Last weekend I attended the Magi-Fest convention in Columbus, Ohio, where I performed and lectured. It reminded me somewhat of my years growing up attending the Tannen’s Jubilee in the Catskills—about half the size, but still substantial for a regional convention, rich with memory and experience: seeing friends from all over the country, people I hadn’t seen in years, running into old attendees from my Card Clinics in the early 2000s, strolling the big dealer’s room, where one young exhibitor asked me to autograph a VHS set of the PBS “Art of Magic” documentary, telling me how I had inspired him when he saw it at the age of ten (TEN! WTF, dude?), then catching up with Bob Little at his dealer’s booth, now 85 years young, still at it, thanking him for his influence and inspiration when I was an adolescent, and then hearing the voice of a ten-year-old loudly squeal, “You’re Jamy Ian Swiss!” and then posing for a photo for his mom to take … it was a weekend packed with friends and memories, both old and new alike. I spent a long time talking with a new friend, New York sports journalist Joe Posnanski, sharing mutual interests in both Houdini and baseball, and had another long conversation catching up with my old friend Rick Maue, who was a welcome surprise visitor to the convention.
Because I was working, and also shooting some video projects for Vanishing Inc., I had to miss a lot of the program. But I did get to see some great magic, old and new. My friend Eric Mead presented a superb hour-long lecture about a single coin trick (a great favorite and staple of my own repertoire), that takes about two minutes to perform, and which contained countless lessons for those paying close attention. I managed to attend a session of short presentations by a group of performers that included two longtime younger friends and colleagues, Adam Elbaum, who featured a strong original trick (which he explained in full, despite it being a marketed item—times do change!)—and Eli Bosnick, a former student, who gave a memorable talk about how to create a great magic club. I also got to hang with a bunch of members of his New York City club of young magicians, the Magnets, and enjoyed my time with them, including Jason Suran, with whom I brainstormed and traded some mentalism ideas.
The closing night gala show was very strong and consistent, in which I enjoyed MC and Guest of Honor, Mike Caveney, who, in his lecture earlier in the day, explored five versions of his Torn & Restored Toilet Paper (“Magic Paper” as he consistently calls it), a trick I first saw him do at the Tannen’s Jubilee, and had to smile as he described his experiences performing at such early bookings in his career that I had in fact attended and seen. He also found time for a second routine, his version of Powers of Darkness, which has been a staple of my repertoire since 1985, when I bought my set while Mike was a visting headliner at the Inn of Magic and I was resident Magic Bartender.
Also on the same show I witnessed standing ovations for the young Korean FISM award winner, Lukas Lee, who does stunning manipulative magic; for Mike Caveney’s partner, Tina Lenert, who did her trademark “Mr. Mop” act along with a new piece of silent magic featuring a Two Linking Rings routine; for award-winning headliner Rob Zabrecky, whose 40-minute closing spot was as brilliant and original as it is invariably hilarious and bizarre; and for Venezuelan card man Luis Otero, whom I had not previously met, but was pleased to spend some hang time with at a group luncheon on Sunday before leaving town. That group included my friend Ricky Smith, who not only (as usual) showed off some superb card work, but who also triggered the biggest laugh I experienced all weekend.
As is inevitable at these gatherings, the best times I had were outside of the convention schedule, and that’s no knock on the conference program, which was consistently solid. I was part of a late Saturday night outing to the home of conference co-producer Tim Moore, and saw some of his extraordinary collection of magic apparatus, posters, and other memorabilia, a literally breathtaking and unforgettable time. I shared a van ride with a bunch of magician friends back to the convention, during which our Lyft driver regaled us with some equally amazing and hilarious tales, beginning with an account of how the night before he had picked up two septuagenarian/octogenarian couples who were playing suggestively in the back of the van, explained that they were “swingers,” and invited the much younger driver to join them at the hotel (he declined). Columbus, Ohio—a veritable hotbed of adventure. Who knew?
I had a little session with my old friend Kostya Kimlat, jamming Okito Box routines on a showroom chair. I saw some extremely magical card work by Xavier Spade, at our first meeting at about 3:30 a.m. at the end of a late night at the by then long-closed hotel bar. I saw lobby crowds tightly gathered around Ben Earl, whom I spent time with in London a few weeks ago, at The Session, and whom I wrote about here in Take Two #12.
But as it happens, my favorite bit of magic that I saw last weekend was when a few friends flagged me down in the lobby on my way out the door toward a car heading to the airport. Among the group was my old friend Garrett Thomas, who blew us all away with an amazing routine performed with his drivers license and a second borrowed one—in this case, my own. The routine began with a visual transposition but went beyond to create a series of astonishing moments that I can only describe as having created the experience of real magic.
I’ve known Garrett since he was an adolescent, when another old friend, Dan Block, one of the producers of the hard-core close-up convention, The Buffalo Get-Together, introduced us many years ago. At that time, young Garrett was already focused on coin magic, putting and taking giant 3” coins in and out of a tiny coin purse, among other feats. He also showed me an early version of a trick with a finger ring, and I recall our discussion about a credit for a particular coin sleight.
Since then, Garrett has become renowned among sleight-of-hand close-up magicians, not only for his superb magic with coins, cards, and, yes, finger rings, but also as a passionate thinker and theoretician. He’s a regular performer at a local bar in Buffalo, where he presents his eccentric and artistic work to the public every week. And he’s marketed a number of select and high quality routines and props for magicians that have found popular usage by professionals and amateurs alike.
After expressing my amazement and my thanks for Garrett’s closing performance, I exited the hotel, heading outside for the ride to the airport. But suddenly a thought struck me, and I turned on my heels to return to the lobby. “Garrett, I just realized something that I felt I had to share with you. This is the second convention in two years now at which the best magic I’ve seen was something you did for me. Thank-you!” And away I went.
Because in fact, the best magic I saw at the 2015 Magic Live! was at the bar one evening, during which Garrett astounded me and a couple of friends with a detailed analysis of some of the psychological management in his beautiful routine, “Imaginary Coins,” and then with his current state-of-the-art work on finger ring magic. Despite the substantial amount of material Garrett has published on this latter subject, he still has more that he has so far kept to himself, and the magic is astonishingly beautiful and elegantly thought out.
So, this week, enjoy a little magic from my friend Garrett Thomas, who has managed now to have twice shown me my personally favorite magic at yet a second magic convention. It’s a great gift and a great feeling, and I’m pleased to share it with you.
To begin with, and to get a taste of the Magi-Fest scene, here’s Garrett performing his beautiful “Imagination Coins” at his booth in the dealer room at the 2014 Magi-Fest. Watching magic on video pales in comparison to the live experience, but you know the drill. Do you part: Put down the smart phone, expand the browser, turn up the sound, and be present for the experience of magic by Garrett Thomas.
Here’s a sampling of some of Garrett’s startling and original magic with finger rings. This is just a cell phone video so it’s a little shaky at first but you’ll see some surprising magic.
Garrett Thomas Banded Performance
And as a bonus, here’s an excellent video of Garrett performing his routine, “Stand-up Monte,” for a real close-up audience in a real close-up setting. It’s amazing, visual, playful, and the impact of the experience is clear and unarguable.
Garrett Thomas - Stand Up Monte