It’s quite a time to be doing a Prince tribute.
Julian Stefoni, the Portland-based musician who leads the Erotic City Prince Tribute band that performs Friday in Lewiston, is not new to the scene. He’s not only performed Prince tributes for the past 26 years, but in 2000 he met the late artist and appeared on stage with him a number of times.
Stefoni was attending a concert of his when midway through, Prince invited him on stage — like musicians often do with their fans — introducing him to the audience as his nephew. It was a joke. Stefoni knew that and Prince knew that, but the audience didn’t. Stefoni played the role, dancing with him on stage, and afterwards Prince told Stefoni that if he was ever at a future show, to let him know.
So Stefoni followed him to the next show. Prince did the same thing, inviting him on stage and introducing Stefoni as his nephew. This went on for nearly 30 shows.
“We built this fun relationship between me and him,” Stefoni said.
It was a brief interaction and Stefoni knew better than to tell Prince that he did a tribute of him, but there was a playful connection. The joke opened the door for him to meet Prince’s mother, along with some of his musicians — and he also had a few media inquiries as people sought more information about this mystery “nephew.” He just played dumb.
When the artist passed away in April, Stefoni was affected both professionally and personally.
“I felt like I lost a friend,” Stefoni said. “And then, of all things, I’m doing a tribute of him so I’m reminded of that every time I’m on the stage.”
There are moments of grief when he’ll catch his breath or wipe away a tear, but when he goes out on stage, he’s there to carry on the artist’s music and do what Prince would want him to do. Not surprisingly, that work is in high demand these days.
Audiences describe the experience as bittersweet, Stefoni said. With the knowledge that Prince himself will no longer be performing, there is both grief and appreciation.
“The audience is totally emotional now, everyone is crying. It helps them heal from their own personal pain from his death,” Stefoni said. “I’m glad I’m able to play his music for them.”
Stefoni emulates the artist as much as possible. While he’s not easy to duplicate, Stefoni’s look and sound is naturally similar to Prince — in fact, he began doing the tribute because he got tired of people suggesting it because he looked so similar. And that’s what he brings to his performances.
“I try to capture the ‘Purple Rain’ era,” Stefoni said. “There’s no way to get it exact, but it’s him as much as possible — from the look, the sound, the vibe, the sexuality part, the smirks. Then I throw in my own stuff just to keep it fresh.”
Since the artist’s passing, Stefoni performs Prince’s songs exclusively in his shows. Before then, he’d integrate a song or two of his own — he’s a musician in his own right, with a style similar to Prince. In fact, he was about to release an album and go on tour when Prince died and he adjusted his schedule.
Stefoni has a CD/DVD/book project in place that includes his own music and stories from his interactions with Prince and other musicians he’s encountered during his career as a musician. The project is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2017.
If you go:
WHAT: Erotic City Prince Tribute
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Boomtown American Saloon, 516 Main St., Lewiston
ADDITIONAL INFO: Prizes awarded to the best dressed in “Purple Rain” attire