Angels… Lucky or .. what?

Just before the Tower shut its doors for good on April 10 2004, I had a crew come in and film one last performance. This footage came from a a regular night at the  Tower. We had 2 cameras, and talented operators. That is a big part of the formula for video. I was feeling pretty good that night, another part of the equation. The ‘wild card’ to this whole video thing is the audience. Without hiring professional actors, we didn’t have much control of how lively they’ll be.

This night…a random night in the winter…I was blessed by having a STELLAR and stunning trio of beautiful women in the front row.  Of the three beauties, only Mia is a local, who I see now and then. But the other two, cute and perky Sandy and the ravishingly beautiful Alicia with her beguiling eyes…. just happened to be there.

Here is the strange thing though, I had never seen them -ever -before. I never saw them again that week nor have I seen them  since!  That’s kind of bizzare.

They added a lot of vitality to the group…I couldn’t have hired a better audience.

Maybe the stars were in alignment…maybe I just got lucky… who knows… but this piece comes as close to capturing the vibe of the Tower as any piece of video. It is also a lovely look back at the legendary place. Those were the days, my friends, those were the days…

click on this link… I can’t figure out how to make the YouTUbe thing appear here without having to click on it…
Angels in the front row.

Bent Wheel on my tricycle.

My ex-wife is fond of saying that having three kids is like having a tricycle with one bent wheel – it’s just that the bent wheel moves around from time to time!  IOW at any given time, one of my kids may well be the ‘bent one’.
When I talk about my kids, I sometimes lovingly refer to one (or another) of them as the bent wheel on my tricycle of life. I have three great kids. In fact, my oldest just presented me with my first grandchild!
Kids are a never ending ride down the sometimes bumpy road of life on a tricycle with a bent wheel.
Besides being a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Mike Peters is a dear friend and an enthusiastic fan of my work.

Mike in the blue shirt is reacting to something I was doing. I wish he could be in my audience every night.

I am equally rabid about his incredible talent. We have spent much time laughing together and he loves the bent wheel line. So he skillfully wove the line into his nationally syndicated strip, Mother Goose and Grimmy.

I have never known him to ‘plug’ someone in one of his strips so I am humbled and honored.
BTW It’s a bit misleading because my dog Lila is the only wheel on my wagon that isn’t currently bent.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Psychedelic Epcot

 

What an unbelievable weekend.

I was in Central FL to be a part of the last weekend of Epcot’s Food and Wine festival.  Though I have been in Orlando many times, I really haven’t been to anything at Epcot for more than 20 years. I never had the time or inclination to ‘hit the parks’. Mostly I have been ‘flying solo’ and any visit to Disney really isn’t that special if you can’t share the memory with someone.

This time was to be a bit different. I was there ‘working’ and so had a team to hang with. So I had a chance to really enjoy the place with a group of like minded folks and it was a gas.

I did my little stint but got to hang around a bit longer in the Disney Beach Club hotel. Deluxe!

Culminating this 5 week celebration of eating and drinking was the “Party for the Senses”- a gala event that was the capstone to the whole thing. My client was involved in this as well but my part of the weekend was over and there weren’t enough tickets to allow me to attend.

Enter: my Disney Pal John surprised me when he told me he had just one ticket left and asked if I was interested in going.

Um, YAH!! so I spent Saturday on the DL .. resting up for what proved to be one of the best nights of my life.

I was to meet up with John and the rest of his contingent at about 7 but I knew that one of my favorite bands was playing at a wide open concert so I headed over to Epcot at about 5, figuring this was a good place to kill a couple of hours.

The nearer I got to the entrance the more people began to join in the stream of folks heading toward the turnstiles. This was an extremely popular weekend and there were more people in this stream than I have been around in a long while. I cleared the gate, (where I had to lay my finger on a scanner that took my fingerprint to get in! Very weird.)

As I entered the park, the atmosphere really began to rev up. There was already a river of people in the walkways and if you wanted to get out of the river, all you had to do was head to the side (the “riverbank”) and you could sit out and observe the flow. In this mix was an astounding assortment of people- from the most interesting and beautiful faces, sensuous bodies in an array of clothing options -to the most grotesque of shapes and sizes.   I wonder how Americans are perceived by our foreign visitors???  and speaking of foreign visitors… this was as close to a European vacation as you can get. Besides the different themes, snippets of conversations in strange languages move past you as you make your way through the crowd.

I entered the park at “England” and skirted the lake as I headed toward the American Stage.. I suddenly found myself in “Japan”! -complete with the iconic Torii in the water and Shinto temple architecture. I was just in time for a demonstration of those big Japanese drums being played by three very intense looking Japanese girls in traditional garb rhythmically pounding out a complex drumming piece that I can only guess goes back thousands of years. I thought to myself, “I spent three weeks in Japan and never saw anything approaching this.” That I had to come to Florida to experience authentic Japanese culture was incongruent at best. I was spell bound as the drumming intensified and I could feel the resonance in my core. When they stopped, I just stood there vibrating and mesmerized by what I had just witnessed.

Shaking my head, I once again joined the river and was swept in to the “American” section where Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was just coming on stage. Wow. I LOVE the music they play…high powered swing music that makes it impossible to sit still when you listen. In my typical concert pattern, I couldn’t sit down and so I wandered all over the venue, occasionally getting close to band to feel that beat. As I made it back toward the ‘river’ I was able to witness a spontaneous dance number performed by two lithe and beautiful people.  She was slim, long waisted with a short bob haircut and stunningly cute. He was long and tall and sinewy.  They just burst into a high energy bop that had the crowd mesmerized- well, I was anyway. I fell in love with this girl in a matter of seconds.. so free, spontaneous, and boy! could she move.. I thought for a moment that they were cast members-so spot on was their dancing, but as the dance wore on, it was evident that they were just members of the ‘river’. Over as quickly as it started, they collapsed into each others arms before the end of the song, blended into the stream and disappeared leaving me slack-jawed at the exhibition.

I stayed for about 45 minutes and soaked in more of the high-energy music. Shaking my head at how wonderful this was, I joined the flow toward the big gates that kept the regular folks separated from those of us lucky enough to have tickets to the Party for the Senses.

A powerful thirst was developing and so I stopped into the ‘authentic’ British pub and got a cider and black… a drink that I had in England a long time ago but hadn’t had for years. Wandering out of the crowded pub, I began to look for a quiet place to imbibe, I headed to a bench overlooking the lake and struck up a conversation with two lovely folks who actually lived in Bristol, England and love coming over here and enjoying the world according to Disney.  We compared and contrasted cultures and marveled at this thing called Epcot. It was a wonderfully engrossing fun encounter.

I had time to kill before the rest of the group showed up so I bid adieu to my Bristol friends and entered the stream again just going where ever it took me. I stood and watched a Canadian rock n roll band that featured a bagpipe player as lead! what a bizarre thing but really good!  As I whirled around I was met with a most intense parade of humanity!  Again, the beautiful mingled with the grotesque and everyone in between was also represented. Just as I was thinking how happy everyone looked, as if on cue, a dumpy woman clutching her cell phone with both hands hustled by going in the opposite direction, sobbing, ” She broke my heart! She broke my heart!” another 5 second vignette adding to the other ones that were happening faster than I can describe. I guess everyone wasn’t happy that night.

Groups of a half dozen 20 something kids, dressed in collegiate T shirts, in various states of conviviality would break into song or random cheering and then be gone only to be replaced by bored parents tapping on their cell phones while their strollers were bouncing with kids who were alternatively straining to get out of their restraints, glassy eyed from a whole day at the park or asleep. It is impossible to capture the constantly changing scenes that were going across my viewing screen other than saying it was as close to a psychedelic experience without actual hallucinogens involved. I was loving it.

And the main event hadn’t even started.

I met up with John and his wonderful crew of guests who included a new pal Jeff and his girl Kate who was vivacious and beautiful and had a ready smile.. and whose mom is also from Naugatuck.. what? are the odds.

At 730 promptly the queue started to enter the huge private circus tent. So our crew of 7, joined this feeder and Poof! we were in.

The place was simply buzzing with excitement. The soundtrack for the party was all Cirque music played live that just enhanced the dreamlike atmosphere. There must have been 40 food stations that each had two different foods -all bite sized-accompanied by different paired wines. A lot of thought went into this incredibly well choreographed evening.  Without a moment’s hesitation we all dove into the swirling mass of people who had the single aim of eating as much different food and tasting as many different wines as we could.

Bison, veal, pork shoulder, exotic fish, vegetarian tidbits, many of which I had never even heard of before, tastefully arranged on little beds of grain that I had never heard of either. Delectable morsels of foods that were totally new to me! I thought I was fairly well travelled but grains like farro (?) and fish called Sable (?)  How nice to find things that I have never experienced! All presented in the most delectable fashion.

Three different times, our attention was directed to the main stage where elements of Cirque du Soleil performed a couple of bits. a treat for the eyes if ever there was.

I managed to stay away from the brown liquors that would have probably put me in the ditch. As it was I had a pleasant buzz from the wine and the pervading vibe that was simply sublime. After 3 hours of eating as much as we could, the announcement for the fireworks came across the crowd and Jeff, Kate and I made our way through the throng to an ideal viewing area for the fireworks.  Now, there are fireworks and there are Disney fireworks. This was an intense show that included many varieties of spectacular ‘fill up the sky’ types of pyrotechnics and projections on the clouds left over from the rockets. What a wonderful way to finish this evening off.

I floated back into the ‘Senses’ tent to say my good byes to the new pals I had made. Though invited, I took a pass on the invitation to the after party. I was pleasantly buzzed and just tired enough to make it to my room and hunker in for the evening. I am sure I missed a good time but when I lolled awake the next morning my I was thankful I had made that call.

It was a grand night –

Thank you John, thank you Phil, thank you all for making this one of my grandest nights ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So…Where are you from?

For years I’d avoid the long answer to that question with a simple, “I grew up in California”. Which was,  for the most part, true. When I landed in Santa Barbara California in 1968, I was free, white and 21, as they say. I did a helluva lot of growing up in the late 60s/early 70s.

Most people accepted that answer. They’d nod and we’d talk about how beautiful Southern California was and blah blah blah.. It was easier than going through the whole story. For most, that was sufficient and I would avoid having to tell the story of growing up in  a little mill town in central Connecticut called, Naugatuck. I still had issues with the place.

I really had grown to dislike the town. After graduating high school in 1965, most of my school chums had gone off to college and I slowly grew to feel stuck in a place where the attitudes of the people were (and probably still are ) provincial, judgmental and it was getting worse. Growing into my twenties, there, was stifling.

Besides the narrow minded attitudes that I was running into, another life changing event occurred when, at age 20, I lost both my parents. That is another story, another  time.  It took me a little time to sort things out but I saw that as a sign to get on with my life. My last months in Naugatuck were filled with grief and loss and a growing sense of  confinement. A complete change of scenery and attitude was called for. There were things going on in the world and society that eclipsed that pain and I needed to get on with it. Life was calling.

So I packed up everything I needed and moved to beautiful Santa Barbara CA where a new life was awaiting me. I wanted nothing to do with what I left behind.  It was easier to cubbyhole that first twenty years of my life and start fresh. You could be anything you want this time around as Timothy Leary told us.

Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places in the world, provided plenty to distract me. It became my crucible. New attitudes and ways of looking at life spoke to me so loud and clear that the first 20 years faded away.  It was not hard to keep it all in tightly closed boxes in the attic of my mind. I have successfully kept them ‘taped up’ for over 40 years. I rarely thought about them.

Until this last weekend… a friend turned me on to a Facebook page that is entitled “You are probably from Naugatuck if…”

Out of boredom I opened up the page. The result has been huge. It was like pulling everything out of the attic, opening the boxes and  dumping them all over the floor. I was surrounded by bits and pieces of my early life.  I have been glued to my computer ever since, reading about and commenting on all things, Naugatuck. A lot of people are participating in a reevaluation of the place and state of mind of my little town… the high school, the main street, the buildings, the landmarks, the neighborhoods, the people that I grew up with, names and places all swirling on my computer screen.

I am not sure what it is about this whole process that makes it so compelling.

One reason might be that focusing on the bygone days is soothing, safe and a lot more fun than dealing with the reality of economies tanking, rioting in the streets, and the rest of the world collapsing. Maybe it is a bit of burying one’s head in the sand while we try to figure out who lived on the corner, or where were you when the plane landed in the highschool parking lot but the result is we have given ourselves a bit of a respite from the world of TODAY. The  idea of visiting those mellow years when comics cost a nickel and gas was 25 a gallon is very attractive and soothing.

But it also provides me with a slightly different perspective on my ‘growing years’ that is oddly healing for me.

I understand that some of this is the natural forgetting of the crappy parts and only seeing the good parts. But as I read the posts, I realize I am not looking with disdain at those first 20 years. This has been (is) therapeutic in a strange way. I am seeing how idyllic it was to grow up in a fairly prosperous little mill town with some rich history. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I’m really glad I got out when I did. But of all the places that a kid could grow up in the 50s and 60s this wasn’t such a bad place.  It was, in fact, pretty idyllic. As a post war baby boomer, life was pretty darned good.

All in all I am pretty happy with the way it all turned out. There is very little I would change in my life at this point. I am successful in my career, I have three healthy, beautiful and intelligent kids. I enjoy good health. I am pretty darned happy. And now for the first time in the 43 years since I have left, I have a different take on the town I grew up in.

 

 

 

 

Spring time in the Northwest

For faithful readers of this blog, you know that two years ago I went to Japan with my oldest son Mack. This year, I undertook a similar adventure to Western Canada and Seattle, Eugene and Portland.  #2 son Ryan was my able bodied assistant on this swing.

Aside from the fact that everyone on this tour spoke English the tour was every bit as intense and no less grueling as the Japanese tour.

This whole tour was arranged by a dedicated magician who patterned this tour after the Japanese model. I knew that I was signing on for an experience and it was certainly that.

The roster of magicians that have blazed the “Xcelent tour” trail is an impressive list of talent and I am honored to be included.

Ryan really rose to the occasion and was a star on this run. His retail expertise really shined at every stop. He efficiently set up shop and kept pace at the sales table and that allowed me to do all the other stuff. Frankly I don’t know how I used to do this whole thing singlehanded. It is a tremendous amount of work. I simply could not have done this without him.

We arrived in Victoria a few days before the official start to sort of get in the groove.

We were blessed by outstanding weather on our first full day in the capital of British Columbia. Ryan and I just wandered around, enjoying the foliage, views and the vibe of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The extra days at the front end of this tour really helped to get set up for the daily grind to come.

Beacon Hill Park Victoria BC

 

Once we started, the typical day was head to the airport. check bags, wait for the flight, fly to our destination, meet our new host, be taken to a hotel, freshen up, load the gig bags with product, do the lecture, sell, sell, sell, go to the pub with the boys, have a beer or two and tell a few stories, then head to the hotel for a few hours of sleep and then do it all again the next day.. we did this for 6 days straight.

It got to the point where we didn’t remember details that happened just a few days before because all the days ran together.

We met some wonderful magicians, who were very kind to us road warriors. The problem with a pace like that, is it doesn’t allow a lot of time for visits with older ‘living legend’ kinda  guys who I would like to have spent time with. The opportunities to meet and spend time with these guys are fewer and farther between and so to be in the same town but not have the time to visit with them was one of my biggest disappointments.

This could be called the Trains, Boats, Planes, Ferries and Bus tour. We were on them all.

On our day off we rented a car and headed to the Oregon Coast (from Lincoln City to Florence anyway) and experienced a beautiful day that included rain, drizzle, sun, blue skies, clouds, and then rain again. Not sure how people live out there in the gray. Ryan is very sensitive to grayness. If it snows here for three days straight, his mood is severely effected . He wouldn’t be able to live there in the northwest for any more than a season or two! Not sure I would either. I love it when it is clear and bright, it just isn’t like that often enough for my tastes.

The after lecture hangs are often the best part of the experience. Ryan really shined in these sessions. His long flowing beautiful hair and slender articulate fingers deftly demonstrated his skills which have increased greatly after a year of practice with me over our kitchen table. He was holding his own with some of the ‘big dogs’ of the magic world and he held his own very well.  So this was a voyage of discovery for the young lad. He really came into his own on this adventure. He now has a name for himself out there in the magic world. All I could do is sit back and smile proudly. He really did me right out there.

The boys in Edmonton

Like his brother before him in Japan, Ryan and I bonded on several levels and it was something that will always stand out as extra special time together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amtrak tour Spring 2011

When I described my recent train adventure to folks, the most often asked question is .. why?

To which the obvious answer is .. why not?

I had a two day engagement in Denver on one weekend and then on the next weekend I had to be in Springfield, IL. I didn’t want to go and come back then go and  come back again. So I thought I would look into what might be in between those two cities. After a couple of inquiries to Omaha, I nailed down a two day event there. Then a straight line emerged and the Amtrak route was a perfect fit.  For years, I have heard people talk about the trip through the mountains and into Denver. For any number of other reasons, I was unable to do this but all I can say is “DO IT”.  The train runs through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen and the 6 hour trip went way too fast. Plus I have never taken a multiple day train trip and it was time to cross this off my bucket list.

Simple as that.

You can’t be in a hurry on a train. So I factored in a few hours here and there so that Amtrak’s undependable schedule was never an issue. Even the return ~the 22 hour run from Galesburg to Glenwood~ was knocked askew by a DERAILMENT  of all things. Even that disruption was not really an insurmountable glitch. It wasn’t MY train that derailed… so, though it was all a bit behind schedule. it was all good.

The whole experience put me in touch with a lot of different people from lots of different walks of life. That is a big part of this whole adventure. If a person is uneasy while interacting with strangers, this might not be the best suggestion. But if you at ease with this, some of the people you come into contact with are fascinating. I met a lot of people from Europe who were experiencing the US version of extended train travel. Their insights and comments were especially insightful. Though their trains are a bit better than ours, they had never seen our wide open scenery. The great plains giving way to the Rocky Mountains as we came into Colorado was quite a site for me but for them it was staggering.

Some magicians have commented that they loved being able to do magic for passengers. I didn’t do any magic for anyone on the train. I wanted to use the time for relaxing and contemplating the experiences I was having OFF the train. That’s just me. It was a long and busy winter. The drama and sub plots of my personal life are enough to fill in a lot of blogs. I loved having the time to ‘cocoon’ in my little compartment. No internet but that’s ok too. The iphone kept me as connected as I wanted to be.  I loved having a compartment to retreat to when the population of the club car turned weird.  Cozy but comfortable is the best way to describe the ‘roomette’.  The food, included (!)  when you buy the roomette, is surprisingly good. The company varies wildly from fascinating folks to people you would never even notice were they not across the table from you. It was all good, though.

But I was happy to jump off and be home with my own bed and shower.

I will say that there is nothing quite so delicious as a long hot shower and one’s own bed after several days on a train.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the train. I love the concept of not being in an all fired hurry to get to where you are headed. I guess I straddle enough time to (barely) remember  the golden age of rail travel. I am a fan. Though they have one, I have yet to take a shower on the train and  so it is especially wonderful when you are finally able to take a long and luxurious shower in your own bathtub.

Would I do this again.. you bet.. in a heartbeat. I might like to do a longer trip next time.

Now prepping for the next adventure.

The sun is setting on the winter 2011 and new horizons ahead

Winter season #34 is now ‘in the can’.

While it was a strange year for snowfall~hardly any here in Basalt, but LOTS up in the resort, it turned out to be a great winter for me. For the past several years, I have done an afternoon show at the Silvertree Hotel in the Conservatory, a difficult venue in that it was a long narrow room – a bit like working in a trailer. This year the ‘powers that be’ moved me into another of their properties, the Wildwood Hotel lobby. This was a better venue (still flawed but much more workable). The first performance was revelatory. I found that if you look out that window right there, you can see the Tower Building. As I gazed at the crowd, I saw that clearly half the room had actually BEEN in the Tower at some point over the years. So I asked the crowd if they would like to hear the story of how the Tower came about. After an enthusiastic affirmative response, I began to explain how Crow, Paul and Michael P Shore arrived here in this magical place, how John Denver became involved, how Bob Sheets introduced the magic bar in the summer of 1975. People seem to be genuinely interested in all these old stories and I am only too willing to tell them again. I am also introducing some new magic that seems to support the stories.

For the last 12 weeks, I honed and polished the material. I added and eliminated different pieces. Wishing that I could do it once a day  rather than once a week, I did what I could to make this into an entertaining romp through the early days of Snowmass. I had some wonderful advice coming from Eric Mead, who of course was a big part of the recent history. Nearly everyone who saw it had suggestions and ideas. I sorted through all of them and, while it still has a ways to go, I am thrilled with how it is developing.

I firmly believe that this is the ‘next step’ for me. As much as I love working the bar, it is a demanding venue that has a variable payoff. I am liking the idea of being able to present this to an attentive crowd who will have paid to see it. They are there at the start, sit and watch the show and then file out. The randomness of the bar, with people coming and going, being called to dinner, the unruly hyped up kids are all NOT present for this. The potential for this is limitless. I can see a venue that would seat about 50-60 ppl and be a real feature for the folks who come and visit us here.

I will keep you posted as to the development of the presentation I am calling ‘Secret Destinations’.

The Stonebridge was a tremendous crossroads of “people from everytime”. Countless faces from the past swirled past me all year long. It was heartwarming to see so many folks, some of whom I have seen every year for 34 years. Astounding.

I am also ‘finding my voice’ with the  “name thing”. One of the magic stunts I am known for, comes from the trick where I have a bunch of cards selected. They are shuffled back in the deck and then I attempt them find their cards and call each person by name. I am a firm believer that the use of a person’s name is one of the most powerful ways that we have to connect with other people.  I have put together a session on how to do exactly that, connect with people by using their names. My audiences seem to really respond well to this piece. Yet another way for groups to use my talents.

So, though I am moving a bit slower and it seems like I take more naps these days, I am actually quite busy.

On an upcoming trip to Texas, one of my chores will be to pack up Kati who, though she had a fine time and a productive year in Texas, has decided to move a little closer to home and transfer to CU Boulder. I couldn’t be happier about that. She is a whole lot closer to home, she is instate, and since Mack went there, we have a lot of friends ‘on the ground’ there for her to connect up with. Southwestern was a great ‘first year of college’ school but she missed the mountains and this makes me warm inside.

Life moves on whether we like it or not.

Thanks for your continued interest in my life and times.