A surprise DJ battle with Prince, and more of Michael Holtz's true stories from Paisley Park

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DJ Michael Holtz at The Current.
DJ Michael Holtz at The Current. (Jay Gabler/MPR)
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DJ Michael Holtz has been a Paisley Park regular since he successfully auditioned for Prince himself. In a 2018 interview, he told Erianna Jiles about his unforgettable experiences in Chanhassen. He'll be back at Paisley Park this coming Sunday, April 21 for a dance party celebrating Prince's legacy.

Were you an actual Prince fan before you started working for him?

Oh, most definitely. I was a Prince fan since the age of six. Purple Rain. I had an older brother who had the vinyl, and one day I just stole it and put the needle on the record and "When Doves Cry" came on, I was a fan.

So, how did you actually get started at Paisley Park? It was in 2014, right?

Yeah, 2014. Paisley Park has been in my life for quite a long time, actually, ever since the mid '90s. I had started going out to Paisley Park, to the parties he would have out there, and in 2014 I got the call. April Fool's night, 1:00 a.m., Prince, like, from his assistant inviting me. "Hey, would you like to come out and DJ this weekend? We want to try out, we're gonna be kickin' back up the Paisley Park After Dark series."

I'm like...is this April Fool's? Who is this? Are you serious? Everyone who knows me knows I'm a Prince fan, I'm like, "Okay, you're messing [with] me." And they're like, "No, this is real, are you available this weekend?" Um, yeah. And if I wasn't, plans have changed. I'm coming out to Paisley Park. That night I woke up my wife and I'm like, "Guess what? I just got this call, you know, Prince wants me to come out and DJ for him," and I couldn't go to sleep after that.

I was like okay, what am I going to play, what am I going to do and all that, so it was just this adrenaline kick and emotions just coming over me because, you know, ever since I started going to Paisley Park in '95, '94...you remember the NPG Music Club Prince had in Uptown in '94? My brother actually introduced me to the store because he lived in Uptown, and I remember walking in there and he asked if he could get on the list: the mailing list or the phone list, so he could find out about parties and whatnot. It was kind of like I got the golden ticket in the mail, because he would send out these invites and it would just be on this piece of paper. I was kind of going back and reminiscing and "oh wow, I remember this," and this kind of encapsulated what Paisley Park was all about.

So this was the first invite that I ever got to go out to Paisley Park. [produces invite] And it said: "You have just accessed love for one another. Playground for the New Power Generation, free your mind and your behind will follow tonight. Love For One Another, the all-ages non-alcoholic, non-violent recreation experience for progressors only. Awaken your mind with one of many NPG juices offered in the courtyard then come and vibe to the new power soul, featuring unreleased music and vibes by the artist formerly known as Prince..." That's when he was the symbol. "...and the NPG. And if you can't dance then check out the NPG merchandise store."

And this was P.S.: "You never know who might get up and jam." That's always been kind of that one thing: you never know what might happen out at Paisley Park. The last part really encapsulated what Paisley Park was about. Love for one another, love life, love god, love sexy, welcome to one another. Ever since that whole period of going out at Paisley Park, that's what it's been. For me to actually have that opportunity to DJ for him in 2014 and going out there; that's what it continues to be. It was just all about love and when you went out there. It didn't matter if you were black, white, gay, or, you know, anything. We were all one, and that was the great part of going out to Paisley Park.

At these events, what kind of music do you play?

With the tastes that kind of played out there, they kind of stuck to the '70s R&B funk vibe, you know, because Prince was obviously into that with his influences. I played some newer deep cuts of newer artists that Prince might be digging out there, or maybe, "Hey, if I play this one he might like this artist," and whatnot and ask about it. So, kinda kept it old school, some new fresh deep cuts, and you mix that stuff in with his stuff when you're out there.

I think one of the interesting requests when I was out there is, I DJed for Alabama Shakes were out there and I had my playlist ready to go and thinking okay, probably going to do kind of the funk, R&B, little bit of Prince music...and then five minutes before doors open, Prince comes up to me and goes "Classic music only, classic rock."

And I looked at him and he goes, "You'll understand, not a Prince crowd." And he walks away! You know so I'm like, classic rock, okay. So I quick had to go and readjust my playlists for what I'm gonna play and I tell you that was probably the only and ever time I played "Sweet Home Alabama" at Paisley Park...and of course that was the type of crowd that it was that showed up out at Paisley Park that night.

As a DJ working for Prince, are there specific rules?

You'd think there would be, but it was always, when I went out there, it was, "Hey, do your thing," you know? Unless something like Alabama Shakes would come out, or the specific type of vibe that he wanted to encapsulate. It was always, "Hey, do your thing, this is what you're out here to do." I think that was one of the things I appreciated about going out there is you could have that freedom to do your thing and be open with it. "Okay, will this work? Or that work?" That was just kind of keeping that vibe going, and it was awesome to do that.

So when did you like actually officially meet Prince?

It was probably in the 2014 era. I've always run into him out at Paisley Park, but, you know, you never kind of sat down at conversations with him. The one time we really kind of got in a conversation was back in the early 2000s when he had the Celebration and he had the Rainbow Children album, and I got into one of the group discussions that Prince came into: talking about the album and talking about what it meant. But 2014 and beyond it was more. We never, like, sat down and had a one-on-one conversation; I think it was always just professional as far the interactions we had. I think that throughout the time that I was out there, he got more comfortable with me, and the way he'd get more comfortable with you is that he'd challenge you on certain things. "You got be ready to sink or swim on this," or "Are you gonna do what I said," so I think that's kind of the relationship that he and I had.

Can you compare how Paisley Park was before, when he was alive, versus after, when it became like a museum? Has the vibe changed at all at Paisley Park?

Yeah, the vibe has changed, you know, for the obvious reason: he's no longer out there. But his spirit still remains out there, and I feel that when I go out there now and do the Paisley Park After Dark dance parties. When I first went out there it was kind of that empty feeling, in a way. He's not here, you don't see the band members walking around, we're not hugging or anything. That whole feeling was not there. It was just kind of like, wow, you know, every time I come out here there's always something going on or whatnot...

But Paisley Park then and what it is now, it is different where I kind of had to change my style of how I DJ out there. You don't have the close-knit group that used to go out there every weekend: you know, the 150 or so people that went out there and they want to hear the deep cuts or something new and fresh. Now,it's the people that never got to experience that, but they want to come out and they want to dance to, you know, "Little Red Corvette" and "Let's Go Crazy," and that's now how I've changed my perception of what Paisley Park means to people, those people that just never had had that opportunity.

And you can't blame them, because of the fact that there never was a set schedule to go out to Paisley Park. It was always a last minute...it was always an e-mail or a [web] page back in the '90s, you know, and so you know you can't blame someone that lives out of state that never got to experience that. But now it's a whole different vibe and experience for them, and I'm appreciative of the fact that I get to be part of what it is now. That keeps his legacy going, and we celebrate his life and the music.

Can you recall any of your favorite memories?

Oh, man, there's so many memories. I mean, even going back to that first invite I got, like, when you kind of look back at Paisley Park, it's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Getting that paper, I'm like 17 years old and I'm like, "I gotta go down," and getting all my friends.

I grew up in a small town in Paynesville, Minnesota. It's two hours away from Paisley Park, and we're driving down two hours to go to Paisley Park. That first vibe when I walked in obviously was like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, because at that time you got to go in the actual front doors of Paisley Park, and it was so open. Like, you could walk around and kind of explore. He had this room where it had pillows on the floor where you could watch unreleased videos, and then the big soundstage was set up. Back in the Gold Experience era he had this big gold soundstage called the Endorphin Machine. It was this huge massive stage, and then he had pool tables around so you could play pool because at that time it was open from 8-1.

That first experience out there, seeing him play for the very first time, was like mind-blowing — with the NPG members, Sonny T, Mr. Hayes, Michael Bland, and Tommy Barbarella. I mean, that group...that was a great era and evolving throughout the last two years I was out there. Then it became more of the Great Gatsby experience where it's was like, Prince is throwing this party, everyone come on out and let's dance and have a great time, and you never know what happens and he might play or some new artist might be out there.

Another great experience for me was being introduced to newer artists that would come out there. Kandace Springs, FKA Twigs, and just all these other new artists we were introduced to, but also the old artists that were Prince-era that came out there: Lenny Kravitz, Q-tip, the Roots. Those were experiences where you'd be out there and be like, "Hey, guess who's standing right beside us? It's Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale." They're just, like, right in the crowd with everybody else. Those were amazing experiences. My experiences towards the end were [also] with my daughter, my oldest daughter, being able to go out there and experience Paisley Park at the same age I experienced it.

The last time that I DJed for Prince was a memorable experience. When I got out there it was January 23; it was just after the Piano & a Microphone performance. Saturday night he had a dance party. I remember going out there and they'd tell me, Prince is in the big soundstage, he's practicing. He's going to do a little DJ set, so when you're playing tonight and he starts going into his set, just kind of step back and let him do his thing until he's done and then go back to doing your thing.

And I'm like, "Oh, okay, cool." And all of a sudden Prince starts up his set and I'm like, okay, I'll take a step back here. It was almost like this wave: I was on the main stage at that time, and then Prince was back on the other side of the big soundstage on the small board. Everyone was right in front of the main stage, and all of a sudden everyone just went, whoosh, way back to the other. So it was, like, empty in front of the stage, and I'm listening and letting him do his thing.

All of a sudden Prince goes, "DJ, dance floor's looking a little empty on your side, what do you got?" and I'm like, "Oh no, here we go." So again it was about putting you on the spot and challenging you. It was like, "Oh no, now I gotta go...what am I doing?" I was kind of like, "Okay, I'm gonna find a loop on something," so I found a loop on "Cool" by the Time. I'm looping that, and he goes "You got something over there?" and I'm like pointing. "Yeah, I got something," and so he'd bring me up and then he'd let me do my thing a little bit and do some scratches on the beat, and then he'd be like, "Eh, no," and then he'd bring me down and he'd go back into his thing.

So all of a sudden it just became this DJ battle that I didn't even know was going to happen that night. It was so awesome. That night after I was putting my equipment away, he rolled up in his bicycle and he comes up and he shakes my hand and goes, "Hey, thanks for coming out tonight," and I'm like, "Hey, any time, Prince, any time."

How soft were his hands?

Well, you know, I didn't pay that much attention to detail...but I mean, I didn't want to squeeze too hard because those are delicate guitar-playing hands and piano-playing hands, so you don't want to do too much there. But I mean, that experience...he just challenged, and you could tell when he was getting more comfortable with you that he'd challenge you on certain things. Another great night [was] when the Minnesota Lynx were out there; he had the championship party for them.

That night, all of sudden he's like, "DJ, put some scratches on the beat." All of a sudden I'm like, "Okay..." Again, this is more of like my break time in a way, because I'm going to let him do his thing, but all of a sudden he's calling me out, so I'm getting out there putting some scratches on, and he's like, "Alright, come get it, DJ, come get it!" Then he goes to the Lynx, "Hey, what do you think about my DJ?" and they're like "Ahh!"

It just sounds so nerve-wracking to be working with him.

If you ever saw that New Girl episode, at the end of it where they're just sitting on the couch and like, "Did that just happen?" That was almost like every night, every experience that when you went out to Paisley Park..."Did that just happen?" And I remember making a comment to Trevor [Guy] who was out there, he was part of the band out of Paisley Park, and I said, "I didn't expect to be part of the band tonight." He goes, "Hey man, that's how it all starts, you just never know."

You've mentioned a couple times about how he challenges you. Is that kind of like a lesson learned from this whole Prince experience? Has this affected your life?

Oh yeah. Just the short time I've been on at Paisley Park has definitely helped my skills, because you want to be on top of your game at Paisley Park. I mean, I remember when the DJs that were out there before me...first going out there and hearing Brother Jules and DJ Dudley, Lenka Paris. You hear those DJs, and you're like, "I can't fail. I got to be on top of my game." You might not necessarily be pushed by him, but it's just the fact [that] you're out at Paisley Park, this is Prince's place and you gotta bring it 100% every time that you're out here, otherwise you're not going to be out here for very much longer.

So that definitely helped me, with that and just overall how I handle my DJ business. You want to be on top of your game all the time when you're doing weddings and whatnot, and you've got to be in the moment for somebody. You don't want ruin that moment, so [I] learned a lot from him.


Transcribed by Lydia Moran


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