Prince was slated to perform at an Indiana rock club 25 years ago. He played pool instead.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The call didn’t come until late in the day, about four hours before Prince was slated to perform before 8,300 fans.
Danny Harpole received word the rock star wanted to play a smaller show right after his performance at Roberts Stadium, in Evansville, Indiana, and he wanted to do it at Harpole’s bar.
The plan was simple. For $15, attendees could see one of the world's most talented musicians perform on a tiny stage inside Main Street Exit, Harpole’s popular club.
The money would go toward Prince’s Love 4 One Another Foundation. Prince would do coat drives that helped warm more than 1,000 children on his previous tour stops, but his representatives apparently hadn’t had time to do that in Evansville. Instead, they’d put on this show.
What happened next was one of the most disastrous – and memorable – events in the city's music history.
'He looked around, blinked a few times and left'
Prince never performed at Harpole’s.
With 300 people waiting, the music legend showed up three hours late, walked upstairs and shot pool alone. He even refused to pay the 75-cent table fee. When his team finally ushered him onstage around 3 a.m., he looked around, blinked a few times and left.
“We were very upset, ready to start screaming,” one fan told the Evansville Courier, part of USA Today Network, at the time.
“When it was all over, there was no one to complain to.”
Last month marked the 25th anniversary of that infamous “show.” According to Evansville newspaper archives, here’s how it all went down.
Women screaming at Roberts Stadium
In January 1998, Prince was in a good place professionally.
His “Jam of the Year” tour marked his first North American concerts in five years, and he was attracting huge crowds wherever he went. It was a stark difference from the turmoil that hit his career a few years earlier.
Desperate to escape a contentious record deal with Warner Bros., he announced his retirement from studio recording. When that didn’t work, he famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. He eventually started going by “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” or simply “The Artist.”
He technically fulfilled the requirements of his deal in late 1996 and decided to hit the road as a free man. He even named his album “Emancipation.” In classic rockstar style, he canceled slews of overseas dates without bothering to give a reason.
The date for the Evansville show moved around a few times, but it eventually settled on Monday, Jan. 5. Blessed with unseasonably warm temperatures, hordes of fans clustered outside the stadium doors, which remained locked right until the 8 p.m. showtime.
“Not since the recession have I seen such long and stagnant lines,” Courier staff writer Joni Hoke wrote in her review. “Luckily, no one could dwell on the long, painful wait once the music started to blast.”
Prince finally sauntered on stage about an hour-and-half after he was initially scheduled to appearand ripped through a 30-song setlist featuring blistering guitar work, solo piano numbers, and at least three shimmering costumes that draped over his four-inch heels. He even pulled audience members onstage to dance with him.
Prince playfully admonished the crowd for singing explicit lyrics to some of his greatest hits, including “Purple Rain” and “Raspberry Beret."
"I'm gonna tell your momma," he said.
“Coming close to the crowds on the risers mounted on either side of the stage, The Artist flaunted his sexy body the way he has for years,” Hoke wrote. “Women were literally clenching their fists to their chins and screaming. I was one of them.”
'Prince's Main Street Exit'
All that was supposed to continue at Harpole’s. It didn’t.
After the Roberts concert ended around midnight, hundreds amassed at Harpole’s.
Attendees handed $15 to Prince's associates and milled around inside, waiting for the star to show. He finally did – around 2:45 a.m.
A few lucky fans caught a glimpse of his fur-lined coat as bodyguards whisked him to Harpole’s “sports bar” section upstairs, where he decided to shoot a little pool.
Prince, a known pool shark, was in no hurry to meet with anyone, even as Harpole hovered nearby, urging his people to put their man on stage. He got so close that Prince reportedly told his assistant to ask Harpole to move back.
“I told them, ‘He can get out his big checkbook and cut me a check for the bar right now, call it Prince’s Main Street Exit, and then I’ll stand where he wants me to,'” Harpole told the Courier at the time.
Finally, Prince was brought on stage for those few precious seconds. And before the crowed knew it, he was gone. The lights flashed on, and 300 confused people were led to the door. Some fans groused, while others took it in stride.
“Hey, my ($15 is) gone, too,” one said. “It’s for charity.”
“I give to charity,” another responded. “Tonight, I planned to do some taking.”
Word of the botched concert spread across town. A few days later, Harpole wrote a letter of apology that was published in both papers. He stressed that he didn’t make any profit off Prince’s brief appearance.
Artist's nonprofit still active 25 years later
Love 4 One Another is still active and supports music programs in high-need schools, giving lower-income kids a chance to learn and express themselves.
Roberts Stadium was demolished in 2013. A few years later, Harpole’s followed suit. The bar, which eventually changed its name to Woody’s, was gutted by a fire in 2009 and finally torn down for good in 2016 – the same year Prince himself tragically died of a fentanyl overdose at age 57.
That night at Roberts Stadium, Courier photographer Marne Rowland snapped a photo of Prince standing on his piano, draped in glittery leather as he belted out a song.
"Beautiful," word scrawled into the side of his instrument said.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: The time Prince meant to play an Evansville bar and shot pool instead