See more of the story

Talk about a Prince fan's dream — recording with his musicians at Paisley Park. OK, it was just hand claps. But about 100 VIP fans got to record with members of Prince's NPG group Friday afternoon.

"Look at him, he's got jazz hands," said NPG dancer/percussionist Damon Dickson, pointing to a goateed man in a white suit embroidered with purple flowers.

Dickson did a comical impression of the fan's jazz claps, and everyone in Studio A laughed. Then Rick Ammirati, 57, of New York City, took a bow.

Welcome to Celebration 2022, the annual multiday salute to Prince at Paisley Park. After two years of a pandemic pause, the fourth posthumous fan gathering returned this weekend.

The crowds were smaller, the featured panelists fewer, the schedule more compact.

One big name — Carmen Electra, a Prince protégé who became more famous post-Prince — inexplicably disappeared from the schedule. But there were enough Purple associates — from shoe designers to his first wife — to fill the schedule from 9:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and again Saturday.

"This is the first time I've been in this building this early if it wasn't from the night before," said engineer Chris James, who led off on Friday. He worked on Prince's final albums with 3rdEyeGirl and on this week's reissue of a 1985 live Prince and the Revolution concert.

About 800 Purple faithful came from as far away as New Zealand and Iceland — and from all over the United States. That's down from a peak of 4,000 people for the first two posthumous Celebrations, which were four-day events. Prince himself staged prototypes for similar fan festivals in the early 2000s with many live special guests.

Paisley's managing director Mitch Maguire was excited to welcome people back to Prince's playground-turned-museum. "People are ready to celebrate in a way they weren't in 2019," he said. "This is more communal, we added outdoor activities and we've created a studio experience for the first time."

On the Paisley lawn, festival-goers could participate in a trivia contest, ask questions of Revolution drummer Bobby Z or play corn hole and pingpong. And there were food trucks.

As she stood in line for vegan pizza from Prince's personal chefs, Emma Peirson, 43, said she traveled from Iceland to Paisley for the first time since Celebration 2017. "I'm loving it," she said. "It's easier this time. I regretted not getting VIP."

The 200 VIP tickets sold out at $900 each, offering fans a photo op at Prince's makeup table, a panel with his footwear designers and the recording session with NPG.

Wearing individual headphones in the complex's largest studio, the Paisley-goers heard Prince's voice instruct the musicians through an unreleased jam (with no vocals). After two run-throughs, fans were invited to record their claps.

"I was blown away," KaNisa Williams, 37, of Atlanta said afterward. "You felt immersed in a real recording session."

Having been to Paisley 15 times since Prince died in 2016 and all four Celebrations, Williams said she was skeptical about this year's event but pronounced it "honestly, better than ever."

Ammirati, who also has attended all four recent Celebrations, praised the "concierge service," i.e., morning coffee, this year. He was especially excited for Friday night's concert starring Revolution's BrownMark and Saturday's show featuring Prince on film at Glam Slam in 1992 accompanied live by the NPG. He plans to dress for the occasion.

"Prince inspired me in fashion ways," Ammirati pointed out during Friday's dinner break. "I'm wearing gold sequins tonight, and tomorrow I'm breaking out the purple sequins and trench coat. It makes the fans so happy. That man's spirit is still around."