Note ye ed's email address:

Finally unearthed: The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts from H&R Magic Books.
It's to die for!

At MAGIC Live, everyone makes the cover.

August 2009

My summer wound up with a bang, including a week on the beach in Florida and a week in the sands of Las Vegas. What follows is a report on MAGIC Live 2009, a visit to Daytona Magic, and the arrival of a magic trick I never expected to see. By the way, for those who have never attended a MAGIC Live, your badge photo is a photo of yourself on the cover of MAGIC, hence the mug shot of me above. My apologies for this and any other shots of myself you might encounter this month. (Note: my MAGIC Live 2009 report, with slight modifications and additional information, will appear in the October issue of MAGIC with much better photos. Give it a look.)

Buddy Holly!

Any function that begins with Buddy Holly as its background soundtrack is my kind of event, and so began Stan Allen's MAGIC Live 2009, launching four days of magic that rocked from the get-go. In truth one thousand different magic conventions were experienced during MAGIC Live 2009, depending on which core events you attended, which electives you selected, which old friends you hung out with, which new friends you made, what you purchased from the elite dealers, and which ghost stories you heard. The convention I experienced was the best I have ever attended, the result of highly creative planning, A-list talent, and enormous attention to detail. The only common denominator to it all was my friend, photographer David Linsell, who attended every event and took over 4000 photographs. The snake photo below is courtesy of him. A few specifics on stuff that stood out to me follow.

THE SWAG -- Many of us MAGIC Live veterans still proudly carry a MAGIC Live satchel from a previous convention. New swag for 2009 included a matching MAGIC Live shoulder bag, the usual notebook binder which would fill with notes made available throughout the week at the end of each session, water bottles adorned with MAGIC cover art, an envelope containing the top-secret information as to who would appear on each session, a "Shhhh" button to wear if you didn't want to know that information, a cleverly gaffed hotel room key, and a Fun Book packed with freebies and discounts offered by the dealers. But the collectibles began, as always, with our convention badge, a photo of each of us on the cover of MAGIC. Standing in line for the photo shoot provided an unexpected opportunity to socialize, an unscheduled opening day "party," and it's to the photographers' credit that they made us all look pretty good.

Cool stuff to lug home on the plane.

THE CONCERTS -- Two MAGIC Lives ago, Stan set the bar for convention close-up magic with his four-venue staging, showcasing magic in a restaurant, a bar, a trade show, and a Magic Castle setting. I didn't think that show would ever be topped, but Stan did so this year by bringing in Guy Hollingworth and his theatrical one-man show The Expert at the Card Table, with direction by David Babani and Neal Patrick Harris. The full-evening show presented a compelling history of Erdnase punctuated by dazzling and elegant card magic. Smartly attired, inhabiting a lovely set enhanced by an unobtrusive video camera, Guy wisely stuck to his classic and original magic rather than forcing the issue with effects directly from Erdnase, and it all added up to the most talked about event of the convention. It amused me later that no less a magician than Martin Lewis was fooled by a card trick straight out of Drawing Room Deceptions.

An elegant stage set awaits Mr. Hollingworth.

Tim Conover, a big hit in that previous close-up extravaganza, returned to the MAGIC Live stage with a "full evening" show of stage mentalism, a show he presents for laymen. While a few magicians I spoke to were dismissive, I adored this show. Indeed it marked the first time I had witnessed a full show of classic one-man mentalism, and it reminded me of all those Hahne drawings that graced the Nelson Enterprises catalogs of my youth. Tim brought those drawings to life, performing material I once dreamed of performing, and making it exciting with the rush of energy he brings to every show. What a thrill to finally see a guy on stage with nothing but a crystal ball and a gift of gab.

THE NIGHTMARES -- It's been done before at MAGIC Live: a few seasoned professionals tell horror stories about what happened to them over the course of their careers. But never like this! Never in the dark, in the woods, around a camp fire. You enter a darkened lecture hall, are handed Little Debbie S'mores, behold the flickering remains of a fire, hear the spooky music. Your host is Mac King in a Boy Scout uniform. He approaches a tent, out of which Mac King show veterans expect a bear to emerge, but instead the Thing in the Tent turns out to be Max Maven in a second Boy Scout uniform, but all black. Now things are really getting scary. And so begins Tales of Terror, as Mac and Max invite performers from the audience to tell their tales. The stories you heard depended on when you attended. One group got the likes of Tom Burgoon, Franz Harary, and David Williamson. My group had hilarious anecdotes from Michael Weber, Mark Kornhauser, David Sandy, and Chris Kenner. It was Sandy's macabre tale of Faucett Ross's desire to be buried with his cat that best fit this eerie ambience and had me laughing the longest. One can only imagine how much planning went into making this event so successful.

Available for Blue and Gold dinners.

Paul Gertner served up a different kind of nightmare, specifically three corporate variations on Professor's Nightmare. I have gone on record as considering this a boring magic trick, that it would be boring even if God himself could do it by real magic. And to use it as a basis for getting across a corporate message? I had low expectations. I shouldn't have worried: one variation was fine; the other two thrilled. One of Paul's volunteers opened with the most magical Professor's Nightmare I've ever seen, very Tabary-esque, and Paul himself closed with the funniest and most risque, getting across the message for a fictitious company called IHOP. (Hint: the P stood for pleasure, not pancakes.)

DEALS AND STEALS -- Three factors made this the best convention ever: the Guy Hollingworth show, the Tales of Terror, and the best dealer room I've ever perambulated in, noticeable at first for a full-scale Mike Michaels production helicopter suspended overhead. The tradeshow-like experience, unveiled during the opening night "Cover" party, was the brainchild of Brian Daniel of Creative Magic.

Pull one of these out of your top hat!

Extraordinary design and creative details made many booths a work of art. Todd Karr's Miracle Factory was decked out like a salon, with comfortable furniture and, quite often, a girl juggling knives with teacups balanced on her head.

Todd hires the best!

If Chris thinks any harder, that bulb is going to pop.

Magicsmith's booth looked post-apocalyptic, like something out of Mad Max, and Chris Smith loved demonstrating his light bulb that lights and then explodes. I want one!

Tables hovered in the air at Losander's booth. At Kevin James's Kevin's Magic Sideshow, they kept decapitating someone. Mike Michaels featured some nifty mechanical tables in addition to the production helicopter hovering above. Paul Harris had a booth with his DVDs, but his much anticipated Little Man was delayed in production.

Paul Harris, Chuck Martinez, and Bill Herz confer.
L&L Publishing gave you the feeling of "being there" by bringing along some of its famous DVD audience members. Folks were thrilled to get autographs from the ubiquitous Frank.

Milt Larsen asked me to sit in the Castle audiences.

Not your father's Passe Passe bottles.
They weren't cheap at $1700, but Zoran Krezic had some amazing Passe Passe Lit Candles. Dave Cresey Products had a scantily clad showgirl in constant attendance. The Theory 11 booth was frequently manned by Mr. and Mrs. Chris Kenner, who are expecting a baby in three months. Congratulations!
But my favorite stop was H&R Magic Books, who drew constant crowds with scheduled book signings. Allow me to drop a few names. What fun to hang out with all these guys, not to mention Richard and Charlie! (Disclosure: to keep my luggage weight down, my only purchases included Spellbound/The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning, by John Harrison, and Charlie Frye's Eccentricks. But great choices!)

The place for books and autographs.

THE LOUNGE -- Across the corridor from the main lecture chamber stood the MAGIC Lounge!, a hospitality suite open daily until midnight, with tables set aside for socializing and card trick sessioning. Although I never gravitated to it for finding cards, I did enjoy sitting at one of the eighteen iMacs provided by Apple's John Signa. Bryce Kuhlman had programmed a number of activities with which you could visit your "past lives" (things that happened at previous conventions), test your knowledge of MAGIC Magazine, re-read highlights of eighteen years of MAGIC, write a letter to the editor, and even be matched up with the cover subject you're most like. I tried the knowledge test and felt pretty good at missing only three questions, crushing the lady next to me who worked for the magazine.

THE ELECTIVES -- The big experiment this year was electives, a Tuesday in which each attendee selected four elective sessions from a plate of many. Of those I attended, I loved Joanie Spina's on Directions, also popular with everyone else who attended. What a neat, smart magician. My favorite to attend was the Jeff McBride Master Class, in which Jeff, Eugene Burger, Tobias Beckwith, and Bryce Kuhlman each championed three strong points. Others that I heard great things about included the FFFF session (sorry that I didn't get to see Mike Powers perform!), Pete McCabe's session on scripting, and Mike Bent's on comedy writing.

John Gaughan introduces Balsamo.

THE TALKS -- Stan's daytime programs tend to be information intensive, and this is a good thing. Fascinating talks included an erudite opening lecture by Mark Kornhauser on experimentation, Richard McDougall's views on theater and magic, and Richard Garriott's tale of space travel. Garriott is too cool for magic. Nathan Burton gave an SRO talk on the 300-page contract you can expect if you get into reality TV, Jeff McBride served up important Show Doctor tips, and Marco Tempest stunned me with what can be done with magic and the internet. Mike Caveney interviewed John Gaughan on his career in magic, and Micheal Weber interviewed Jules Fisher, lighting director for almost every important theatrical event of the past forty years. Weber also performed a funny News Update that skewered some of the big names in magic. But the funniest talk and one of the best received was that of Bill Schmeelk on magic catalogs, stuff you just can't make up, climaxing with a "catalog trick" I would have been proud to have performed in high school.

THE RUNNING BITS -- Lending continuity to the four days of action, several performers made multiple appearances. Michael Weber turned up every so often to explain new uses for our cleverly gaffed room keys. David Williamson, a true nut, kept supplying comic videos of insane stuff happening during the convention, my favorite using a Dai Vernon puppet. (Ah, I have footage he didn't show.) And Eric Mead presented mini-lectures called "Rhetorical Answers" on such topics as "favorite methods," illegal downloading, camaraderie in magic, and his cool false shuffle. Eric is such a bright, likeable guy that his stints were eagerly awaited.

David Williamson and friend film a new bit.

Ginny Aronson divines a serial number on a bill.

SERENDIPITY -- The one thousand attendees constituted, for the most part, a who's who of magic, with so many old friends that there wasn't proper time to hang with them, and so many new ones to meet. Occasionally, these guys did real magic. One reported performance that I missed was Tim Conover's close-up show, including his fabulous handling of Goshman's salt shaker routine. Jeff Haas showed me a great take on Unshuffled. Claude Crowe shared a Jack the Ripper card trick with me. And I was there to see young Matt Richman, who two years ago caught our attention with his work on the Charlie Miller Cascade Control and who has been catching everyone's attention on Youtube with his work on the Diagonal Palm Shift, asking former child prodigy Derek DelGaudio to demonstrate some of his unearthly skill, which he did. David Williamson, who Matt assures me is the god of the Diagonal Palm Shift, looked on. What is cool is that these guys have such awesome talent and are still nice. But the best thing that I stumbled upon was Simon and Ginny Aronson performing their two-person mind reading act. Holy cow. Some magic is just so good it's spooky.

THE MAGIC -- OK, so this is a magic convention, and yes, some fine magic was both taught and performed, in addition to that mentioned elsewhere. Of that taught, I enjoyed Paul Gertner's advice on the classic force, and I loved everything Rune Klan did, from a card trick with a Mene Tekel deck to the production of a knife and a pool cue from his old socks. Of that performed, it was fun to see Tim and Andre Kole perform together. Man, it's been over 42 years since I first saw Andre perform, when I was a student at the University of Illinois. I enjoyed Tyler Wilson's Sam the Bellhop parody, Marco Tempest's interactive tv magic, Malin Nilsson looking great with a guy accompanying her on a grand piano, and Chris Hart, even though he suffered through a smoke alarm going off during his act. Ed Alonzo cracks me up, but I wish he had brought Britney along. And I loved seeing again an effect Jonathan Levit did, the Magazine Memory Test using the current issue of MAGIC. I last saw this done by Tommy Edwards at an Invocational in Chicago, and I've always considered it a lovely piece. (After he did it, Jeff McBride, Franz Harary, and Max Maven judged him, a la "Celebracadabra.")

Jeff, Franz, and Max judge Mr. Levit.
Luis de Matos performed a flashy Sands of the Desert and a floating microphone stand to an astonishing song I hadn't heard before ("It's Oh So Quiet," by Bjork, available from iTunes). Arthur Trace added relevance to his magic: his Miser's Dream receptacles were the cans that formed a tin can telephone; his floating paper rose buzzed because it seemed to contain a trapped bee. Greg Kennedy juggled inside an inverted clear plastic cone. The evening shows were rounded out by fine performances from Elliot Zimet, Aaron Crow, Tom Burgoon, emcee Bruce Gold, and dovemaster Joseph Gabriel. But my favorite entertainer on the big shows was emcee Noel Britten, hilarious throughout, and with a joke about the Luxor as brilliant as Bob Read's was about New York New York a few years ago. I should schedule a trip to Bath just to see him work.

I'll trade you a Noel Britten for a Trixie Bond.

THE HOTEL -- The South Point, where all this transpired, is a former member of the Coast group of casino/hotels and a fairly close twin to the more familiar Orleans, with an on-property movie theater (I took in The Time Traveler's Wife and District 9 over the weekend), a 64-lane bowling alley, and a gorgeous swimming pool.

Too bad there was no time for swimming.

The hotel maids are just too wussy.
The South Point sits on the strip four miles south of Mandalay Bay and two miles north of Las Vegas's newest billion-dollar hotel, M. The South Point's theater for the "big" stage shows was half the size of that of the Orleans, so two seatings were necessary to squeeze us all in. The theater itself was quite modern, with a combination of table and theater seating and a beautiful overhead lighting system that looked like a starry night sky. The restaurants easily accommodated us with friendly staffs and menus that didn't gouge. Hotel drawbacks: no free wi-fi, the restaurants occasionally closed, and the maids were easily spooked. To wit: I found the message light on my phone blinking, with news that I had a message at the front desk. The message was that the supervisor wished to speak to me. She did, alas: "Housekeeping is complaining that you are keeping a snake in your room." I laughed and explained, not to her particular amusement, that indeed I was, but that it was rubber, a prop for a book signing. "Your note said it was a snake," she repeated. As I said, we all experienced a different convention. The maid spoke mostly Spanish, and I regret not knowing the translation for "rubber snake."

THE PARTIES -- The "Cover Party" is a MAGIC Live tradition, the first step in a process of bringing MAGIC magazine to life. This year's cover party theme was the "Class of 2009," an inspired choice. You entered what seemed to be a high school gym done up for a sock hop. Basketball hoops stood at each end of the small wooden court, and crepe paper streamers issued from above a rotating mirror ball. A 50s sound track played in the background. (Later, this would transition to soundtracks from the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and so on; not my favorite musical decades, but I saw younger guys bopping along as the evening progressed.) The tradition is that each partygoer receives a packet of a dozen cover photos of the same magician. By swapping photos with others, you could wind up with all different photos. The twist this year was that the photos were high school graduation photos of the magicians, not identified, and that all magicians (18 instead of the usual 12) were actually present to sign your photos. With such disparate magical giants as Marco the Magi and David Blaine on hand, a complete signed set would constitute quite a prize. Speaking of prizes, the party segued into the introduction of 18 metal cases, each containing a hidden special prize. To vie for them, you had to spend money at the dealer booths. Each twenty dollars you spent bought you a raffle ticket, so opening night sales were brisk. The prize I would have most liked winning: Bill Malone takes you to lunch and teaches you anything you want. Other prizes in this spectacular event included several Kevin James tricks and lunch with Kevin, a Malini Egg Bag with personal instruction from Johnny Thompson, and a Losander Floating Table with Anti-Gravity Box and personal instruction from Losander. Nice!

Magi exchange photos. Note the basketball hoop.

Just as the Cover Party opens the convention, the "Finally" party closes it. Goofy photos of magic were distributed on easels throughout the party arenas, and guests were invited to pen captions to them. Cake and cookies with MAGIC Live logos were served, drinks were readily available, and a crush of magicians attended, really an international love fest, a last chance to mix with so many friends, to make deals, to plan future get togethers. And a chance to reflect on the enormous organization and attention to detail that made all this possible. I could ramble on and on but, hey, like I said, Stan had me at Buddy Holly. What a nice convention!

Some magicians partied the entire time.

FUN IN THE SUMMER SUN -- One of the pleasures of spending a week at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, each summer, beyond the boogie boarding, the bikinis, and the Mon Delice bakery, is the easy access to Daytona Magic, Inc., one of the finest brick and mortar magic shops I know of, and home to owners Harry Allen and Irv Cook. It's usually Harry who meets you out front, despite the demands of computer and phone orders flooding in, while Irv commands a desk in the back, in an office that looks as if it had been decorated by Jay Marshall.

Harry and Steve talk magic.

A charming brick and mortar shop.
Harry delighted in showing me two new card inventions from Europe (very cleverly gaffed decks), frying me with an incidental card force as he did. The big news out of the shop is that this year's Daytona Festival of Magic (November 6-8) will feature Harry Anderson and Jon Racherbaumer, who energized the MCA Weekend a couple of years ago. Other personal favorites include Chris Capehart, Kostya Kimlat, David Merry, Pavel, and Charlotte Pendragon. Try this one on the wife: "Hey, honey, I bet we could get some good hotel rates in Florida this November." (Note: I should mention that Harry brought most of the store to MAGIC Live, where his was the largest complete shop available on the dealer floor.)

BOX TRICK -- Some 15 years ago, if my math is correct, I ordered a $90 Lippendollar Coin Box from Tabby Crabb. It's a slightly oversized Lippincott coin box made for a silver dollar or, as I prefer, a folded playing card. For reasons that have never been made clear, Tabby never sent me the box. He occasionally showed the box to visitors, such as Pete Biro, and he sent me (as he mentions in his new book, a great read) a Plexiglas houlette as a sort of delay gift. (A deck of cards rests in it beside my bed, so I am one of the few magicians who thinks of Tabby Crabb every night before going to sleep.)

Recently, Ray Witkowski took over the Tabman line of tables and other products, and he has been turning out beautiful work. Amazingly, and most generously, he has been filling some of Tabby's old orders. And so it happened that my elusive coin box awaited me upon returning from MAGIC Live. It's not only a beautiful piece of work (Ray gave me the choice of various woods), but it's additionally gaffed, with a magnet embedded, and it came with two poker chips, one shimmed. I look forward to its possibilities. If you are in the market for beautiful magic apparatus, especially tables, give Ray a consideration at Tabman Magic Crafts.

The Tabman haunted hand knows all.

Halloween is coming!
You need The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts!

Snake photo courtesy of David Linsell.

Department of Corrections: My original posting of this page had Max Maven in a Cub Scout uniform. The mistake was my call, as I had never seen an all-black Boy Scout uniform before. I should have known better. And I thought the P in Paul Gertner's imaginary company stood for something more risque than pleasure. It did of course, but the word Paul used was Pleasure.

Sarah and Simon (Vixen and Spike to old Gazette readers) were married on April 1, 2006. You may access their wedding photos at wedding photos.

Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.

Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He frequently journeys to and performs magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

Past issues of this web site: Index to Past Issues

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Copyright© 2009 by Steve Bryant