52 SHOWS: 18 DAYS IN THE USA

On the 22nd February Sarah and I took a flight from Manchester to Dublin which lead on to California where we were due to spend a couple of days with friends. I’d relax with two days off and then the work would begin. In the space of 15 days, I was about to do 52 shows.

Fifty. Two. Shows.

We landed at LAX on Friday night, roughly 6pm. Our friend Taylor Hughes (who magicians will know from his great magic and the About To Break podcast). He was ready and waiting but unfortunately, our bags weren’t. If you’ve ever driven around the giant donut that is Los Angeles airport, you’ll known that the only people stricter than the TSA are the people who stop you from parking outside for more than 8 seconds in a row. Our bags were torturously slow in arriving and so Taylor did more loops than a Formula 1 winner. Eventually we got into the car and set off on our merry way. Our American adventure had officially begun.

On the way back to his house, Taylor had an idea which when vocalised sounded a lot like ‘Hey, do you guys want to go see the parking lot and mall from Back To The Future?’

 

Of course we did! It’s my favourite movie. Now, no matter what happens, this is already the best trip ever.

At the house Sarah and I presented the Hughes family (2 adults, 2 teenage girls) with half a suitcase full of British snacks and chocolate. I headed to the kitchen and made cups of tea, into which we all dipped chocolate digestive biscuits. I can’t say whether or not this went down well, but last week Taylor sent me this screenshot…

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Full of treats and having exchanged opinions about British vs American chocolate we acquiesced to jet lag and woke up the next morning from a pretty solid night of sleep. Taylor, his wife Katie and their two girls were all out at a football (soccer) match that the girls were playing in so Sarah and I went for a walk.

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Sarah on the Hughes porch, Upland.

We ventured around a place called ‘Upland’, a Hallmark greeting card kinda town about an hour outside of LA where Taylor lives. Later that day Taylor & Katie had dropped of their kids with grandparents and we headed out for sushi! Not just Sushi. The greatest sushi I have ever eaten. It involved rolls with hot shredded lobster liberally placed all over the top. It was marvellous.

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Then we spent most of the rest of the day visiting movie locations! The house from Bird Box and Doc Brown’s place from Back To The Future were among our favourites. To see all of the pictures, check out my instagram.

 

Most of the movie houses we looked at were in Pasadena so we spent a few of the evening hours checking out the main town which was awesome, then headed over to the Comedy Store in LA. I hadn’t realised that despite your age, I.D. is required everywhere in the USA and we’d left ours at at the house. Fortunately our British accents, pleading looks, pre-booked seats and jet lag wrinkles convinced the doorman to let us in.

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I’d heard that the Comedy Store would often play host to famous comedians and was delighted when on the bill we saw Jeff Ross, Pauly Shore and Marc Maron all in one night! They all killed and a fantastic night was had.

The next day (Sunday) was to be the first gig day. Taylor and I had a gig together near Santa Monica. It was a private party for an 80 year guy and his entire family.

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Taylor and I did 30 minutes of material each in a ‘tag team’ style. He opened up with a trick and during the applause introduced me. I then did a trick and we continued to switch back and forth with no more than two tricks in a row from any single person. The hour absolutely flew by and we both had a blast. More importantly, so did our audience. Watching Taylor work was a huge lesson for me in the way he used story telling to give his magic real meaning. I watched the audience hang on his every word. If you’ve never seen his work, you should go look him up!

We headed straight to the Magic Castle afterwards to catch up with some friends. It was Oscars night so the place had an even more ‘LA’ vibe than normal. I met a new friend called Jimmy H and spent time catching up with Joey Martinez (formerly of the Magic Castle, now at House Of Cards – more on that later) and finally got to hang out with an online friend in real life… Bill Abbott. 52743971_1096296707233049_7614850133884141568_n

I saw a funny magic video years ago that made it seem like Bill was an expletive using ‘godfather’ type character who spoke fast and made 10 jokes per minute. I was delighted to find out that it wasn’t a character and that Bill is exactly like this in real life! We shared some laughs and can now say we’re real friends.

The next morning we were up at 4am for our flights to Nashville! Now was time for the real work to begin. We’d had a great few days with the best hosts. Taylor, Katie and their kids were all super awesome and we can’t wait to do it all again. We’re thankful to them for having us! Thanks guys!

We arrived in Nashville pretty early having flown via Las Vegas. A short cab ride later and we were pulling up outside the Johnny Cash Museum. The venue I’d be performing in is built entirely underneath the museum. Both are owned by a Bill Miller. It’s hard to describe Bill in one sentence, if I had to, I’d go for ‘the most humble successful person I’ve ever met’.

You can read about Bill in an article from the Nashville Post HERE.

By any barometer of success, Bill has done well. He’s used that success to create part of a thriving entertainment scene in Nashville and fortunately for us magicians, he LOVES magic. Really loves it. What’s more is, he cares about doing things right. It’s for this reason that the House Of Cards is not only filled with magic posters and memorabilia, but that all of the stuff is original! 500 year old playing cards and Harry Blackstone’s suit included!

I’ll be sharing some pictures here but in respect of the venue, I’m not going to share anything that you can’t already see online. Much like the Magic Castle, the inside of the House Of Cards is only for those who actually go and visit. Trust me when I say, it’s worth it!

Here’s the stage on which I performed…

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That back wall is an original 8 sheet single piece Carter The Great poster. As Carter himself has been dead since 1936, it’s safe to say it’s pretty old. In the week I was there, Bill also purchased Carter’s own original gold legged close up magic table.

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On the day of our arrival, I went to meet Blake Miller, he’s the operations manager at House Of Cards. He showed us to our apartment for the week.

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A 20th floor penthouse condo in an upscale building, less than one minutes walk from the venue. The view was magnificent during the day but even more so at night…

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I could tell we were in for a GREAT week. I didn’t have a show that first night so Sarah and I had planned to spend the evening out in Nashville. We headed to Martin’s BBQ (as recommended by Blake) for some delicious food and then back to the apartment to get ready. After a long day of travel, Sarah took a lie down and I got into the bathtub. Our plan was to head out around 9.30/10pm.

At 1am, I woke up in the freezing cold bathtub and found Sarah still sleeping on top of the bed covers. Our big night out turned into a big sleep in. We made our peace with it and got up early the next day!

I’m not sure how to write about the rest of the week. Every day was essentially the same. All insanely fun AND hard work. I did four shows every night (each 30 minutes) with the exception of Saturday where I did five shows.
We left the apartment every day by 10am and walked around Nashville until we had to be back. Most days we averaged 10-14 miles walk. We’d get back in at 6.30pm and I’d shower then leave for shows by 7pm. Busy days. But like I said, super fun.

In the week we checked out – Germantown, 312 Pizza, The Bluebird Cafe (from the TV show Nashville), Cheesecake Factory, Greenhills Mall, The Gulch, Frothy Monkey Coffee, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Mas Taco, The Ryman, The Johnny Cash Museum and a bunch of other stuff. We also ate wings, drank beer and sat in Honky Tonk Bars. Pictures with captions below…

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Sarah outside the Bluebird Cafe
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Cool sign near Greenhills Mall
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The famous wings mural in The Gulch
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Nashville is famous for it’s ‘Hot Chicken’. Hattie B’s is one of the best places to find it. Spicy friend chicken changed my life. When can I go back?
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Vintage Guitars in Nashville.
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Mas Tacos in Nashville. This place was GREAT!
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I’m so sorry LA, but this is the best taco I ever had.
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The Parthenon in Nashville. As seen in the movie Percy Jackson.

 

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After walking around ‘Music City’ for a week, I decided it was time to start dressing like an old James Taylor. Sweet Baby James.

In between all this fun with Sarah, I had some fun of my own working. This was my view from the stage… (although usually there were 50-90 people in there watching)

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The room is perfect for magic and I was delighted to be working in it. My show opened on Tuesday night…

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The audiences were amazing, super warm and had all the hospitality that I’d been told to expect from southerners. I had an absolute blast. Here’s a little video of my opening trick…

WATCH THE VIDEO BY CLICKING THIS 

I have so many people to say thank you to for this great week and met so many great magicians – Ryan Shadow (best floating cigarette I’ve ever seen), Rick Green (best dressed magician on the planet), Kevin King (hilarious close up), Gary Flegal (brilliant dove act) and Amory Hermetz (killer card & coin magic ideas).  I must say the biggest thanks to Jason Michaels for getting me there, Bill Miller for building the place, Blake Miller for running it with such style and everyone else at the HOC for being so awesome. Biggest shoutout to my friend Joey Martinez. He was always one of my favourite people at the Magic Castle and now that he’s at the HOC I couldn’t be happier for him. He made the week a blast and everybody loves the guy for a very good reason. He makes things happen. Thanks man!

Here are some shots from my performances too, courtesy of Rebecca Risley:

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We closed the week out on Sunday night and got ready to fly to LA. I headed back to the apartment following my final show and started packing my suitcase. We were leaving for the airport in 5 hours! At 6am a Taxi dumped us on the curb of Nashville airport and my phone beeped. It was an email from Southwest Airlines.

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Our flight, that was due to take off in two hours, was cancelled.

Shit.

30 very panicked minutes on the phone found us new flights. These were followed by 4 extra hours waiting but I didn’t care, at least we’d make it to LA in time for the shows. We flew via Phoenix (Arizona) and finally landed at Ontario Airport an hour from the Magic Castle at 5pm. My shows weren’t until 10.15pm so everything was in hand.

Then we tried to book Uber.

Something to do with our changed itinerary, bought flights, refunded flights, more bought flights, cash from ATM’s in two states, food in various airports and whatever else meant that our cards got blocked and Uber wouldn’t work. I had cash with me so I wasn’t stressed. I’ll call a cab.

Uber was quoted on the app as $60. A traditional taxi was going to be $135. Now I know why nobody uses cab companies anymore.

Unhappy with this situation,  I figured I could get a random person to drive us to LA for $70. So, I started to ask around. Some people said they were going in the opposite direction, some looked at me like I was crazy. One guy was totally up for it until his wife came around to the back of the car and upon hearing the plan hustled them both back inside and sped off.

Finally, we were saved. A 4ft tall, 80 year old Japanese women, in a 4ft long, 80 year old Japanese car said ‘MONEY UP FRONT’ and we both climbed inside.

The 75 minute journey took 55 minutes. If you’ve been to LA, you know how crazy that is. If you haven’t just watch ‘The Fast & The Furious’ and you’ll get the idea. A little shaken but very relieved, we arrived.

That night I opened my show at The Magic Castle. It’s at this point that I should continue the story, but I’ve written about this amazing place before so… Instead here’s a video of my opening routine there (based on the movie Birdbox) and a link to the blog from the first time we went.

MAGIC CASTLE OPENING TRICK: BIRDBOX

ORIGINAL MAGIC CASTLE BLOG

In this trip I did 23 shows in Nashville, 20 evening shows with 8 family brunch shows in Hollywood and a private birthday party in Santa Monica. 52 shows inside of 18 days.
We also walked over 200 miles.

Next week I’m flying to Finland & Sweden where I’ll perform two shows per night for just over one month. Somehow, 64 shows in 32 days feels like a rest. 🙂

Stay well friends.
Mark James

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