Photos by Christine Bord
I wouldn't call myself a huge Elvis fan, but I do love Graceland. It's the quintessential, kitchy roadside attraction and it's hard to pass through Memphis without stepping through that famous Musical Note gate for a tour of Elvis' beloved estate, where the green shag carpeting is still in its place.
So, when I heard the same company that manages Graceland was going to be in charge of the tours at Prince's compound, Paisley Park, I booked a flight to Minneapolis and bought a ticket for one of the first tours. Luckily for me, my tour was still on, after many other fans had theirs canceled.
When I arrived at Paisley Park, via shuttle (there isn't any on-site parking), I was herded into the lobby with dozens of other Prince fans - most of whom were wearing purple - where our cell phones were immediately locked in Yondr cases so no one could take photos or videos. This was the one point they were extremely strict about and, in today's world of constant contact, it was a bit unsettling.
After the shock that we wouldn't have access to the outside world for the next hour or so wore off, we were led into the front atrium, where it was made clear why there was such a strict no photo policy. There, in the middle of room, was a miniature replica of Paisley Park that contained Prince's ashes and a tour guide who pointed out Prince's office to the left and his sitting room to the right, both of which were left largely untouched. For some fans, this was an incredibly emotional experience (boxes of tissues are available around the room) while others felt it was distasteful.
There were also a few themed rooms set up off of the atrium, including a "Diamonds and Pearls" room, that marked some of the highlights of Prince's career. From the atrium, the tour splits into general admission and VIP. Both tours visit at least one of Prince's studios where another guide is waiting to share a few insider stories and play a snippet of previously unreleased music. This is also where it is made clear just how quickly they threw these tours together.
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On our tour, the studio guide stumbled through her script as she read it from a sheet of paper and was unable to answer any questions. This was a common theme. The guide in the next room, another studio that had been converted to the "Purple Rain" room and featured memorabilia from the movie — including that famous motorcycle — was also unable to answer questions.
Everyone was very nice and was very enthusiastic to be there, but it seemed as if none of the employees were given any actual information about the property.
From there, we went through another small room, which also appeared to have once been a studio, but was now filled with props and costumes from the movies "Under the Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge.” This is also where the Paisley Park tour diverges from Graceland. Where most of Graceland has been left largely intact — acting as a time capsule from the ‘70s — and gives visitors an authentic look at how Elvis lived, most of the public rooms in Paisley Park have been transformed into museum spaces, where carefully curated pieces of Prince's past are displayed behind glass.
Before exiting the tour fans pass through a large soundstage, where Prince held a public party just days before his death, to see a few displays of the instruments he used on various world tours. From here, fans exit through a makeshift gift shop, set up under a tent in the parking lot (another sign they weren't wasting any time getting things going) and are given the option to try a few of Prince's favorite foods.
This was the highlight of the tour for me and must for anyone who visits Paisley Park. It was also one of the few elements of the tour that felt authentic. I tried the sampler platter with Bibb Lettuce Cups, Wild Rice with Pumpkin Sauce and other vegetarian dishes Prince enjoyed. The meal also comes with a program explaining what each dish is and why it was one of his favorites.
As I left Paisley Park, I spoke briefly with a gentleman who worked there prior to Prince's death and he marveled at how much the property had changed in such a short period of time. He also indicated that there were still many changes and improvements to come at the new Paisley Park museum, hinting at what we all knew already: it was a total rush job to get these tours going and start making money.
Last night the news broke that the Chanhassen City Council signed off on a deal to rezone the home and recording studio, allowing it to permanently open as a museum. Paisley Park's website also confirmed tours will begin again this Friday. With its museum status now intact, Graceland Holdings is expecting more than 600,000 people to visit the landmark each year.
Tickets can, once again, be purchased at officialpaisleypark.com.