Night of a Thousand Stevies Brings Crystal Visions to Life
Thousands of gays, lesbians, drag queens, downtown luminaries and Fleetwood Mac fans of every ilk gathered at the Highline Ballroom on May 3 for the 23rd Annual Night of a Thousand Stevies. Now going into its third decade of opulence, this annual tribute to all things Fleetwood Mac has grown from a novelty act to a full-fledged nightlife touchstone.
"Night of a Thousand Stevies started at Jackie 60, our underground club in the Meat Market, when that area was still fun and underground," said founder Chi Chi Valenti. "It was meant to be only a one-night event, but we had a big response of Stevie Nicks fans that we didn’t realize were amongst us. It became one of our first shows that went annual, and we thought then that calling it the night of ’a thousand Stevies’ was hilarious, because we only had five or six Stevies then, and 200 people in the audience. It was an ironic title that actually came true."
NOTS grew over the years, moving from Jackie 60 to The Knitting Factory, Don Hill’s, and the Hiro Ballroom before landing at the Highline Ballroom. The show now has upwards of 25 performances spread over three acts, with a first-rate technical crew that is accustomed to doing large, long and complex shows. This year’s event packed the Highline nearly to capacity.
"A lot of people don’t think it’s quite big enough, but the feeling in the room is right," said Valenti. "It’s not one of those places concerned with pushing bottle service on people, and so we’re very happy to be in a venue of that size and still maintain the good feeling of a live event."
Valenti’s partner in crime, Johnny Dynell, can be found manning the soundboard while she and her co-hosts -- often Hattie Hathaway or drag queen legend Sherry Vine -- announce the acts and take breaks to throw scores of tiny, beribboned tambourines to the audience.
New York’s glitterati clamor to perform at NOTS, among them Butoh artists Vangeline Theater, Justin Bond, Amber Martin, Sweetie, Divine Grace, Machine Dazzle and Darrell Thorne, Dirty Martini, Poison Eve, Darlinda Just Darlinda and the Ho-Hos, one of both Valenti’s and Dynell’s perennial favorites.
"Every year people anxiously await to see what craziness they will deliver," said Dynell, who told EDGE that another of his favorites was Belladonna from Santa Barbara. "Not only do I love her shows, but she is always such a big help setting up for the party. We leave the sacred job of testing the mike stands to Bella."
Dynell is also partial to the legendary Joey Arias, who traditionally ’sings’ "Stand Back." "I say ’sings’ because after 23 years, he still doesn’t know the words," said Dynell. "One year I played a little trick on him and switched to an instrumental track. We were all howling as a panic-stricken Joey tried to remember the words -- and actually made up a few new verses of his own!"
Making the Annual Pilgrimage to NOTS
Part of the strength of NOTS is its longevity. Throughout the years, the event has gained momentum, bolstered by the advent of the Internet as well as the cult classic film "Gypsy 83," which follows the trek of a misfit goth and her gay boy friend from Sandusky, Ohio, to New York for NOTS.
One such ’gypsy’ who was drawn in by the pageantry is transwoman Jazmin Flowers, who said she heard about NOTS after the film came out in 2001, and spent hours on the NOTS website fantasizing about being able to attend the event. She never dreamed she’d actually be performing in one of the shows.
"It took me four more years to decide to audition," Flowers told EDGE. "As the tech age rolled in, I emailed Chi Chi with my audition snippet, an a cappella version of ’Rooms on Fire.’ She emailed me back and invited me to join. That was such a magical moment!"
Every year since 2006, Flowers has trekked from Jackson, Mississippi to Manhattan to perform; this year, she brought the house down just by taking the stage in her fringed shawl and singing "Gold Dust Woman." It is the spectacle and the people that keep her coming back.
"I love to just sit back and look at all the creative outfits that people work on for months, and the performances created on stage are unlike anything else," said Flowers. "The outpouring of love for the woman and music that has meant so much to so many people and shaped so many lives is extraordinary."
Flowers also cherishes the friendships she has forged throughout the years, noting that many of the performers have experienced bumps along the road of life, and Nicks’ music is the common bond that has helped them all move forward. For her, NOTS is akin to an annual family reunion, "a time to sing and dance, to talk about what’s gone on in the past year, to share hugs and well wishes and to put life on hold for one night."
Inspiration Flows Back to the Source
Valenti will never forget the fourth annual NOTS, when she and Dynell arrived at 8 p.m. to discover a line of "Enchanted Gypsies" stretching down Washington Street in all their Stevie finery. That’s the night she knew that everything had clicked, and NOTS had taken on a life of its own.
Newbies often wonder if Stevie Nicks herself will show up, and although seasoned NOTS veterans realize the pandemonium that her appearance would cause, hope (and rumor) flows eternal.
According to urban folklore, Nicks did appear incognito one year (what better place to blend in to a sea of flowing capes and ruched boots?) and NOTS conspiracy theorists believe she has sent photographers to shoot the event for her to enjoy.
Nicks sent a videotaped greeting several years ago, and Valenti said she has been lucky enough to talk to the woman herself.
"Thankfully, I have gotten to speak to Stevie several times, and she is always so supportive of the event," Valenti told EDGE. "But like the song goes, Stevie is always surrounded by ’too much love.’ Can you imagine going through life as a huge star; it’s a blessing and also a curse. Grown people start crying when they see her, because she just represents so much for so many people. But she understands that the event is really done from the absolute best place."
Nicks also supports her fans. Valenti said that after 9/11, Nicks sent some amazing memorabilia to be auctioned off to benefit the service dogs at Ground Zero, and has done other generous things for NOTS.
"People are sometimes miffed over whether she will come to the event, but if it were me, I would just slip in," said Valenti. "And she has always credited us with helping to make her aware of how enormous her gay and transgender audience is, and we are proud to be part of that bridge."
For more information on NOTS, visit mothernyc.com/ or www.facebook.com/1000stevies