Edge of Seventeen:
NY Press Nightclubbing Column #8 with 1,000 Stevies
by Tony Phillips
Spring, to paraphrase Tennyson, is the time when a New Yorker’s fancy turns to Stevie Nicks. And only New Yorkers buried under a mound of antique shawls for the past 16 years will not have heard of nightlife impresario Chi Chi Valenti and her annual Nicks bacchanal Night of a Thousand Stevies.
Valenti strolls down St. Mark’s Place featuring a cholo gangster ensemble — a frilly black tuxedo shirt and a matching black headscarf with her blonde mane tucked underneath is itself tucked under a black straw hat with a serious cock — she is, to borrow a phrase from the legendary rope at her nightclub Mother, working a look.
As we grab an outside table at Café Orlin, Valenti orders breakfast and asks our waitress if it’s okay to smoke. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. If I sound impressed with her, it’s only because I am. It’s a serious exhibition of the rock and roll lifestyle. But she protests that it’s nothing compared to the Bella Donna we’ve gathered to discuss.
And this year’s Nicks theme, Stevie in Wonderland, takes its cue from one of her more out-there Alice in Wonderland phases. Stevie’s Alice in red motif really opens up the event for Valenti. “Alice is one of her greatest visions of herself at her most demented and coked up,” Valenti begins, “and all that red really lends itself to not just doing the room in purple and baby’s breath.”
Nicks’ Alice phase culminated in 1989’s The Other Side of the Mirror disc and Valenti, who began her career producing professional body building events, expects no holds barred this year. “The great thing about my show,” Valenti begins, “is you may see someone trundle onstage with a big mirror full of coke and blow it up someone’s pussy. So if you’re not into all sides of the mirror, this might not be the show for you.”
With such bold delving into the Nicks’ urban legend, one has to wonder if the enchantress herself if aware of the evening. “We think she was actually there one year,” Valenti says, “one of my regulars came up to me and said, ‘I know it’s her. I know her irises!’”
Valenti also says “the large bodyguard escorting a tiny woman” who didn’t interact with anyone was later ID-ed escorting Nicks to and from a local concert. “And she’s also talked about the event in interviews,” Valenti adds, “I think she learns from it. She also sent someone to film it, but the most fabulous connection with have with Stevie is her liaison to the event, who is also her aroma therapist.”
So what to expect this year? “Once an event is ten-years-old,” explains Valenti, “you find ways to reinvent it or you stop doing it. Or else you’re just a hack.” She points out that the event is on its third venue, originating as “just another night at Jackie 60,” then migrating to Don Hills and ending up at its current Knitting Factory venue. “It really is a thousand now,” Valenti laughs, “as opposed to the thirty people that showed for the first one.”
In addition to regular Stevies like Dean Johnson and Joey Arias, who’ve been with her since the beginning, Valenti is excited about the six slots they leave open for new performers. And this year, her money is on Jazmen Flowers. “She’s this tranny from Jackson, Mississippi,” Valenti explains, “and the shots she sent are in full-on red with just the slightest trace of a five o’clock shadow.” She’s also excited for a local Butoh dance troupe called Vangeline Theater. “I’m expecting some really slow Stevie twirls from them,” Valenti laughs.
But most of all, Valenti is looking forward to seeing the people who drive all night from small towns to make it to this annual event. Although she has many problems with Todd Stephens’ 2001 feature film set at her event called Gypsy 83, she thinks that sense of community and the validation her performers get is one of the things the film got right.
And they get to work on next year’s event as soon as the current one ends. “Some of the packages from returning performers with pictures and song choices come in a month after the last event,” Valenti explains, “gowns are being made as we speak.”