Prince’s final public concerts in 2016 were at the Fox Theatre. For Prince fans in Atlanta, the poignancy of his unforeseen death still runs deep five years later.
That history and legacy will weigh on the Prince tribute band Purple Xperience when they arrive Friday at Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center.
“There’s a certain Prince army that will be there,” said lead singer Marshall Charloff, a Minneapolis native himself who has been performing Prince hits both with his five-piece band and in solo shows. “We bleed purple together. There’s this sense of community. And people bring their kids. They feel an obligation because their kids will never see this amazing performer ever.”
In 2011, he started the group with Dr. Fink, Prince’s original keyboard player. Before Prince died, Charloff met with the legendary artist at Paisley Park and Prince watched Purple Xperience perform. “He was cool with it,” Charloff said. “He knew musicians need to work. He saw we could do his songs at an extremely high level.”
Not that it was an easy sell early on for hardcore fans, he said. “We had to prove ourselves,” he said. “It took time to earn our stripes.”
In his mind, the concert “isn’t forced or phony in any way. We are real musicians playing real music honoring the greatest musician ever. Nobody can touch Prince. It’s uncontested. I’m as close as you’re going to get.”
Charloff said he performed in Chicago the day after Prince died on April 21, 2016, with great reluctance.
“I had to almost be dragged on the stage,” he said. “I felt so stupid. But I put on the outfit, the wig and the heels. I walked on the stage and this is going to sound corny, but it felt spiritual. I felt this sense that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. What felt wrong a few seconds earlier suddenly felt right.”
He opened with the solemn song “The Cross,” then said “it quickly turned into a celebration.” He said on stage, he felt joyous, not sad. He was able to keep it together from beginning to end. Of course, “Purple Rain” had many fans in tears, he recalled.
Before Prince’s death, Charloff got to talk to the artist a few times one on one.
“I don’t feel loss now,” he said. “But I will reflect on things he said to me, moments we had together. That happens.”
Of course, Prince’s death has fueled demand for Purple Xperience and Charloff’s own work. “I’ve fronted 30 symphony orchestras,” he said. “We’ve headlined Red Rocks and toured Europe. I wrote with Prince’s sister. We did a concert for the Dubai state department. As far as the tribute world goes, you can’t get much higher.”
Charloff, for more niche audiences, will do shows as himself performing original jazz. And when he does his Prince piano solo shows, he gets to change the song arrangements around more than when working with the entire band.
He knows there will always be a stigma attached to doing what he does but Charloff’s goal is to gain respect one listener at a time.
“When we walk into a venue for the first time, the sound guys, the lighting guys, they don’t give us the time of day,” Charloff said. “They just worked with Eric Clapton the day before. So that’s understandable. But when they hear us play, they’ll come up afterwards and say we blew their minds.”
IF YOU GO
Marshall Charloff & Purple Xperience
8 p.m. Oct. 13. $30-$45. Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. citysprings.com.