A friend’s report on the Dallas IBM Convention!

It just happened in Dallas

David and Roger put together one of the best IBM conventions on record! These two are ol’ buddies from KC, but that won’t influence my opinions. Anyone who was there KNOWS what a great job they did!

 The opening show on Tuesday was like none we have seen before. A fantastic drum corps entered from the rear and brought the audience to frenzy. It was a great set-up for T. Texas Tyler who amazed with his rope trickery and incredible whip stunts. The usual welcome meeting is pretty dry. Not this time. It was a lot of fun. But then, when aren’t whips, ropes, rear entry and frenzy?

 That was followed by, in my opinion, the only bad show of the week. The dealer show. By the end of the convention, we had all heard enough of the dealers whining about poor sales. Well, there’s an easy solution to this problem. Have something that people want to buy!

 The dealers brought out the same old tired junk with the same old tired jokes. Some didn’t even bother to demo. The effects were either beyond their capabilities or just too embarrassingly stupid to show. I guess I could go into a long dissertation on the demise of brick and mortar  magic shops and why it’s not a great tragedy, but we’ll save that for another time.

 If these guys can’t provide what we want at a reasonable price, perhaps it’s time to skip the dealer room aspect of these conventions. To everything there is a season and I think the magic shop season has come to an end.

 The dealer’s room did have something positive, however. Sessions. Rather than people meeting up in the bars and lobbies, folks could jazz at tables set up in the center of the dealer room. A very, VERY cool idea! 

I must point out that the Dallas State Fair theme of the dealer room was a nice touch. It just didn’t make up for the lack of interesting stuff at the dealer tables.

Wednesday started with the annual biz meeting. Sheeeesh. I had to go, since I was being inducted into the Order of Merlin. Wasn’t worth it. I know, I know, this isn’t starting well…..it gets better, I promise.

The meeting was the usual bickering over the silliest stuff. It’s the perfect example of what to avoid in magic meetings. If we were seeking a cure for cancer it would be one thing, but we’re just a bunch of guys who know some interesting (or boring) card tricks. Get real!

Ah, stage contest time! Great stuff! Only six could be in the finals. Although several truly sucked, there were more than six that were wonderful! I gotta give a big “hats off” to Michael Trixx who has been in every contest I’ve seen over the past few years. Always a bridesmaid; never a bride, but this guy gets better every time. I think the Big Time is right around the corner for him.

Many of the acts were stuck in “card manipulation” gear. Although somewhat repetitious, most of them were absolutely incredible! Like the Zombie a decade or so ago, stage card work seems to be the thing to do, now. Probably the biggest positive in this is that it looks like magic, rather than in years past when it seemed more like juggling. Even if it’s not your idea of a good time (and I’d have to include myself in that group), you can’t help but marvel at the artistry and skill of these kids.

Oscar Munoz and Michael Ammar both did lectures. I missed them both. Can’t review what I didn’t see. I heard nothing about Oscar’s lecture, but he’s a cool dude and I’ll assume it was fun. Of Ammar, I twice heard something like, “The guy is a hell of a good teacher, but with a group that size, teaching how to turn over a card takes for-****ing-ever.” Apparently there was a style (not really a “move”) of turning a card over that went on for a while. Well, as I said, I missed it, so these comments may have been exaggerated.

Max Maven did a fine small show. As someone said, “he gets a million bucks out of a nickel’s worth of magic.” It’s true. More than half his show was based on a very simple Annemann effect, but BOY did he make the routine entertaining! Personally, I think he milked it a bit too much, but I suspect that a lay audience wouldn’t see it that way. I have nothing but admiration for him, as I’ve had since the old days of Tony Andruzzi’s Invos in Chicago. Pure entertainment genius.

The stage show this and two other nights were held at a small Vaudeville house in downtown Dallas. Those of you who were at the SAM convention a few years ago know the place. It is rich in magic history. It’s sort of a miniature version of a Proctor’s theater. There are so few of them left that it’s a joy to see one, even this small.

The show was incredible for a first show. Michael Finney served as MC. As was the case a year or so ago, he had a young girl on stage with him. Fortunately, he picked up on that fact early. Remember last time? Uncomfortable, right? Not this time.

Even before Finney took the stage, there was a very pro intro talking about theatre and magic. Then came the “Peter Gunn” theme, and we knew we were in for Rudy Coby’s four legged bit, coming out of the darkness. The intro made this true theatre, and Coby got cheers before he was even seen. And the act?  It was as good and as funny as it was two decades ago!

Finney introduced us to Timo Marc, Gustavo Riley, Chipper Lowell, and Ayela & Tanya. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more dynamic opening show to a convention on either side of the IBM/SAM fence.

The late-night lecture was provided by Danny Garcia. There is no one better with cards and there is no better personality in magic today. This kid is the pride of our oddball love. I learned some wonderful stuff that I’ll never use. Well, maybe I can use the smile and the laugh.

Hey, I do need to interject here, though. As good as Garcia is with cards and as good as Garrett Thomas is with coins (a shining light in the otherwise dismal dealers’ room, by the way), where are the Don Alans and Eugene Burgers of the next generation? There’s more to close-up magic than cards and coins, and there’s room for a few stars to blossom. Let’s hope.

After a few meager hours of sleep, we were on to the Thursday events. The day started with a choice of two out of eight special classes. I attended Jon Armstrong’s self-working card session. Other than the fact that the little rat didn’t remember me, it was an excellent program. Not what you think. None of those goddamn counting or spelling tricks. This was seriously good stuff, and I forgive him for drawing a blank on me. After all, my hair was naturally red back then.

I also attended Rod Sipe’s program on busking. If you’ve even had the uncontrollable desire to eat fire or walk barefoot on broken glass, this is the guy to talk to. Once he removes the nail from his skull, he’s ready to share some fascinating secrets of collecting cash that is well-earned.

Other class options were with Ammar, Gene Anderson, Gary Katzman, Brad Ross, Sammy Smith, and Gay Blackstone. A great programming idea brought to you by those wizards from Bonner Springs and St. Joe. Let’s hope future conventions pick up on this.

Next up was Rudy Coby’s lecture, which was loved by all. It was fun, informative, innovative, and not a single trick was taught. And that’s a good thing in this case! Rudy is a storehouse of valuable information and real-world success. This audience would have been willing captives for many hours if time allowed.

Next up was the Dana Daniels show. Apparently, there are those who find his act funny, and the show was a great hit.

So, it’s on to the dinner show! The food was the usual chicken dinner, but with a Mexican twist this time. Pretty good. Beter than usual, actually. It took a while to get underway. My dinner companions by invitation were considered VIP, so they had to be introduced on stage before being seated at the table. That always takes longer than it should, but whataya gonna do? Old habits don’t die hard; they just don’t die. Well, I kept busy explaining to a few hundred folks why we had “reserved” signs on our table and that, no, I’m not a VIP myself (except maybe to my wife and kids). It kept me off the streets.

The after dinner entertainment was as good as any I’ve ever seen. Jason Andrews, Rey Ben & Quique Marduck (“One and a Half”), Oscar Munoz, and Gustavo Riley (with his can act) provided a wonderful evening of magic and hearty laughter. Oh, and let’s not forget the Mariachi band!

Next came the strolling Olympics. Also known as “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly,” this proved (in most cases) very nice and provided a fine opportunity to connect with like-minded magicians in their element. There were several winning categories and everyone who performed got some donated dealer stuff to take home and try to sell on eBay.

As if it were not enough for one night, we wrapped the night with a late Max Maven lecture. I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but what I saw was good. It followed the usual magic lecture format of a.) show a trick and b.) teach the trick. Personally, I was hoping for something more philosophical, but I pegged the audience early on. Max pegged them before he even got to the gig, I believe. Everyone but me got what they wanted from a master of the craft.

Friday morning the alarm woke me from a well-earned sleep so that I could make the Merlin breakfast. Along with some pretty awful food and some week-old (or weak & old) coffee, we got to see and hear a presentation on Del Ray. Very few people in attendance knew Del personally. Many of us wish we had. He was one fine entertainer. Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of the presenter. You would recognize the name, but I’m drawing a blank. He did a great job, though!

Next up was the Gold Cup close-up contest. Everyone was excellent, but I’m not sure there was anything unusual or original enough to deserve the gold. I never did hear the results. I didn’t see every act, but I did see most. And what did I see? Cards and coins.

After the Gold Cups finals, we were treated to a comprehensive Jeff McBride lecture. He is another of our great magic teachers, and he certainly left this convention with his rep intact.

That lecture wrapped just in time for the YMX (Young Magicians’ Experience). Oh, man….WHY didn’t I start younger? These kids are just amazing. I found myself thinking about the time and discipline they put into this talent. Wow! I’m sure that we’ll be hearing more about these seven brilliant performers in the years to come.

The session area of the dealer room was temporarily taken over as an autograph area. Basically, anyone with name recognition hung out at a rectangle of tables to sign whatever you’ve got. I stopped in to take a look, but it seemed that the idea didn’t really go over. Everyone at the convention was so accessible that this was a little pointless. It looked to me like a bunch of magic “stars” chatting amongst themselves. Hey, not every new idea can be a winner.

So, it’s back to the Majestic for the next really big shew. Hosted by Rich Bloch, these were the six stage contest finalists followed by Ed Alonzo’s show. As always, the show was too long but not as always, excellent in content. I have no idea who won what, but I voted for the kid with the shirts. Somebody, please let me know how it came out, and tell me about the act, not the name. Five of the six are Asian. Those names aren’t easy for an old single-language guy like me.

Now would be the time to bring up that old racist joke about the guy named On Too Long. Jeez, this show went on far longer than most human bladders can endure. It’s not the fault on the contestants. Those kids had acts timed to the second. This is, however, an ongoing problem with magic club magic shows.

It’s not really an insurmountable problem. I see two easy solutions. Limit the finalists to four, rather than six, or simply have an intermission after the contest and before the feature act. Either way, problem solved.

So, Ed Alonzo did his show once the contest wrapped up. He was funny as hell, as you might expect. Oh, and he did, as a quick aside, mention that the show is “too long as it is.” The casual remark got laughs and a smattering of applause. Fortunately, his is a very strong act. That, along with his aside, kept butts in the seats. In effect, he had to be better than promised. Mr. Alonzo delivered!

The late lecture was by Asi Wind. I’d had enough for the day and I didn’t run into anyone the following day who attended. Hopefully, he had a decent crowd. I’ve seen him before and would like to have seen him that night, but enough is enough.

Saturday started with more classes. I attended one by Brad Ross and another by Jeff Crilley. I didn’t personally learn much, but I wasn’t aware at the time of registration that these sessions were exclusive of those on Thursday. Perhaps there was a communication issue or perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.

The fact that I took nothing away from these classes has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the presentations. They were, in fact, excellent. If anyone came in not knowing much about the subjects covered, they certainly walked out with tremendous knowledge.

Other sessions that day were conducted by Rich Bloch, Scott Wells, Shawn Farquhar, Jon Armstrong, Timo Mark and “The Balloon Guys,” Daniel & Tom. The rumors were that they were all worth attending, and that this should be a significant (possibly expanded) part of future IBM conventions.

After lunch, the team of One and a Half did a lecture. I missed it. Believe it or not, I was out looking at real estate. Yes, the talk of a move to Texas is back on the agenda. McKinney, here we come…..maybe.

Next up was the close-up show. This was set up beautifully, with only about 30 seats per room. The seats were tiered so that there was no such thing as a bad seat. The show featured the best of the best, including Jeff McBride, Oscar Munoz, Asi Wind, Daniel Garcia, Ben Jackson, Michael Ammar and Jon Armstrong. I can’t imagine a better lineup of talent, and they certainly did not disappoint.

The final stage show of the convention was as good as it gets. There was no emcee, but rather a running narrative on the legendary magic of the ages. This was so well thought-out and executed that with a few tweaks it could easily play a major theater for a very, very long run.

Featured in the show were Jeff McBride as himself, Walter & Becky Blaney with a nice take on the ladder suspension, Gay Blackstone introducing Derren Romeo and the floating light bulb, Max Maven with the coolest inside joke imaginable, Frances Willard presenting the spirit cabinet as performed by Michael & Hannah Ammar, Tom Mullica as Red, and The Great Tomsoni & Company with exactly what you expect from them. One hell of a show. A new bar has been set, folks.

This convention was billed as the reinvention of the IBM convention. In many ways it succeeded. It took guts on the parts of David and Roger to pull it together, and they deserve some serious thanks for what they did. As in anything this divergent from the norm, there are bound to be a few dud ideas. We survived those and lavished in the things that worked like a charm. Hopefully, this is just the beginning!

-MJ Emigh

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About blueridgemagiciansring320

Secretary of Ring 320 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians located in the Western Virginia.
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