Jamie Nelson and Michelle Christopher

BEHIND THE BEAT: Dean Ford is the true Prince of tribute acts

BEHIND THE BEAT: Dean Ford is the true Prince of tribute acts
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“A little bit behind the beat. I mean, just enough to turn you on…”
– Prince, “Joy in Repetition”

Come with us and take a glimpse Behind the Beat, a new column on NEPA Scene where we – Jamie Nelson (owner and operator of 1Up Games in Forty Fort) and Michelle (Belly) Christopher (art teacher and painter) – take you with us on our musical adventures each month.

Everyone’s deal-breakers are different, but for us, musical preference is one of them. If your musical tastes are limited to Drake and Cardi B, you’re probably not going to click with either of us. Back when we first met, I asked Jamie about his musical preferences.

“I end friendships over a lack of love for Hall & Oates and promptly disassociate with anyone who doesn’t believe that Lionel Richie was the Commodores.”

So begins the love story of Jamie and Belly, two music lovers who found their match, and whose love of music branches out across seemingly countless genres and spans more decades than we’ve been alive.

You’ll find us as happy listening to Sinatra as we are jamming to Rage Against the Machine.

But more than anything else, you’ll find us listening to Prince. You could say we’re fans. Not that “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret” type of Prince fan. No, no, no. We’re slowly working our way through his entire catalog (somewhere from 500-1000 songs, so it’ll be awhile). We listen to Prince all the time. But despite Jamie’s impressive collection of concert stubs and backstage passes, and his resume of concert photography ranging from Nine Inch Nails to the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, neither he nor I ever saw Prince before his untimely death in 2016. Some mistakes can’t be undone.

So when we heard that Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones was coming to Breakers at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre a few months ago on Jan. 5, we were there. We heard it was a good show; we heard Dean was convincing as Prince. What we didn’t hear, couldn’t hear, was that we were being treated to a live performance that we could almost believe was Prince, the Purple One, the High Priest of Pop. Dean is a good match vocally for Prince’s music, and his stage presence goes beyond impersonation. From the dark curls to the frilly clothes and high heels, he looks the part. Multiple costume changes may break up the flow of the music, but you can’t deny the clothes are pretty freaking amazing. Each time he leaves the stage, you wonder what version of Prince will come back out.

Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones consists of Dean Ford (obviously) on vocals, guitar, and piano; Joe Harding on (six-string) bass, Jeff Chipman on keyboards and backup vocals; Owen Conforte on guitar and backup vocals; Patrick Morrison on drums; and – when you’re really lucky – special guest vocalist LaToya Martin, the Rosie Gaines to Ford’s Prince.

When we saw them at Breakers, LaToya graced the stage. Her soulful accompaniment brought “Diamonds and Pearls” to life as though Rosie herself had rejoined the band for the night. What happened there that night was magic, and we couldn’t wait for Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones to return to the area.

We didn’t wait long, catching them in Jim Thorpe at the Mauch Chunk Opera House on April 19. If you haven’t seen a live act there, you are missing out on one of the area’s best intimate spaces to see a show. With a seating capacity of about 400 people, along with an acoustic design made for music, this show was small enough that you could work your way up to the stage without trouble, but big enough that you could feel the energy coming from a capacity crowd, feeding the band and reverberating back to the audience so that everyone there was riding the flow of music that only a genius like The Purple One could create.

Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones again brought the house down with all of the songs you know and love, playing the entire “Purple Rain” album and adding a few other great songs like “1999,” “Cream,” and “Get Off.” There are those parts in a Prince song that hit such an emotional peak that you can’t help but feel what he’s feeling, and Dean doesn’t shy away from them. When there’s a moment that has Prince screaming and clawing at the music, Dean nails it.

Seeing the band and loving the show led us both to want to meet and talk with Dean and the band. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Dean and his lovely girlfriend Mia after the show. In the rain, we talked about home, change, and the melancholy that occurs when change meets home. While Maine is Dean’s home, they travel from Canada to Indiana and down to Virginia with the Beautiful Ones. They love playing our area, though, and are never gone long.

They’ll be at the River Street Jazz Cafe (667 N. River St., Plains) this Saturday, May 25 (and, for all you Rosie Gaines fans, they’re bringing LaToya with them!); doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets, which are $12 in advance or $15 at the door, can be purchased online via HoldMyTicket.

The band is also returning to Mohegan Sun Pocono (1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre) for its free outdoor Party on the Patio series on Thursday, July 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the music starts at 7:30 p.m.

Whichever show you choose, don’t miss out on a funky time that’s as close to Prince as you can get in 2019.

Photo by Mia DeGiovanni

Behind the Beat is a monthly column by a local couple, Jamie Nelson and Michelle Christopher, featuring thoughts on music, tales of musical adventures, live show reviews, and interviews with national acts.