Cheesecake Funk

People who’ve spent time around Prince often share similar qualities of a quiet humility reminiscent of Prince himself. Vanessa Drews of Minneapolis is most definitely one of those people. How long has she been a Prince admirer? “For as long as I can remember,” she says. “My earliest memory was when I was 5 years old. I would sneak and watch Purple Rain when my mom, Kathy Drews, wasn’t around (sorry Mom!). I loved the music, the story, and Prince’s amazing talent.” Vanessa’s first concert experience happened around the Emancipation era in 1996. She and her mom were in the car on the way to a movie when they heard on the radio that Prince was going to perform that night at Paisley Park so they immediately turned the car around and headed home to get ready. She recalls, “The show was perfect. He performed on a stage designed like a long runway and at the front of the stage sat a piano; I had the best seat right next to the piano. From then on he was my favorite live performer.”

Vanessa lost track of the times she saw Prince perform live over the past twenty years, but she kindly shared a few that stand out. She remembers well the three shows in Minneapolis on 7/7/07 coinciding with the release of 3121, the fragrance. “It was pretty cool to see him stage dive during the intimate show on the 8th floor of Macy’s. He was having a wonderful time!” Vanessa remembers a day in September 2012 when Prince made a surprise appearance on The View along with Van Jones and Rosario Dawson. Watching from home she was thrilled to hear him say he planned to perform three concerts at the United Center in Chicago. Vanessa wasted no time in buying a great, single-seat ticket and road-tripped it solo to Chicago, meeting up with a friend and experiencing another unforgettable live performance.

Not long after, Prince announced upcoming shows in January 2013 at The Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Vanessa attempted purchasing tickets online but the site crashed due to overwhelming demand. Since she works just a few blocks from the club she walked over to purchase a ticket at the box office but was told they were being sold online only. She was heartbroken because all of the online tickets had already sold out. On a whim she posted on The Dakota’s Facebook page and suggested that if Prince saw the post perhaps he could arrange for her to get a ticket since she had made a Herculean effort to get one, but without success. She doesn’t know if Prince did see that post but the following morning she received a message from Lowell Pickett, owner of The Dakota, and after speaking with him Vanessa was able to purchase three tickets. Wow, persistence paid off!

The Dakota show was, in Vanessa’s words, “Outstanding! It was the very first time that Prince played live in front of an audience with 3RDEYEGIRL. They were great...HE was great! Near the end of the night he walked back on stage with a handful of flowers...lilies to be exact. He looked around, caught my eye and handed me three flowers along with his beautiful smile. I was so delighted that he singled me out and gave me those flowers, so kind as always.” Yes, that’s right, flowers and smiles from Prince.

After The Dakota shows Vanessa became more involved in the Prince social media circle. She was invited to participate in Dr. Funkenberry’s Prince Spreecast and made additional appearances on other Dr. Funkenberry shows over the next several months, soon finding herself intertwined in the colorful world of Paisley Park. She remembers vividly one of the first times she took on a role behind-the-scenes at Paisley Park. “It was during the International Pajama Party, November 6 & 7, 2015. It was so surreal to be there helping out at a place I admired and respected so much. Later on I began selling merchandise for Prince at all the Paisley Park concerts,” A hard worker by nature, she made sure she did her very best when working at the merchandise table. “Selling merchandise was very fast-paced but there I was all by myself behind the merchandise table rockin’ it. I think my past experience bartending helped and I was able to work quickly and efficiently.”

One of the added bonuses of selling merchandise was being able to attend all of Prince’s Paisley Park concerts. “What a gift,” she says. “I will forever be thankful for the time I spent at Paisley Park.” Seriously, talk about every Prince fans dream, right? But Vanessa’s story doesn’t end there…

Before I tell you how it came to be that Vanessa Drews’ cheesecake found its way into Prince’s refrigerator, let me first go back to a time when Vanessa was working at McMahon’s Irish Pub in South Minneapolis. She was known for making amazing cheesecakes, so much so that the owner of the Pub asked her if she would supply cheesecakes for them to put them on the menu and serve to customers. The varieties of cheesecake Vanessa baked were the only dessert offered and folks loved them. Then tragedy struck.

Early one morning in April 2010 she received a call from a McMahon’s co-worker telling her the building was engulfed in flames. Tragically, six people in the apartment above the restaurant died and the 98-year old building was completely destroyed. Vanessa was heartbroken at the loss of life and a place where the community gathered together.

People continued to ask her if she would bake them cheesecakes which she gladly did, especially around the holidays. It made them happy and it made her happy to put smiles on their faces. One day before she was heading out to help out for a show at Paisley Park she decided to bring one of her cheesecakes with her. She left it for, in her words, “Whomever to enjoy.” Soon after that, she was asked to bring "that turtle cheesecake” to Paisley Park, so she did of course. She recalls, “From then on I occasionally brought turtle cheesecakes to Paisley and simply left them in the kitchen fridge.”

Well, it was clear someone was enjoying her cheesecake, but it became evident at a Paisley Park dance party when “someone” made himself known. “Prince came out of nowhere and walked past me,” Vanessa recounts. “He said to me, ‘Vanessa, what’s for dessert?’ with a big grin, and before I realized what had just happened, poof, he disappeared. He was so darn fast walking around Paisley!”

Time passed, and Prince announced another Paisley After Dark Park event which was to take place November 6 and 7, 2015. As was customary, the events were advertised via a flyer which was shared on social media. To her surprise, the flyer mentioned cheesecake! To be specific, in true Prince fashion it said, “HELPYOSELF2SOME CHEESECAKEFUNK…007”. One can only speculate that Prince designed the flyer and probably created it himself on his Mac laptop, right?

Those two PPAD events turned out to be great fun for those that attended, and the “007” on the flyer was decoded when at the conclusion of the concert on the 7th Prince invited everyone to the Chanhassen Cinema for a late night showing of the James Bond movie “Spectre”. Only Prince, only in Princeworld could these things happen, but they did and there are witnesses to prove it, Vanessa being one of them.

Prince is known for his great sense of humor and love of laughter as much as he is for his music and Twitter gave him the perfect stage to exercise his comedic side. Let’s hope someone out there captured all of his tweets (because he was known to post and quickly delete) and that this someone will put them all together in proper sequence, along with personal stories of those he interacted with. This would surely make for entertaining and inspiring reading and would be a perfect tribute to the funny, kind, clever, sensitive, and simply beautiful human that our Prince was.

It is so fitting that Vanessa herself was the benefactor of one of Prince’s captioned picture tweets which referred, of course, to her cheesecake and it clearly demonstrates just how much Prince enjoyed them. In the photo two monkeys are attempting to revive a very distraught-looking third monkey with the caption, “THE MOMENT YOU FIND OUT SOMEBODY ATE THE LAST PIECE OF VANESSA’S CHEESECAKE…" .

Perhaps someday Vanessa might return to Paisley Park and bake her special cheesecakes for visitors. She surely hopes it could happen, and why not? Anything can happen. Prince taught us that.

Vanessa Drews attended countless live Prince performances and shows over the years but January 21, 2016 stands out as extra special. The Piano & a Microphone Gala at Paisley Park were taking place and Vanessa was there helping prepare for two shows, at 8 pm and 11 pm. Paisley Park was abuzz with excitement as fans from all over the world had flown in for this special event and would be arriving soon.

Looking back it seems providential that at some point during that busy day Vanessa was tasked with organizing and assembling two identical books containing lyric sheets of Prince’s songs. “I worked frantically in the Production room, which has since been converted to the Under the Cherry Moon/Graffiti Bridge room. I was very focused and determined to do a good job and I remember thinking at the time how lucky I was to be helping out.” One of the two books was to be placed on the piano during the performance and according to Vanessa, “The books were a beautiful purple color. After finishing them I guarded them with my life both before and after the shows.”

Prior to the start of the first show she walked around and passed out incense to people she knew in various places around the room. She wanted the soundstage to smell amazing, setting just the right mood. “The vibe of the shows was very chill and loungy. Along with the incense there were dimly-lit candles all around the large soundstage. It was really beautiful and everyone who attended waited with great anticipation for Prince to enter the room and begin the show.”

Vanessa watched the entirety of both shows from a spot directly behind Prince. She remembers being a bit disappointed that she couldn’t see his face but she soon realized there were benefits to seeing him from this unique angle. “I watched him literally dance in his seat and I could see the full display of his hands at work on the keys,” she recalls. “I happened to be four months pregnant at the time and felt my sweet baby girl kick several times during the show.” After the second show of the night Vanessa returned to Prince’s piano and gathered up the lyric book, securing it along with the duplicate copy in a safe place.

In the year since that beautiful night at Paisley Park Vanessa experienced the heartbreaking loss of Prince and the unspeakable joy of her daughter's birth. Though she misses Prince beyond words she is deeply touched to see that one of the two lyrics books she made with great love and care has been placed on his beautiful purple piano in Studio B, where visitors on the VIP tour can have their photograph taken. "The memory of the day I made it is a gift in itself, and it is a gift for which I am forever grateful,” she says.

Prince was, in every sense of the word a giver. He gave away countless millions of dollars, the gift of his music, his time, incredible live performances, invitations to his home, heartfelt love and appreciation for his fans, not to mention untold volumes of work yet to be released. For a Prince fan to be given the opportunity to work hard for him and to give back something in return for all he gave...that is the greatest gift.