The very first Miss Rockbar was crowned in November of 2016, and it couldn’t have gone to a more unique and fascinating queen. Equal parts drag performer and musician, it’s not a rarity to find her bald, beat and beautiful onstage strumming her guitar… and she owes a lot of her current incarnation to a serious injury. Let’s fly now with nightlife songstress Ophelia Nightbird!
Thotyssey: Hi Ophelia! Have you recovered from Sunday’s AIDS Walk yet?
Ophelia Nightbird: Hi Jim! Yes, I slept over 10 hours last night; I think my battery has been recharged sufficiently! It was the perfect day for it. Beautiful blue skies, couldn’t have asked for better temperature; as long as I had my parasol,I was good to go!
You were walking with Team Candywrappers, which includes a lot of your Rockbar crew. I’ll get to how you came to be part of that family, but first thing’s first: where are you from?
My hometown is Waterloo, Iowa! Land of cornfields, regret, and meth production.
Wow, growing up in a landscape like that must have fostered a lot of creativity and imagination.
It definitely did. I’m fortunate that I grew up in a “city” which was a college town, but I still wasn’t far from the nearest cornfield, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do.
From a very early age I was interested in the arts/drama/performing, and I was always a very imaginative and creative child. I think because I didn’t have a lot going on around me, that was cultivated and was able to grow and blossom.
I’m also fortunate to have parents who were encouraging of my performing. (Even though I was raised born again Christian and we went through a rough patch when I came out. But that’s another story!)
I’ve spoken to a surprising number of native Iowans (or people who lived/schooled there) that claim that they run into Iowa transplants in gay NYC all the time. Do you see that, too?
I do! I first moved here in 1999 (as in, “party like it’s”), and I didn’t see that many of us then. But now I run into Iowans fairly frequently! In fact, a close friend of mine from high school now lives here. I like to think I helped pave the way!
No doubt! So, how did you evolve as an artist? What were your earliest interests?
Well, I’ve literally been singing since before I could speak. My parents tell me I would wake up singing gibberish that sounded like French. So then I started singing at church and in chorus and show choir at school. I also started getting involved in the community theatre at an early age, and also did theatre at church and school, as well as dance.
Then I went to college for musical theatre and dance, and that’s when Ophelia was first born! She was born in 1998 as just “Ophelia” (no last name–that didn’t come until last year), and she’s been in and out of retirement ever since.
Why did you want to become Ophelia in the beginning?
Well, I’ve unofficially been doing drag since I was little! I always loved to put on my mother’s heels and play with her makeup, and dream about wearing her dresses. Of course, I had to do so in secret because, being Born Again Christians, it was beyond taboo–and I was terrified of being caught. But I always knew that I was different: somewhere in the middle. So it was only a matter of time.
Did you always combine singing with drag?
Yes. Singing is what I do best, and it’s what sets me apart, so I have always been a live singing queen. I have always lip-synced as well, though; I believe in versatility!
However, it wasn’t until recently that I started accompanying myself on guitar and performing my original material also. I mainly only did that as a boy. But I recently had back surgery (right after I won Miss Rockbar, actually), so I couldn’t really lip sync because I had to be cautious as to how I moved (in fact, I still do). So I started playing more guitar at my shows, and I realized that I love it! And I got really good feedback from it as well. So in a way, being limited while recovering from back surgery has been a blessing in disguise.
What ultimately brought here to NYC?
I moved here 18 years ago to go to a musical theatre academy. While I had to move away a few times to get back on my feet (after 9/11 being the first time), I’ve spent the majority of that time here. I will never forget the feeling of “home” that washed over me the instant I first stepped of the plane in NY before I even moved here. It’s a difficult place to live, but it definitely feels like home to me.
That’s great! I was so grateful to be a part of that event; [DJ and producer] Chauncey is so wonderful, and that was such a fun night full of great performances.
What made you want to compete for Miss Rockbar?
I actually got involved because my dear friend and sister, Florence D’Lee, wrote me and told me about it, and I thought it would be fun to do together. I had sworn off pageants (I have competed in many, and even won several in my day), but seeing as this was being labeled a “competition” and Rockbar has been one of my favorite bars for years, I decided to make an exception and enter. I’m certainly glad I did!
Were you, like, totally floored when you won, or did you see it coming?
I was pleasantly surprised. In so many pageants I’ve been a part of, politics plays a large part, so I was not prepared to win. My only goal was to have a great time and do my best. So the shocked look on my face in the photos of the moment when they announce my name as the winner are completely genuine. I feel truly honored to be the inaugural Miss Rockbar.
Well congrats on that amazing performance; and now your successors have a lot to live up to! As a result of winning the pageant, you now host Thursday night’s “The O Show” there. How would you describe that show to the uninitiated, and how much have you’ve enjoyed doing it?
Yes! “The O Show,” the Happiest Hour of all! The show is really a mix of a lot of different things. I sing live, I play guitar, and I lip sync. I do a range of rock, pop, Broadway, and even some mixes. But mainly, I like to put my spin on things. When I’m covering a song, it isn’t going to be a cookie cutter version of what you may have heard on the radio. It’s going to be the Ophelia Nightbird spin. I like mixing things up and being unexpected!
And Rockbar brings an interesting mix of people to these shows.
Petra Fried described the bar as the Brooklyn of the West Village, and I think that’s probably accurate, right?
I could see why she calls it that. What I like most about the crowd is how diverse it is. I love Rockbar because it’s so open and accepting of everyone. It’s a safe space where anyone and everyone can come and have a good time, no matter who they are or how they look. Plus, the drinks are strong and affordable.
And this is fierce: you’re going to be opening a night of live rock bands there on June 2nd… the Queer Music Festival! Rockbar has pretty great acoustics for live rock music. Can the Baby Gays appreciate it, though? I’m not sure if they get it.
Yes! I’m thrilled to be a part of that! I’ve always wanted to be part of a Queer Music Festival, and I couldn’t be happier that my first will be at Rockbar.
And you’d be surprised about the Baby Gays… there was another live band night recently, and there were a number of younger gays in attendance. Plus, good music is good music, regardless of what age you are. And there is going to be a lot of good music that night, with quite a range of styles.
It will be most welcome! And that following Monday, you’ll already be back fundraising for the next AIDS Walk (and other benefits) as part of Tucker Bowles’ variety show at Stonewall, “Birthday Suit Burlesque!” Do you know what you’re gonna do for that yet?
YES! I’m thrilled to be a part of that night. I think it’s so important to give back somehow. I was going to do a burlesque number, but since the night is pretty much all Burlesque, I decided to do a live singing number instead. I’ve narrowed it down to a few numbers, but you’ll have to come out to see which I’ve landed on!
It’s a guest spot in a hilarious show by someone who does a fantastic Beatrice Arthur impersonation. It’s on Tuesday, June 13th at 7pm at the Duplex.
…and I’m also performing in Witti Repartee’s 6th Annual 39th Birthday celebration, “The Mysterious Stranger,” which falls on my actual birthday, July 15th! It’s a benefit for Team Eagle/Cycle for the Cause and the HIV Programs at the LGBT Center.
Oh shit, that’s my birthday, too! We’re twins!
Wow! Okay, so, how about recording original music? Have you ever done that, or considered it?
Yes! I have some living room recordings that I’ve made over the years, but I’ve been thinking about it more seriously lately. My goal is to release a single soon, and then start working on an album. It’s difficult since I have four different jobs, but I think it’s important to at least work on it. I have decent equipment, so the only thing stopping me is myself.
Booked, busy and blessed, or whatever it is that the girls say! Okay, so, last question: if you did have to actually lip sync for your life… what song would you hope gets played?
What a great question! I think I would want to lip sync to “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” by Róisín Murphy. I adore her as an artist, and I think that song embodies the freakier side of my aesthetic.
I’d love to see that! Thank you so much for this chat, Ophelia!
Thank you! This has been a delight.