Growing up in Columbia, John Blackwell always fantasized about playing in front of a huge hometown crowd.
He'll get his chance at 7:30 tonight when Prince's "Musicology Tour" stops at the Colonial Center.
He'll be the one behind the drums.
Blackwell spent his youth replaying this fantasy:
The Carolina Coliseum emcee, barely heard over the roar of 10,000 fans, would announce his name:
"And John Blackwell on drums."
There would be thunderous applause as young Blackwell took his seat behind the living room drum kit and slapped the headphones over his ears.
"To make it more dramatic, before I would go into the living room, I would pour water on my head like I was sweating," Blackwell recalled.
Tonight, the 30-year-old drummer will sweat on the big stage here for real.
Just one little difference: It will be at the Colonial Center, not the Carolina Coliseum.
Think Blackwell minds?
Look at his face when he's introduced tonight and you'll have your answer.
"All I had was the Carolina Coliseum on my mind. Now I'm finally coming home to play and they built a place twice the size.
"That's OK with me. Since I was a kid, this has been my dream."
Blackwell began banging the skins when he was 3. His father, who took him to concerts, was a drummer who jammed around town.
The first show Blackwell remembers seeing at the Coliseum was Sister Sledge. He was 6.
Actually, he slept through most of the show, but woke up with "10,000 people singing 'We Are Family.'"
"And they're all focused. I said, 'This is what I want to do.'"
The drumming path took the 1991 Keenan High School graduate to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He left before graduating to tour with Cameo. He spent three years with them and two with Patti Labelle. It was at a Labelle show in Minneapolis that he met Prince.
His purple badness approached Blackwell backstage. Prince ended the short conversation with, "I'll see you soon."
Shortly after Labelle's tour ended in 1999, Blackwell was invited to Prince's Paisley Park Studios to jam.
"After it was over, he said thanks and sent me back to Columbia."
After two more trips to Paisley Park, Prince invited him to join New Power Generation in fall 2000.
He's been working with the legend ever since, which has kept him on the road and away from Columbia.
"I'm very excited because this is a homecoming," said John Blackwell Sr., who lives in Atlanta. "This is real big thing for me and my family."
The elder Blackwell said his son couldn't get enough of the drumbeats.
"Teachers would call and say 'John is playing the drums on the desk and he's got to stop,'" Blackwell Sr. said with a chuckle. "He would just lay out riffs on the desk."
Les Cleveland, 21, also a Keenan High School graduate and now a Berklee student, sees Blackwell as a big brother. The two met at a music clinic in Columbia when Cleveland was in middle school.
"He just took me under his wing," Cleveland said. "We've been tight ever since.
"First we talked about drumming; now it's drums, girls and life."
And college graduation.
"He's kicking my butt because he wants me to finish," Cleveland said.
Cleveland will be one of many at tonight's concert watching the hometown kid realize a fantasy.
While Blackwell was playing the Coliseum in his imagination, friends would stand on the porch and listen to him rock out.
"One of my friends said, 'Man, John, one day you're going to play for Michael Jackson or Prince. If you had a choice, who would you play with?'
"And yes, I did say Prince."
And yes, dreams do come true.