MANCHESTER, NH – I attended a show at The Shaskeen last November to see Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones, a Prince tribute band out of Portland, Maine. For me, it was a perfect night out – I have mourned the loss of Prince deeply, and regret that I never got to see him perform live. This was truly the next best thing.
The place was packed, and although the overall experience is more of an homage than an impersonation, there were times when the purple lights hit Dean Ford just right and you’d swear he was Prince’s somewhat taller long-lost twin brother.
After the show I reached out to Ford because I wanted to know more about what makes a musical guy who writes and performs his own material in a completely different genre want to travel the country immersing himself in the music of an iconic performer like Prince.
He responded to all my questions, and I thanked him again – and told him I hoped he’d come back to New Hampshire soon, for purely selfish reasons. He said he would.
Despite my good intentions, the Q&A with Ford never made it to print (until now, that is). I got caught up in the holiday crush and, well, here we are. Lucky for me – and for all of you Prince fans – The Beautiful Ones are returning April 13 to The Shaskeen!
I am pretty sure I bought the first two tickets, and I’ll be front and center when they hit the stage, and you should, too (ticket link ⇒ here). The show, Tribute 2 Prince, happens to fall one week before the third anniversary of Prince’s death [April 21, 2016.]
For super-fans like me, this show is right on time.
Because I’m still sad that Prince is gone. But one thing I learned from my first encounter with Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones: While there will never be another Prince – and it’s impossible to be him, no matter how great your costumes or asymmetric curly wig – dearly beloved, I’m here to tell you there’s something else, the afterlife – thanks to this talented tribute band.
Q. Tell me about the day you decided to start a Prince tribute band – the when, where and why?
Dean: Starting this band was one those things that happened naturally. In 2011, there was a weekly series in Portland, ME, called “Cover To Cover.” The idea was that an original band would perform a set of their own material, followed by a live performance of a full album of their choosing. I thought it would be a fun challenge to tackle one of my favorite albums of all time, “Purple Rain.” But rather than only playing the songs, having always been a fan of stage theatrics, I chose to perform in full costume. The show was so fulfilling and successful, personally and with the audience, that I decided to do it again and again, digging deeper into his catalogue. Over time, it has expanded into the experience it is today.
Q. Why Prince?
Dean: Prince is my favorite artist of all time. My first real introduction to Prince was in 1997, when I was 8 years old. He appeared as a guest on “Muppets Tonight,” and I was instantly converted into a lifelong fan. I have always felt a deep connection with his music, artistry, style, discipline, etc. I’m obsessed and will gladly spend my life working to obtain his level of excellence in music and performance.
Q. What does it take to step into the character of someone so iconic as Prince? I noticed that without the hair piece and outfits, in real life you look sort of like a clean-cut regular dude. But there is a transformation that takes place on stage – at times you physically and vocally mirror Prince with near perfection. What did it take to master that?
Dean: I definitely would not say I’ve mastered it and I’m not so sure I ever will. But it’s all discipline. A strong work ethic, focus and understanding that Prince was on another level. Getting to that caliber or anywhere close to it takes a long time. As I said, I’ve always felt a connection and kinship with what he did and who he was. When I’m on stage, for me I’m not so much doing an impression. I may be dressed like him, playing his songs, and attempting some of his moves.. But for the most part, I’m really just being myself. I’m not doing anything I wouldn’t do if I were performing my own music.
Q. You say this is your full-time gig – how far and wide do you tour? How have things changed since Prince’s death in 2016?
Dean: That is correct. For the last few years, we’ve played 35-60 shows annually. We play all over the country, as well as Canada. We’ve played Northern Maine, down to Key West, out to Indiana, and everywhere in between. Next year, we will be touring out to the West Coast and hopefully Europe. Since we started, seven years ago, the shows have always been packed with people showing a full range of emotions … smiles, laughter, crying, screaming, singing, dancing, etc. If anything has changed, it’s that people want it more than ever, and the emotions have been amplified.
Q. What is your favorite part of doing The Beautiful Ones, and what is the hardest part?
Dean: I love everything about it. The hardest part would be achieving his level of mastery. Something I am always striving for. The goal is always to be better, in every sense of the word.
Tease: Below, a short sample of “Let’s Go Crazy,” recorded live Nov. 16, 2018 at The Shaskeen.
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