Nashville council member upset Health Dept OK’d alleged swingers parties at Antioch hotel

By: - November 11, 2020 5:30 am
A logo for Vibe featured on a website for swingers.

A logo for Vibe featured on a website for swingers.

The Metro Public Health Department gave the green light to two alleged swingers parties held at a hotel in Antioch in recent months, upsetting the council member representing the area and highlighting the complication of enforcing public health orders during the pandemic.

The health department approved a Sept. 18-19Back to School Partyhosted by Vibe Social Club, an Alabama-based private membership club that hosts specially themed parties and operates a website promoting its events. 

The health department also approved Vibe’s “Back the BlueHalloween Party hosted by Vibe Social Club on Oct. 20-21, according to public records provided to the Tennessee Lookout. City approval is required for gatherings of more than 25 people according to the public health order related to the pandemic.

On each of the applications, there was no indication the gatherings were sex-related parties, but the health department did receive an anonymous tip about the first party a week before it took place. The owners of Vibe Social Club said they are not a swingers club and that strict social distancing protocols were followed at their parties.

The events were held at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Antioch.

In response to the complaint sent through the city’s Hub Nashville system, a Nashville police officer, accompanied by a health department representative, conducted a check of the Comfort Inn and Suites, resulting in 20 warnings being written for mask violations on Sept. 19, according to police spokesman Don Aaron.

Nashville Metro Councilmember Joy Styles (Photo: Nashville.gov)
Nashville Metro Councilmember Joy Styles (Photo: Nashville.gov)

Metro Councilwoman Joy Styles raised the issue of the alleged September swingers party during the council’s weekly call with the health department last week. Styles said she is upset that the health department approved the gatherings even though the virus continues to spread in her community. She called such parties “clearly dangerous” for spreading COVID-19.

Styles said she was “less than pleased” that the department approved the first event in September.

“Instead of saying, “Wow, we should reach out to this group and say that while we appreciate your right to engage in these activities, during a pandemic it’s probably a bad idea,’ they didn’t do that,” Styles said. “Instead they just asked the police if they would stop by and check and see how things were going.

“I have reached out to the hotel to try to find out (why this was allowed to happen)? Even if you were struggling financially, you thought putting this district at risk was a good idea?’’ Styles asked. ”I don’t care what you tell me. If something happened in an individual hotel room, I guarantee you that mask came off during those two days.”

The Comfort Inn and Suites is an affiliate hotel of the Athena Hospitality Group. The Tennessee Lookout sought a comment from the company on Tuesday but did not hear back.

The health department said through a spokesman that its hands are tied. The party’s promoters outlined plans to follow social distancing rules when using the common areas of the hotel.

The approvals were necessary because of pandemic-related health orders limiting large gatherings in Davidson County.

“The applicant submitted their plan, including a seating chart that showed space for social distancing for 190 people,” health department spokesman Brian Todd said, explaining the approval for the October party. “The seating chart was included in the application… The meeting room capacity approved by the Fire Marshal allows for 640 people.

“We reviewed and approved their application based on what is required in the Public Health Orders, but we did not send people to check on the event. Anything that might or might not have happened when people left the meeting room and went to their individual guest rooms is not in the purview of the Order.”

Anonymous complaint: ‘No social distancing at these parties. Lol’

City officials learned about the alleged September swingers party from an anonymous tip sent through Hub Nashville, the website where citizens log complaints and concerns.

The Hub Nashville complaint detailed the hotel would be transformed into a “swinger venue that will violate the number of persons in a meeting room.”

“A bunch of drunk people without masks and definitely in close contact with each other,” the complaint stated. “No social distancing at these parties. lol. Menages can’t be open, this party shouldn’t be taking place under the radar.”

Aaron, the police spokesman, said the department’s South Precinct had officers go to the hotel both nights of the Back to School party to “proactively check the property.” A health department representative joined the officers on at least one of the nights, and on the second night of the event “20 mask warnings were given,” Aaron said.

The applicant for the September party was Shelly DeVillo, who listed her address as Hartselle, Alabama. The party was hosted by Vibe Social Club, according to the application. DeVillo is the registered agent for Vibe Social Club, according to business filings with the Alabama Secretary of State.

For the October Back the Blue Halloween Party, the applicant was Stephen DeVillo, who is Shelly’s husband.

The DeVillos told the Tennessee Lookout that their parties were safe and strictly adhered to the city’s COVID-19 protocols. Attendees were screened when arriving on the property and at the door before entering, including filling out a questionnaire and having their temperatures checked.

Masks were required and provided to those who didn’t have them. Hand sanitizer stations were set up throughout the banquet room where the parties were held, and signs listing Metro’s COVID-19 guidelines were displayed throughout.

Tables were arranged at least 6-feet apart, Stephen DeVillo said, and the DJ regularly reminded people of the health and safety rules that must be followed. A security company also monitored the gathering and made sure attendees followed the guidelines.

We take the pandemic very seriously. Vibe Social Club is not about sex, it is not about swingers and it's not about that. Do we solicit and try to get new membership from those things? Yes. However, it's free advertising to do it. Those are the kind of people — the free thinkers (who we target.)

– Stephen DeVillo

Stephen DeVillo said that in common areas of the hotel, organizers made sure that social distancing rules were followed.

“Now what happens behind closed doors in their personally rented hotel rooms or at their own addresses, we have no control over that nor do we want control over that,” Stephen DeVillo said, adding that there have not been any members who contracted the virus at one of their parties. 

Although Vibe Social Club advertises its parties on www.SwingLifeStyle.com, the DeVillos insist their club is not a swingers club. Stephen DeVillo said the safety of club members is paramount. The club is about providing members a place where they can feel safe and open with their sexuality, without judgment, Shelly DeVillo said.

“We take the pandemic very seriously. Vibe Social Club is not about sex, it is not about swingers and it’s not about that,” Stephen DeVillo said. “Do we solicit and try to get new membership from those things? Yes. However, it’s free advertising to do it. Those are the kind of people – the free thinkers (who we target).”

The next hotel party was in the works before concerns were raised at last week’s council call. The DeVillos said they believe the anonymous claim came from disgruntled former members whose memberships were revoked for bad behavior. 

An event promoted as “Vibe’s Island of Misfit Toys Christmas Party” is scheduled for Dec. 4-5. Although the event on the SwingLifeStyle.com website does not list an address, it is described as a hotel party in Antioch.

Styles was dismayed to learn another alleged swingers party was planned for her district. She said she hopes the health department will not allow the event to take place. According to the Comfort Inn and Suites’ website, the hotel is completely booked for those two days in December.

“I find myself consistently disturbed, as we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Styles said. “As far as I’m concerned, if you want to swing from a chandelier you should do that. You have absolutely every right when we’re not in a pandemic. But when we’re in a pandemic and you’re talking about an event that’s going to be exchanging bodily fluids and you’re trying to convince us you’re going to keep a mask on at all times, and you’re basically in multiple rooms – it’s not just one room you’re in, you rented out an entire hotel – that’s dangerous.”

 

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Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan. 615-498-5202

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