Her Purple Playground’s majesty

Purple Playground founder Heidi Vader in her family’s Diamond Lake neighborhood home. Photo by Jim Walsh

“Maybe we should take a photo outside in the snow,” said Heidi Vader, sitting in the family room of her Diamond Lake neighborhood home Monday afternoon, in reference to Prince’s 1986 “Under The Cherry Moon” ballad-turned-now-annual-weepy-memorial-slash-punch line, “Sometimes It Snows In April.” “But I’m conflicted about the month of April, because [Paisley Park] chose to have the celebration on the anniversary of his death, which… I wouldn’t have chosen that.”

April is a meaningful month for Prince fans, many of who will travel to Minnesota to pay homage to the late, great genius that was Prince Rogers Nelson, who died two years ago this month. On the docket is Prince Day at UROC (April 14, 10:00 a.m.–3 p.m., Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center); the Prince from Minneapolis academic conference/symposium (April 16–18, University of Minnesota); Celebration 2018 (April 19–22, Paisley Park); Prince: Live On The Big Screen (April 21, Target Center); A Purple Celebration (April 16, 8 p.m.–11 p.m., Guthrie Theater); and Vader herself is hosting events tied to her just-launched youth music nonprofit, Purple Playground, including a free dance party at Lee’s Liquor Lounge (April 17, 9 p.m.­–1 a.m.) and Gangster Glam Skate Party (April 19, noon–2 p.m., Roller Garden in St. Louis Park).

In the last years of Prince’s life, few fans followed the little purple love god closer than Vader, who logged a lot of dance hours at Paisley Park and who discovered Prince’s music in 1979 as a sophomore at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield.

“I like to dance a lot, and it was very danceable,” said Vader, as her husband Peter worked in the next room, just off a small guest room where she houses a small shrine of funky mementos and memorabilia. “Also, at the time, there was that naughtiness of being Catholic school girls listening to ‘Dirty Mind’ in the back of the bus on my boom box. People at our reunions remind me that I was always blasting Springsteen and Prince on my boom box in the back of the bus. I played other stuff, too, but those two I’ve been with since then. I saw Bruce before I saw Prince.

“I saw Prince from 2009 until the end. I was only (at Paisley Park) once in the late ’90s. I wasn’t there in the early ’90s because I was having babies and I wasn’t connected. But throughout my life, I kept getting every album, and Peter would buy me all the new albums. When I said I didn’t want ‘Rainbow Children,’ I thought it was horrible, he bought it for me anyway. He got me ‘The Black Album,’ he got me ‘Crystal Ball,’ he went to the ‘Lovesexy’ show with me (on Sept. 15, 1988 at Met Center) before we were married.

“The first time I saw Prince was in Milwaukee for the (1982) triple threat tour (the ‘1999’ album tour with Vanity 6, the Time, and Prince & the Revolution) and then again at the Met. When I saw him live, I was hooked for life. And then going to those First Avenue shows, and being close enough where I could see the gold necklace across his hip…”

Vader was heartbroken the day Prince died — April 21, 2016.

“I was out there (at Paisley Park) that day,” she said. “I was just like, ‘This can’t be over. He’s never going to be over.’ I went out there early, thinking I was going to debunk this whole (rumor that Prince was dead) and it was raining and The Current was playing ‘Purple Rain’ and I knew it was true and I just started crying. I was there when all the news trucks showed up, and one minute after it was confirmed, a TV reporter asked me, ‘How are you and other Prince fans going to celebrate his life now?’”

Two years later, Purple Playground is her answer. (She filed for non-profit business status with the State of Minnesota on Prince’s birthday last year.) At the moment, Vader and her sister Bridget are taking care of their father, who is suffering from end-stage Lewy body dementia, and running the family business he launched, Child Development Review. Between her server shifts at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis, she’s lending her huge purple heart to Purple Playground and the launch of its first project, Prince Academy (Aug. 6–10 at High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul), and Vader implores any and all Prince fans to kick in for The Kid’s kids here: paypal.me/PurplePlayground.

“After he died, there was a hole in the universe, really,” said Vader, who is also rallying the Purple Playground troops to take in the Minnesota Twins’ Prince night together June 8 at Target Field. “All over the world, all these friends, it felt like nobody was going to see each other again. And also all the giving he did was being talked about, but nobody was giving anymore. Any town he was in, going back to the ‘Purple Rain’ days, he would help children and do benefit concerts, and he was really into helping #YesWeCode, the coding initiative to teach inner city kids how to do computer coding with (CNN’s) Van Jones.

“He loved kids, and he was always giving. So I thought a way to keep giving would be to bring people together in a sense of community again and raise money for kids’ music education to help everybody heal. We’ve got a small board of friends, and we’re just getting going.”

On April 21, 2017, Vader and a bunch of friends and fellow Prince fans got together on that sad anniversary to mourn and dance until dawn. “It was healing,” she said, and, thanks to Purple Playground and the continuation of Prince’s philanthropic legacy, this year the healing — and dancing — should prove even more cathartic.

“We want Prince’s legacy to go on, and we don’t want him to be forgotten. He’s a fascinating person, and he’s a huge, important historical musician now that should be studied,” she said. “I wasn’t willing to let him go, and I’m still not, and I don’t think I ever will — because he’s still with us. All the music we have is incredible, and there are lessons of love that he taught us that don’t have to be lost.”


Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected]