Reported by Robin Dawes
Photographed by Dale Farris
Come and listen to my story 'bout a
man named Steve
A poor mountaineer with a rabbit up his sleeve
When life in Tennessee gets a little bit bucolic*
He grabs a deck of cards and he heads out to the Frolic
Fechter's, that is ... double lifts ... classic palms
(*bucolic: rustic and rural the other
rhyme for "Frolic" was just too easy)
I am writing you this letter in the
morning 'cause I know you don't like reading by candlelight. I hope you
and Ma and all the little-uns back in Groundhog Holler are doin' fine
and that the crick ain't riz too much with all the rain.
Remember when I got that invite to FFFF
from cousin Obidiah O'Brien and you said I orta go 'cause 4 F's reminded
you of the best I ever did in Grade School? Waal it turned out Obidiah
(everyone around here calls him Obie) invited about two hunnert
magicians to Batavia, New York at the end of April for the 43rd
Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolics (now officially named Obie's 4F). And
Pa, you know how just about everyone in Groundhog Holler is our cousin
or aunt or uncle or something ... well it turns out these magicians is
all cousins of ourn too! I'm gonna use this letter to bring you and Ma
up-ter-date on what some of our long-lost relatives is up to.
You ain't gonna believe this but they's
over 15 thousand people living in Batavia they got sidewalks and
streetlights and everything. My eyes nearly fell out of my head when I
saw they even got a shop that serves about a million kinds of coffee
and folks here all knows the difference!
But that ain't nothing compared to the
magic at FFFF. It all started on Wednesday night around sundown, when
cousin Obie blew this loud whistle for everyone to go to the big room
for a lecture. I figured we was all in trouble (I 'member getting some
pow'ful lectures from Ma) but it weren't nothing like that. One of our
Japanese cousins, Hiro Sakai, stood up and taught us a passel of
the cleverest ideas I ever seen. He changed a bunch of cards into
different cards all at once, changed a dollar into four quarters, and
made a $10 bill look like two $10 bills and then they turned into a $20
bill. He also did a dandy routine with beer bottle caps cousin Buford
would love it.
Hiro's lecture kinda set things up for the whole weekend we knew we
was in for some mighty fine magic. And the very next thing that happened
was another lecture. This time it was cousin Woody I think Gran-pappy
mentioned him a couple of times Woody Aragon from Spain. He's a
pow'ful smart little feller he taught us some super card magic he
can spell like Einstein! His spelling tricks are so good I'm real
grateful you made me learn pretty much the whole alphabet. A lot of
people wanted to get his book, including me. It's darned good, pardon my
After them lectures I followed a bunch
of fellers into a room where they was selling all kinds of magic books
and magic DVDs and magic equipment seems like some of our cousins are
real inventative! Then I found this other room where cousin Obie had set
out sodee-pop and boxes of donuts for free! I set around there for a
good while, watching folks like our cousins Oscar Munoz and
Paul Gertner do magic that'd just about drop your jaw.
I'll tell you Pa, folks at FFFF sure
don't keep normal hours. Why, most of them was just going to bed around
sun-up, when sensible folks is getting up to milk the chickens and shear
the pigs. Anyways, the first thing that happened the next morning was
another lecture. I ain't never learned so much useful stuff in such a
short time (exceptin' that day Uncle Zeb and Aunt Lulu decided to air
their differences in public). This next lecture was from another one of
our Japanese relations, cousin Akira Fujii. Now there's a guy
with a mountain of talent. He can do things with a pack of cards that I
still don't believe, even after he taught us how he does them. And he
made two cigarettes pass right through each other, right under our
noses. He says it works with straws too so maybe we can learn this one
back on the farm.
We had a little time for lunch but it
don't seem like anybody around here knows how to make squirrel pie, so I
bought a hamburger dang me if it didn't taste like squirrel after all.
Then it was time for the first show see Pa, at FFFF everybody is
expected to be ready to perform something for the gang so you get to see
a wagon-load of people each doin' their best thing. The Master of
Ceremonials was cousin Joe "Jehosaphat" Turner. He is one sharp-witted
feller why, he had something funny to say afore every one of the acts.
The first man up was Ed Ripley he did the Cups and Balls, then
he did it again, then he did it again and it got funnier every time.
Our German cousin Christian Schenk let a volunteer peek at a card
in a shuffled deck, then Christian read his mind, quick as that. Then
Harvey Berg was able to name the top 13 cards of a shuffled deck
pretty impressive! From the Italian branch of the family, Ricardo
Negroni did real graceful coin magic. Francis Menotti (he
ain't so Italian) scrambled his thoughts by shuffling a deck of cards,
then got everything back in order. Chris Payne, one of the
British cousins, showed us a colourful oil-and-water routine with
Jokers. George Saterial found a signed card folded up in a
paper-clip that was sittin' on the table the whole time. Francesco
Addeo showed how a signature can jump from one card to another.
Finally, Bruce Kalver shoved a big old knife right through
someone's coat! Good thing he was able to patch it up or there might
have been a ruckus.
a few minutes later cousin Obie blew his durned whistle again to start
another show. This time the Ceremonial Master was Gary "Mordecai"
Morton, another one of our big-city cousins. He introduced Vinny
Grosso who got his-self out of some handcuffs. Maybe we ought to
send Uncle Elroy over to meet Vinny next time Elroy gets out on parole.
Our Canadian cousin Chris Pilsworth magically put a spiky cactus
right inside a blowed-up balloon. Then another one of our Japanese
cousins came on stage: Yumi. She's a magician and a lady I know
we ain't heard of such a thing back in Groundhog Holler but it turns out
that some of the best magicians is on the feminine side. Yumi showed us
that if you forget about a knot, it just magically disappears. Next up
was a cousin from Switzerland, Roland Meister, who had a card
chosen and then it showed up on his official guv'mint ID card. Xavier
Belmont did some incredible coin magic you could almost see three
coins flying between his hands, exceptin' they was invisible. Our fast-talkin'
cousin Kirk Patrick showed off his new product Magi-Mist that
makes miracles happen then he ripped a phone-book in half not just
one page like we got, but a real thick big-city one. Then our Australian
cousin Simon Coronel did some magic while speaking Chinese. I
don't know what he was saying but he sure was funny while he was saying
it. The last feller in the show was Rick Hebert he magically
turned Jokers into different cards.
Later that evenin' we all got back
together for a lecture from the Guest of Honor you are gonna be real
proud to know that this year it was our feller-Tennesseean Steve
Bargatze! Steve told us all about how he got into being a magician
and how he learned what it takes to be a successful comedy magician. He
sure knows what he is talkin' about he gave us a heap of super
practical advice. He taught us some of his famousest routines, like his
great routine with sponge balls, and the one with toilet plungers
(pardon my language again) and the one he calls "Something for Nothing",
and a bunch of others besides. Steve puts his heart into everything, and
it's a great big heart. At the end of the lecture everyone stood up and
clapped for a long time.
Later that night I got invited up to
"The Room" where a lot of people stayed up pretty much all night doing
magic. David Neighbors was there that man can do things with
coins that truly make my head spin. Will Houstoun and Tony
Econ were doing miracles at the card table in the corner. The Room
is run by Mike Hrab, Andy Quin, Matt Episcopo and
Leon Etienne, and Ed Eckl is the resident genii.
The next morning, Friday I guess it
was, the first thing was a session called the Pat Page
Memorial Workshop. The feller in charge was cousin Mike "McCoy"
Powers, and he explained that this year it was all about
coincidences. He led off the teachin' with a terrific card trick where
three piles of cards all had cards on top that matched selections, and
then the four Aces all showed up too. Then Tony Gerard did a
routine called Destiny where two volunteers each chose the same card
from different decks. After that, David Neighbors had a volunteer
name a card, and it turned out that was the only card that was
transposed between a red and a blue deck. Our Chicago cousin Dave
Solomon had two cards selected from a shuffled deck they matched
two predictions perfectly. Then our very dapper cuz Gene Gordon
taught us a murder-mystery routine using bits and pieces from the Clue
game. Alan Zola Kronzek (maybe one of the Kentucky Kronzeks?)
taught this absolutely fantastic routine about looking in the mirror
this was the best thing I learned at FFFF this year. Our crazy cousin
Geoff Williams if you invite him to the July 4 BBQ you better keep
a big bucket of cold water close by he taught us a great card trick
where four matching cards show up at randomly chosen places in the deck.
Finally, John Bannon bet a volunteer that the 7 of Diamonds would
not show up when the volunteer turned parts of the deck face up until
only one card was left.
the afternoon we got another lecture I'm telling you Pa there ain't no
end to the good teachin' at this place. This one was by one of our
Spanish cousins, Dani DaOrtiz. Dani had helped out during cousin
Woody's lecture yesterday so we already knowed he was good, but in his
own lecture he knocked us clear over the haystack. He taught us a ton of
pow'ful magic with cards, but the most important lessons were about what
he called the sigh-college-ee of magic - that's a school in Spain I
guess. Smart stuff like "Magic is about communication" and "Fool them
with your attitude, not with your technique" and "Feel the same emotion
you want the audience to feel." He was pitchin' ringers with every shoe,
and he got a huge standing ovation when he finished.
The next show was run by Oscar "Mose"
Munoz, one of our Texican relatives. Oscar's kind of a scary-looking
feller but once you get to know him he's more like your favourite cousin
that you wish you could see more often. Oscar introduced Reuben
Moreland, an amazing kid who did an incredible routine with cards
and dice. Next up was Simon Lane I reckon he must be one of
Gran-pappy's cousins from England he showed that when you count things
odd, everything works out even in the end. Then Eric Jones made
coins fly across from one volunteer's hand to another volunteer's hand.
Our French cousin Remy Robert did a beautiful coin act without
saying a word. Then one of the FFFF old-timers, Thomas Mosier,
came back after 33 years and did magic with cups and balls I guess
he's been up-country for a while. Yuri Kaine, a cousin who hails
from France, did card and coin magic his hands were on fire I mean
he really set his hands on fire! I ain't never seen nothing like that
before. Then we saw Yugi Yamamoto and Mariko Yamamoto
more of our Japanese family he conjured with billiard balls and she
made magic with silk scarves. After that Jeffery Carson stacked
up two piles of blocks when he mixed up one, the other matched.
Tony Polli closed the show with some real visual coin and poker chip
magic, all on a black and white theme.
That evenin' they was another show, and
this one was hosted by our cousin from New York City, Meir "Yankee"
Yedid. The folks in his show were from all over the world see Pa,
we do got cousins everywhere. From the US of A, cousin Andost
he used coloured lights to magically change the colours of cards. From
Sweden, Johan Stahl he told a magical story about a boy and
some coins. From Germany, Hayashi he did something amazing
called Matrix (even though he was doin' his trix in April). From Japan,
Akira Fujii he did his penetrating cigarettes routine, even
more magical than before. From the USA, The Painters Christian
and Katalina used Uno cards for number mentalism. From France, Bruno
Copin he made cards flip over and spin around like they was
possessed! From Taiwan, cousin Anson he did a great classic
manipulation act and got a standing ovation. From Germany, Denis Behr
he did three perfect predictions of the cards where a volunteer would
stop dealing he completely fooled me with this. From Canada, Michel
Huot and Yannick Lacroix and Patrice Meunier I
cain't describe their act, but it was the funniest thing I ever seen in
my whole life, even counting the time Old Man Riley tried to sneak outer
the County Fair with six piglets hid inside his pants. Closin' out the
show was cousin Zeki from South Korea - he made three signed
chosen cards fly into an isolated envelope.
Saturday was just like the other days half the day was gone afore most
of the guys even opened their eyes. I was out of bed at 4:30 of course
went over and fed the hosses at the Batavia race-track just out of
habit. Funny thing, they's a steak-house restaurant right acrost the
road from the track with a big statue of a hoss in front I ain't sure
what kinda steaks they serve!
Anyways, the magic started with a
lecture from Zeki, the South Korean cousin (I meant to axe him if
he was named after Ma's brother Ezekiel). Zeki started with an awesome
card trick where the cards ended up with different shaped holes cut
through them, even though they was all solid at the start. He also
taught us a great version of the Haunted Deck that you can do with a
borrowed deck, any time. The best thing of all was his version of Jerry
Andrus's Mylar Mystery super clever technique and routining.
After lunch we sat down for a show with
Glenn "Beauregard" Brown calling the shots. Glenn's from Canada
but he don't look it. Everybody's favourite uncle Karl Norman
showed up he was one of the regular magicians at the old Forks Hotel.
As soon as he arrived everyone stood up and clapped for quite a while.
The show started with our Italian cousin Alain Iannone he did
card magic kinda like that James Bond feller. Then Clemens Ilgner
showed the power of excellent routining by combining a series of strong
effects into a great act. Vincent Hedan from France was next he
was able to draw a picture of a poem in a volunteer's mind. Hayafumi,
one of our Japanese cousins, made a drink disappear when he poured it
from one cup to another. Ines Fuentes, who is a lady magician
from Spain, stapled together two cards with lipstick kisses on the
outside, and then suddenly they was on the inside. After that, Sergio
Starman did a real funny act with poker chips, sunglasses and shoes.
Juan Luis Rubiales was next he's from Spain he made three
cards change their faces all at once, without any cover! The last
performer in Glenn's show was Michael "Six" Muldoon. He explained
his nickname I figured it was because his folks named all their kids
the same (like you done), but that weren't the reason and then he tore
up money and used magic to put it back together.
a short break to water the corn, pardon my language, we had another
show. This one was run by a crazy brain doctor named Dr. Conundrum
(who looked kinda like Dan "Dwayne" Garrett). The first feller in
the show was cousin Xiangyu Liu, who had six cards stuck on the
outside of a cube no matter how many times it was turned, he always
knew which card was on top. Then Darryl Rose did an "Apprentice"
themed act, with a selected card predicted in today's newspaper. Our
cousin Tristan Mory did some very skilled coin magic. Mark
Davies told an emotional story about a mining disaster in Wales.
Then Bill Bishop used cards and a poem to tell us about a contest
between a gambler and a magician. After that our French cuz Thierry
Biancarelli did some great coin magic using a little round box. Next
feller to perform was Wesley Booth he wrote down a prediction
that exactly matched the card where a volunteer told him to stop
dealing. Then Walter Rolfo had a card selected and the backs of
all the other cards changed colour, and that ended the show.
That night they was an
"all-you-can-eat" dinner. I guess I kinda surprised them with how much
country folk can eat. Good thing you and Ma wasn't there or they woulda
needed to butcher more hogs.
The last event of the whole shebang was
the Grand Finale show, with Obie his-self as MC. First thing was, Obie
got a big old standing ovation for organizin' FFFF for 43 years. Then a
whole mess of people had gifts and nice words for Steve Bargatze.
Matt Episcopo and Leon Ettiene showed a movie about some German feller who
was real disappointed he couldn't be there. Leading off the performance
part of the show was Michael Dardant he had an anti-gravity ring
pretty danged amazing. Then our French cousin Bebel did some beautiful,
understated card magic. After that Red Tsai did magic with cups and
cubes, then produced a complete Mah Jongg wall! David Stone borrered
somebody's finger ring and made it jump to the inside of a normal tennis
ball! Turns out one of our cousins is a world-class balloon twister
that'd be Willy Monroe he blew up a balloon and it came to life. Then
our French cousin William Watt did some great card magic where random
cards turned into Aces. Next up was Angel San Martin he did cups and
balls with changing colours, and he got a standing ovation. Our Canadian
cousin Shawn Farquhar (next year's Guest of Honor) did this awesome
routine where words appeared on blank cards, just at the same time as
they was sung in a song. Dani DaOrtiz did this insane card routine where
five volunteers all found their own cards after doing just about
anything they wanted to mix up the cards Dani got a standing ovation.
Paul Gertner did the most terr'fying thing I ever seen, using four bags
and a broken bottle. Woody Aragon had saved something real special to be
the last magic act in the show he mixed up a bunch of Jokers with
different backs, then showed the backs were in any pattern the audience
wanted, every time. The very last performer of the show was Rick Merrill
he's a young feller with a whole lot of funny in him. He sure got
everyone laughing with this poem he wrote about Steve Bargatze.
the show was over, Obie announced this year's Most Valuable Participant,
for the choosin' of which we had all cast votes earlier the 2013 FFFF
MVP is Dani DaOrtiz.
So that's all the news, Pa ... exceptin'
this: I ain't gonna be comin' back to Groundhog Holler right away. I got
invites to visit all these magical cousins I just met so I'm gonna take
a trip around the world. I reckon it'll take a couple of weeks 'cause
I'll be walking the whole way.
Your loving son,