You can expect plenty of purple and lace at the Ute Theater and Events Center in Rifle on April 2. That’s when musician Marshall Charloff asks us to join him, and party like it’s 2022, at two Prince tribute shows — The Purple Piano: The One-Man Tribute to Prince and Marshall Charloff and the Purple Xperience.
Charloff pays tribute to his mentor and colleague, Prince, who died on April 21, 2016, at age 57.
When you go to the Ute, expect to be submerged in the “Minneapolis sound,” which began in the late 1970s with Prince pioneering this subgenre of funk-rock with elements of synth-pop and new wave.
In 1984, Charloff started a band with Prince’s cousin. A couple of years later, he became friends with members of Prince’s family and would watch Prince rehearse. It was the same year that the film and album “Purple Rain” skyrocketed Prince to even greater fame.
Charloff’s musical sensibilities were marinating in the hypnotic elixir of the Minneapolis sound when he met Pepé Willie. The leader and founder of a Minneapolis-based funk group, 94 East, Willie was also one of Prince’s early mentors.
“Pepé discovered Prince and was the first music producer to take him into the studio. I worked with Pepé, so I was just kind of in it,” Charloff said.
He explained, “There are all these branches of Prince-ness,” listing bands such as The Revolution, The Family, The Time, Mind Condition, 94 East and, last but not least, Prince’s protégé group, The New Power Generation.
The Purple Xperience, formed in 2011, features Charloff as frontman to a band whose lineup includes seasoned musicians with past Prince collaborations. Current band members are Ron Caron (drums), Cory Eischen (keyboards), Tracey Blake (lead guitar) and Ron Long (bass).
Charloff performed the Purple Piano one-man tribute show four nights a week during a residency at the Alexis Park Resort on the Las Vegas strip.
He adapts the solo show each night, gauging whether or not the audience is “hard-core Prince fans” who know the music catalog. If so, he can go a bit deeper in and not “lose” the fans. He estimates he performs 35 songs from Prince’s catalog of thousands.
The Ute, with its Art Deco façade and marquee, was built in 1947. Theater manager Wayne Pleasants shared, “At one point, in 2006, this was going to become a thrift store, and movies were going to be run out of town.”
However, in 2010, a group of local supporters formed a nonprofit organization, the New Ute Theater Society (NUTS), that raised funds for renovations and “put the building back up on its feet, so it could be used as a performing arts center,” Pleasants said. Today, it is owned and operated by the city of Rifle.
The theater’s publicist, Anna Kaiser, said the Ute Tribute Music Series, which began in January with an AC/DC tribute band, will conclude on May 20 with The Petty Nicks Experience, a tribute to musicians Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks.
The series “gives us a chance to get a varied music program in the building, at a cost that we can afford. This is the first time this building has been this consistently booked since I got here, almost six years ago,” Pleasants explained.
He said that The Ute offers the convenience of its proximity and a more reasonably-priced ticket price point, unlike music venues on the Front Range. Kaiser noted several restaurants are within walking distance to partake of a meal and drinks before or after the show.
In closing, Charloff said, we need “turn off Netflix” and return to live-music venues. “I encourage people to get back to supporting live music because it’s a real-time experience, and that’s what resonates with human beings — the real factor.”