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What it takes to be a Prince tribute band
Minneapolis group headlines upcoming Icon Music Festival at Cumming Fairgrounds
Marshall Charloff The Purple Xperience 060519 web
Marshall Charloff leads the Prince tribute band The Purple Xperience, which is headling the Icon Music Festival on Saturday, June 8, 2019, at the Cumming Fairgrounds. (Photo courtesy 37 Main)

In 2011, Marshall Charloff was asked to perform with Matt “Dr.” Fink, a keyboardist from Prince and the Revolution, at a benefit concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He mostly played guitar with Fink and members of 94 East, a ‘70s funk band that helped launch Prince’s career. They played 94 East songs, but the band also performed two Prince songs — “Purple Rain” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Charloff said — with Charloff on vocals.

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It felt like an inspired performance, Charloff said, so he and Fink discussed playing a Prince tribute concert.

“We put the band together and thought, Let’s see how we’re received,” Charloff said.

Charloff has been doing it ever since (Fink eventually left). He’ll bring his Prince tribute band, The Purple Xperience, to the Cumming Fairgrounds on Saturday, June 8, to headline the Icon Music Festival by 37 Main.

Charloff and The Purple Xperience have become a worldwide phenomenon for the sound and theatrics that bear an uncanny resemblance to Prince, the iconic eclectic pop artist and musician who died in 2016.

Charloff in particular has drawn rave reviews for his resemblance to Prince. He’s diminutive in stature, like Prince (who was 5-foot-2), and has a similar vocal range and style. He’s also an accomplished musician who plays guitar and keyboard. Both are also from Minneapolis, Minn.

In fact, Charloff said he was “anointed” by Prince as a teenager. Charloff was playing in a band in his hometown, and one of the members said he was cousins with Prince. Charloff didn’t believe him.

One day, the bandmate took Charloff to a Minneapolis warehouse where Prince and the Revolution rehearsed. Charloff watched them play, then met the famous musician himself.

“There was kind of the removal of any insecurity,” Charloff said. “It kind of changed my self-awareness at that time. So there’s a connection beyond the music.”

Charloff has an accomplished career in the music industry himself, producing and writing his own music as well as for such notable acts as the Commodores and Little Anthony and the Imperials, but he’s been drawn to Prince ever since that chance encounter as a teenager.

“He’s our Mozart,” Charloff said. “If you’re going to study a musician, he’s it, and I think any musician will tell you that.”

Charloff said The Purple Xperience strives to perform at “the next level” so that there is “a suspension of disbelief” for the audience.

“Authenticity is a priority for me,” Charloff said.

Their success has led to a dizzying schedule. The band recently finished a tour of Europe, and Saturday’s performance will be part of a nine-day mini-tour. On Friday night, they’ll perform in California, catch a flight at 2 a.m. the day of the Icon Music Festival, go on stage at 8:45 p.m. in Cumming and then leave for another show in Mississippi.

Charloff said he considers it an honor to do this work in the same vein as Prince himself, who was renowned for his work ethic and catalog of recordings.

“We’re humbled by it every time,” Charloff said. “... It is a labor love.”