If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Stevie Nicks-a-thon that is appropriately known as the Night of a Thousand Stevies (NOTS) represents the pinnacle of praise.
Its 26th installment, themed “Dark Daughters,” occurred this past Friday the 13th—the date an (un-)lucky coincidence given the occult mystique of its feted subject.
The event featured a profusion of characteristic Nicksian couture, its enthusiastic attendees (men and women, this is a drag event for all genders) veiling New York City’s Irving Plaza in a profusion of black top hats, crimped blond wigs, ornate fringe shawls, expansive velvet capes, and constructed white wings in tribute to the Fleetwood Mac and solo iconic rock songstress.
As co-organizer Chi Chi Valenti noted approvingly while greeting the assembled mass of Nicks-adoring fans, “I see a lot of leather; I see a lot of lace.” (A specialty cocktail, also a callback to Nicks’s early 1980s signature Top 10 duet “Leather and Lace,” was on offer: a blend of Tanqueray and tonic.)
Valenti and husband Johnny Dynell run the event through their nightclub production collective The Jackie Factory. They term it “the Stevie Nicks celebration ne plus ultra” and it certainly fits the bill.
Although the whimsical, motley sights of NOTS26 steal the show, the sounds are the show itself, an eclectic production in three acts of covers and performances set to Nicks’s some four decades of material, offering a revue of sorts of her standout contributions to pop and rock music.
The mystical dance troupe Lunaris opened proceedings with a deliberative routine accompanying, to good effect, the pulsing beats and celestial-toned lyrics of “Planets of the Universe.”
A winsome cover of “Seven Wonders,” performed by local NYC band Honey Trap in their debut at the event, followed (with the song itself perhaps enjoying a higher profile these days thanks to being featured prominently—along with the appearance of Stevie Nicks herself—in the third season of American Horror Story).
Drag performer Divine Grace, in an eye-catching kabuki-meets-coven, blue-and-black feathered-headdress-topped ensemble, then commanded the stage by authoritatively lip-syncing to the rollicking “Whole Lotta Trouble.”
This opening trilogy representatively ran the gamut of performances on offer, a range that Valenti describes as “unique performance disciplines, extreme ‘Stevie Realness,’ brilliant song interpretations or all of the above.”
She explained to me that The Jackie Factory reviews approximately 25 to 30 applications per year for 5 to 6 new slots, with an eye to rewarding performers willing to travel expressly for the occasion, with Friday night featuring acts based in San Francisco, Denver, Florida, and Chicago, and nearly every continent having been represented over the years.
Night of a Thousand Stevies is a labor of love that impresses in both breadth and width, from its longevity—the event, having begun in 1991, now older than some of its attendees—to the variety of creative expression and demographics it assembles.
While similar tribute dress-up parties have occurred with the recent passings of Prince and David Bowie, it's difficult to identify any comparable institutionalized, similarly long-running events—except maybe Grateful Fest and Madonnathon.
This is not to suggest NOTS is sui generis, but it’s certainly distinctive in terms of both oeuvre and aesthetic.
This year’s NOTS was a captivating fusion of queer-identified Stevie acolytes, gothic/wiccan subculture devotees (with tarot readings given alongside the merchandise booths), alternative nightlife enthusiasts, and both longtime and newcomer Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac fans drawn by the spectacle and artistic appreciation.
The theme of “Dark Daughters” highlights this selfsame cross-generational appeal and reverence—for both the music and the Nicksian worldview it represents—that the event embodies, according to Valenti.
In that vein, Sarah Jezebel Wood, who performed with Lunaris, describes this worldview as “ethereal otherness” and recalls that “one my first musical memories was listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night album in the car: I’d sing my heart out as my mother drove.”
Valenti also attributes the long-running nature of NOTS to this underlying spirit and tradition. “What keeps the event so strong, and still growing, is our insistence on keeping it infused with new life every year while carrying forward our great traditions like the tambo toss and the Battle of 1000 Stevies.” (The “tambo toss” is a recurring highlight during each act, in which presenters toss artisan-crafted tambourines, a Nicks staple, to event-goers with arms eagerly outstretched.)
With DJs spinning remixes of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac favorites in between the three acts, attendees mingle and admire each other’s outfits.
I spoke with one attendee who had attended the first iteration of the event. Clare Stack, an Australian-gone-New-York-native of a certain age, as she puts it, remembers when it was just one happenstance Jackie 60 club event of several that often featured a different theme.
The Stevie Nicks iteration apparently captured imaginations and took on a life of its own thereafter. (Stack calls the event “phantasmagoric.”)
While Stevie-inspired costumes were to be found aplenty, I was intrigued by a Lindsey Buckingham impersonator, decked out in 1970s-style tan sunglasses, dark curly-haired wig and scarlet wide-lapeled, ruffled shirt under dark velvet blazer.
When I asked Ned Gaudette, a late-fortysomething Bushwick native working in event marketing, if he was concerned about possibly drawing the wrath of one of the many Stevies around us—given the fraught nature of the failed romance between the Fleetwood Mac members, well-documented in several of the band’s songs—he instead spoke admiringly of the “special relationship” Buckingham and Nicks enjoyed, notwithstanding drama.
Gaudette felt perhaps his adopted persona would even draw the amorous attention of his own Stevie before the night ended.
What represented the showstopper for me was a two-for-one punch that wrapped up the second act, beginning with Amber Martin’s languorous, sultry rendition of “Gold Dust Woman,” which had the audience reverently singing along and lifting their tambourines in spellbound appreciation.
Then Michael Musto announced the evening’s special guest, Orange Is The New Black’s Lea DeLaria, who stirringly delivered a jazz-infused version of “Kind of Woman”—dedicated to Nicks-loving fiancée Chelsea Fairless in attendance as a surprise.
DeLaria sang the song at full voice, and in the spirit of her recently-recorded album of David Bowie covers, House of David. (I noted to my companion that DeLaria had also starred in gay coming-of-age indie flick Edge of Seventeen, named for Nicks’s signature hit, in an apropos coincidence.)
Night of a Thousand Stevies would be remarkable even just for its concept, a clever fan event that synthesizes several different aspects of fandom, but when realized its sum is even greater than its parts.
There were no formal competitive events, although the evening’s finale is playfully named “Battle of the 1000 Stevies,” in which the most-costumed (or inclined) are invited onstage to rock out to “Edge of Seventeen.”
It’s no wonder Stevie herself promises that one day she’ll attend, in ironic disguise, just a celebrant of many among her namesakes, all engaging in her classic trademark move--which was also Valenti’s one-word summation of the event: “Twirling.”