The Real Secret of Magic: Guinness World Record Holder Jeff McBride and Salt Lake City’s Emerging Magical Renaissance

Posted December 17, 2009 in

Jeff McBride is a living magician. His performance stretches beyond illusion and into spirituality and the mystery of life, which is part of why he has become so respected as an entertainer. It’s been more than 10 years since the last time he stood on stage in our humble town, and the magic community came together over the weekend of Dec. 11-13 to see him in.
Not all magicians are good. I sat through my share of horrible birthday party shows growing up and I’ve seen David Blaine YouTube Edition. McBride’s approach to magic is totally different. He’s a three-time Guinness World Record holder and was voted Best Magician in Las Vegas by critics. At age 16 he was touring Japan as the opening act for a group of internationally renowned Salsa stars. He headlined at Caesar’s Palace for many years and was on Mindfreak twice. He’s had shows with George Carlin, Tina Turner and Diana Ross, and has been featured by nearly every major media outlet—both film and print.
McBride’s signature characteristic is his hybrid of performance styles and passion for the history of the mystical arts. He combines his sleight of hand and mastery of illusion with training in martial arts, miming, ancient ritual, NeoPagan mystery, masks and Japanese Kabuki Theater. Through speaking with him and experiencing his performance, it’s evident that his belief in magic lies not in trickery, but in its positive power. Real magic is making people smile in awe. 
The primary purpose of his trip to Salt Lake was teaching, although McBride performed twice while he was in town. The weekend began that Friday afternoon at House of Chuckles (247 East Broadway) with an informal appearance from Jeff McBride. Tracy Kidd, the owner, just opened his magic, costume, and joke store three months ago in the space that was formerly occupied by local clothing boutique, Model Citizen. The original House of Chuckles in West Valley was closed a year ago after being forced to move to facilitate construction.  A small group of local magicians and enthusiasts for the art anxiously awaited McBride’s 2:00 P.M. arrival. After acknowledging those in the store, McBride immediately gravitated to a younger fan and began conversation.  He was a dynamic speaker and performer even in the store setting. I asked for some card manipulation.  He rolled up his sleeves, gathered people close around him, and as if cards were teleporting into his hands unintentionally, repeatedly grabbed more cards after throwing them into a hat. Later that evening McBride did a short show at Club Edge, in part as a promotion for an upcoming local magic series.
Two local magicians and friends of McBride were instrumental in bringing him back to Salt Lake. I spoke with Michael Fraughton and Matt Bruce about the history of Utah’s magic scene and their plan for its future. Here’s what you need to know: Utah has produced a number of world-class magicians, but after reaching a certain degree of notoriety, there is nowhere for a local artist to expand. Utah lacks a creative outlet for high quality acts, and so magicians and alternative performers migrate to areas with a better infrastructure, like Las Vegas. The solution: Bruce and Fraughton are leading Salt Lake City’s magical renaissance. The movement is aimed at creating a monthly variety show filled with world class acts. By creating a space where elite artists can perform for a large enough audience, local talent will have a reason to stay in the community, and both will benefit. They are committed to their cause and I’m convinced that S.L.C. will embrace what they create. Present plans include funding shows through means other than admission fees. Keep your eyes open for updates regarding upcoming shows.
McBride is heavily involved in the Burner community and is a regular artist in the Burning Man festival. While speaking, he motioned toward a small purse around his shoulder. It was all he took to Burning Man last year. He spent the entire week traveling between camps, performing out of his bag. McBride repeatedly related his passions back to traditional mystery and spirituality. In line with this passion, McBride hosts three-day non-profit alchemical fire parties at least twice a year under the name of the Vegas Vortex Fire Circle.  Google it. I want to go. Also in Las Vegas, December 17th marks the official reopening of McBride’s Wonderground, a Mediterranean-themed alternative club for magic and mystery acts. The show is, as McBride described, “an art explosion.” There is even live painting and a psychic D.J.  Vegas’s top acts meet at Wonderground after their casino shows for more extreme performances.  The monthly shows will be streamed live on, and interactive web chat will be broadcast on giant screens in the club.
McBride’s Saturday show was the most interesting performance I have ever attended. His brand new act lasted nearly two hours as he traveled between the historical roles of magicians, progressively taking on the roles of trickster, sage, oracle and sorcerer. Unlike the overwhelming casinos of Las Vegas, the show took place in an intimate setting at the Shriners Hospital. The magic was fantastic and included mind reading, sleight of hand, Houdini-style escape, and other extreme illusion. After the Saturday performance, he held a conference explaining some of the magic behind it. Through his Magic & Mystery School, McBride led a magician’s workshop all day Sunday.
So, what is the real secret of magic?  According to Jeff McBride, it’s what comes naturally when you channel all of your passion into a single love—It’s worked for him.