Putting the Funk in the GOP

Taking a Tour of Sound 80 and the Club Where Much of 'Purple Rain' Was Filmed

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RNC Media-Welcome Party
RNC Media-Welcome Party
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It's not just because I'm in the Twin Cities area that I'm now surrounded by 90% more white people. Within the convention hall itself, the crowd -- as one would suspect from a Republican gathering -- is much whiter and a tad older than the one roaming the streets, arenas and stadiums of Denver. But that doesn't mean the delegates don't like their parties.

Though things here were somewhat subdued in the lead-up to Hurricane Gustav, the media-welcome party was still held on Saturday night. And it was certainly a less surreal affair than the press event held during the Democratic National Convention. That one took place in Elitch Gardens amusement park, where guests were allowed to hop on the rides and play the games for free -- which resulted in slightly inebriated party-goers walking around clutching 6-foot-tall stuffed Spider-Man dolls to their chests. Thankfully, I didn't witness any projectile vomit hurling from the roller coasters or bungee rides. Drinks were provided by MillerCoors and Diageo; food consisted mostly of Colorado fare such as barbecue (cough, cough) sandwiches and Colorado-mex.

The Minneapolis shindig -- and yes, this was held in Minneapolis, not St. Paul -- was a decidedly more classy event. Held in an outdoor space between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum, it featured a number of organic-y, fancy foods (such as Minnesota wild rice) as well as Kobe beef burgers and shrimp cocktails. Diageo provided the fake liquor again (nothing hard, just their line of pre-mixed margaritas and such). Anheuser-Busch provided the brews. The screams of those riding roller coasters were replaced with the "oohs" and "ahhs" of those digging the view of the Mississippi from the balcony of the Guthrie.

One thing both parties had in common -- aside from free-range journalists in their natural habitat (free food and drink): Native American dancers. Go figure.

But it wasn't all blue blazers and bow ties. There was also a tour of Funkytown, led by none other than Steven Greenberg his ownself. (Uh, for those who aren't students of the history of "Funkytown," Greenberg is the man who wrote the song.) Greenberg led us to Orfield Laboratories. Though the lab is now the home of the world's quietest room and conducts research and product testing, it was once the recording studio Sound 80, where the groovy tracks of "Funkytown" were laid down. Bob Dylan (if you're into that sort of decidedly non-funky music) recorded the bulk of "Blood on the Tracks" there. It was also the world's first digital recording studio. After that, it was off to Minneapolis bars such as Nye's, the Dakota Jazz Club and, finally, First Avenue ("Your downtown danceteria since 1970"), which is where much of "Purple Rain" was shot.

On Monday, I swung by the St. Paul version of the CNN Grill to see how things were kicking there. But the mood was a bit subdued due in equal parts to the abbreviated schedule, the hurricane and that the air conditioner was on the fritz. I spent some time talking to Brian Collins, who was hired by Civic Entertainment Group to design the Grills. (He and I had gotten into a mix-up a few months back over politics after I was unkind to some of the work for Al Gore's "We" campaign. Thin-skinned, he ain't, and Collins seemed to delight in continuing the debate.)

After that, I wandered over to a party held by the National Review. The party was originally meant to have a Mardi Gras theme, but they downgraded that and co-sponsor Areva donated a chunk of cash to a New Orleans charity. National Review Editor Rich Lowry joked that when they were first planning the party, he'd strongly advocated for a "Spirit of Alaska" theme, but was shot down. Then again, in the aftermath of Katrina, National Review had argued that the Republican Party -- as a show of good faith -- should hold its 2008 convention in New Orleans. And we all know how that would have turned out.

There'll be more parties (and likely, more street riots -- I ran into a journalist in the men's room yesterday who'd been standing in the wrong place when the pepper spray started going off); hopefully transportation issues won't hold me back too much. (They canceled shuttle service to the hotel -- which is practically in North Dakota -- without notice last night. Thankfully, the fine members of the Minneapolis Police Department -- Yes! Minneapolis, not St. Paul -- were kind enough to arrange for a ride.)