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Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis Talk Super Bowl Live Festival, Prince Salute: 'There Will Be a Lot of Special Moments'

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis pose backstage at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 48th Annual Induction and Awards at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 15, 2017 in New York City. 

“This is just like Coachella,” says producer James “Jimmy Jam” Harris with a laugh. “Except we call this Coldchella.”

Jam, one-half of the Grammy Award-winning Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis songwriting/production team, is referring to the 10-day Super Bowl Live music festival that he and Lewis curated in association with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. Saluting both the state’s rich musical legacy and the infamous Minneapolis Sound, the free festival -- along Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall, presented by Verizon -- began Friday and wraps early afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 4).

Highlighting a different genre each night, the festival kicked off with Idina Menzel performing “Let It Go” from the Disney film Frozen and hometown faves the original '70s-era Flyte Tyme Band (including Jam & Lewis) and singer Cynthia Johnson reprising Lipps, Inc.’s 1980 pop/R&B “Funkytown.”

But Monday night’s concert (Jan. 29) also promises to be quite memorable. That’s because day four’s “Salute to Prince” will feature the late icon’s band The Revolution, Sheila E. and The Time (starting at 8 p.m. CT) for the first time in one setting. “That’s just one moment out of what I think will be a lot of special moments during the week,” promises Jam. He also notes that Prince colleagues Andre Cymone and the New Power Generation will perform on subsequent nights.

Among the additional talent rounding out the festival’s diverse lineup are Stokley Williams and Mint Condition, Rae Sremmurd, The Jets, KING, Skylar Grey, The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum and X Ambassadors. Acts that performed during the opening weekend included Rhymesayers Entertainment’s Prof and Brother Ali as well as the Sounds of Blackness with Big Jim Wright and Ann Nesby. (For the full concert schedule, visit mnsuperbowl.com/events.)

Aside from the festival, Jam & Lewis will also visit with students this week at Lewis’ alma mater, North High School. “We just want to give back and do anything we can to lend help, hope and inspiration to these kids,” says Lewis, “because Jam and I were them many years ago.”

As to whether frequent collaborator Janet Jackson might make a surprise appearance, Jam & Lewis remain mum. Both, however, are jazzed about the special memories and camaraderie that Super Bowl Live is fostering. “This is the first opportunity for us as a music community to celebrate ourselves,” says Lewis. “Everybody getting together just loving on each other and loving each other’s music -- that means a lot.”

How did your involvement in the festival come about?

Jam: We were contacted by the Super Bowl host committee. They wanted to do some concerts based more on the local community. At that point, they had booked two acts and needed more like 50 acts. So they asked if we’d be interested in helping shape and curate the event. What better time to highlight the great music legacy here than using the Super Bowl as a backdrop? It became a labor of love as we began calling and connecting with people we maybe hadn’t seen or spoken to since the '70s, in some cases, dating back to the original Flyte Tyme Band.

Lewis: The most complex part was just finding everybody and then discussing how this was going to be an outdoor festival in Minneapolis in the middle of the coldest part of the winter -- while convincing them that this would be a cool, no pun intended, to be part of. But everybody was overwhelmingly positive. We’re Minnesotans, we’re hardy, we’ll get out here and have some fun.

What out of the ordinary goes into planning an outdoor winter festival?

Lewis: There are some heaters involved for sure. [Laughs] Not just for the musicians but also the equipment itself because I don’t know how you keep a guitar tuned or a speaker alive in sub-zero weather. We’ll definitely find out. But the tech people have worked out a lot of the ideas and concepts behind everything. The main thing is to keep everything moving swiftly so the fans don’t get too cold. You can’t have one-hour changeovers between acts. You have to keep the energy up and everybody warm.

The Time and Bruno Mars saluted Prince on the Grammy Awards last year. But Monday’s tribute to Prince will bring together many of his former bandmates in one setting.

Jam: There have been other standalone tributes, and each of those has been wonderful in their own way. I don’t think you can ever tribute Prince enough. But this is the first time that we’ve really been involved in something like this. it just needed to feel organically right. I don’t think there’s been as complete of a package as this—not only on Prince night but also throughout the week. It will be amazing particularly because it’s happening in our hometown.

What would Prince say about all of this?

Lewis: He would love this because he was all about the music. We would go downtown and play these 10 nights of concerts and at the end of each night we would be out at Paisley, all of us performing again all night long. That’s what would happen because that’s how we grew up. We’d just play and we’d all interchange; different bands would be playing together. We’d just jam. He’d so love this.

How do you define the Minneapolis Sound?

Lewis: When I think Minneapolis Sound, I think Prince. Just because he spread Minneapolis music globally in a different way than it ever had been done. He came about at a time when the media was paying attention because Minneapolis music goes way way way back. Prince’s sound was so audibly different than everything else. And the spinoff that came from it became part of that sound as well which makes it bigger than it would be if it was just one act. Minneapolis is artistically very broad. It’s not R&B really, not really pop; there’s a lot of rock added to it. Growing up our only black radio station was on from sun-up to sundown. So you always had to find something else to listen to. Diversity is what Minneapolis music is all about.

Jam: The climate definitely had something to do with it because who’s going to be outdoors trying to do stuff in the winter? So that means you’re down in the basement or the wood shed as we called it. You’re down there learning your instrument and your craft. It also forced people to be together so there was a great bond of musicians and artistic people. And like Terry said, it was it was the eclectic-ness of the music. It was a kind of melting pot of music as we heard it. It wasn’t just New York, L.A., Chicago or Detroit; it was all different genres -- country, rock, R&B, funk, pop and jazz—all mixed up. Prince was the vehicle to synthesize all of those forms and put them into a gumbo that’s known as the Minneapolis Sound: a kind of electronic, synthesizer-driven rock guitar combination with funk added.

Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?

Lewis: Ummm … never bet against the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But I’d love to see the Philadelphia Eagles win.

Jam: I was cool with Philadelphia until my phone started blowing up. I had too many Philly people talking stuff about the Vikings. I’m not going to mention any names Questlove, James Poyser and The Roots. So now I’m going for New England. I’ve got to see Questlove suffer.

Super Bowl 52

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