember? That was the whole point of going with you.”
“Riiight…” Trisha recalled. Then, preserving her stance, suggested, “Well, show them your wristbands.”
I frowned and looked down at my arm. The “wristbands” were these teal-colored plastic bands — similar to what you’d get at a club confirming you were old enough to drink. There was a fuchsia “Lovesexy ’88” logo across the center. Darren and I looked silly wearing them, but she gave them to us earlier, so we we put them on.
“Just go to the stage door, give them my name, and tell them you’re my guests. You’ll be fine.” And with that, Trisha Weaver was in for the night.
One Hour Later
“I don’t care if Prince gave you those wristbands. Your names aren’t on the list, so you’re not going inside—goodbye.”
The greeter at the Warfield stage door had put up with us for about five minutes longer than his patience probably allowed. For a second, though, I thought we’d get through. But now we were forced to deal with the main entrance.
The Warfield Theatre is a 2300-seat downtown venue with an open floor, bar, and a balcony with theater-style seats. It was one in the morning and the line still wrapped around the building. When we finally got to the front, I held out my ticket and I.D. like everyone else had before me.
“No good,” said the really big guy at the door who glanced at my credentials. He looked to Darren behind me, “You guys together?”
Darren nodded. Big Guy waved us away, “Goodbye, gentlemen.”
We moved aside, but I started panic-protesting while valid ticket holders moved through his checkpoint. “We came from the Coliseum.” I held up my arm, “They gave us wristbands and said we could get in.”
Big Guy wasn’t having it while he moved people through, but I pressed on, “We’re supposed to be on the list, but the guy at the stage door couldn’t find us.”
He shook his head without looking over, “I don’t know anything about that.”
Despair crept into my words, “But we’ve got tickets—how could we have tickets if we weren’t supposed to get in?” I pointed to my useless wristband, “They gave us these when they gave us the tickets!”
Darren said nothing, which was good. One voice. One story. And considering that only paperclips kept my composure together, I was doing all right. Big Guy took a moment’s mercy and gave me his full attention.
“Let me see that,” he barked, looking at my wristband. “Now, what’s this for?”
Hell if I knew.
I steadied my voice, “They gave these to us with our tickets. It’s supposed to let us backstage.”
He looked at me hard, then at Darren.
He went inside the theater and another doorman took over the line. I looked over at Darren, who gave me a shrug and stuck his hands in the pockets of his parka.
Three of the longest minutes ever passed before Big Guy came back. Behind him was a smaller man dressed in loafers, slacks, and a collared shirt. I took him for the manager, and he came straight at me.
“Who are you supposed to be with?” he asked sharply.
“Trisha Weaver,” I said, intimidated as hell.
“And where is she?”
“She didn’t come, but she’s on the guest list and Miko— ”
He waved me off, “If she’s not here and you guys can’t show me adult I.D., then it’s not gonna happen tonight.”
I mounted a protest, “But they gave us—”
“It’s not gonna happen,” he said firmly.
He went back inside. Minutes passed.
Darren was finished, “Dude, I’m going home. We’re not getting in.”
I felt betrayed. Not by my friend, but by the string of fortuitous events that rained down during the past week; taunting me with the false promise of glory.
“You can go home,” I snapped back. “I’m getting in to see Prince!”
Darren said nothing, nor did he move.
The two of us lingered in silence, Darren pacing every so often to keep warm in the cool, early morning air. I was pretty sure Prince wasn’t on stage yet, but I could hear random cheering from inside. The wind and echoes of the night made it all the more hopeless.
And then something happened.
At first I thought Big Guy was going to kick us off the property for loitering. But instead, he pushed open one of the double doors and leaned out of it.
“Okay guys, come on in.”
I damn near ran inside, with Darren only a step behind me. As we moved through a second set of glass doors, there to meet us was the same manager who told us to go home. “Give me your tickets.”
We handed them over, and he quickly scrutinized each one. Giving them back to us, he laid out his terms: “We’re going to walk upstairs to the balcony, and I’m putting you in two seats. You will stay in those seats. If I see either one of you out of those seats, you’re both out. Understood?”
We nodded, then followed him up the staircase to the balcony. Reaching the top, we veered right and entered the auditorium. I was relieved to find that the show hadn’t started.
Our host led us to the front row with a clear view of the stage.
“Enjoy the show, guys.” And he was gone.
“Arthur, what just happened?”
“I have no idea,” I answered. “And I really don’t care.”
Minutes later, the house lights dimmed.
A version of this story appeared in Issue 24 of The Loop Magazine. Special thanks to Jim Dalrymple and I encourage you to visit The Loop and subscribe to its exceptional content. -at