The magic mountains

Asheville magician Max Vega practices mentalism. That is, he possesses “the ability to know intimate, personal information that I shouldn’t know,” he tells Xpress.

Vega has started a weekly magic show at the Lower Level of Restaurant Solace in downtown Asheville. “The idea is to take people away and transport them to a bohemian-type setting,” he says. Meaning: magic, dancing, costumes and maybe acrobatics. 

The evening starts with intimate table seating, low lights and live acoustic music with Turkish string instruments. Vega gets the audience in a magical mindset by performing card tricks and other illusions for each table, followed by a belly dancer in full costume and scarves. After the pre-show, the audience is escorted into auditorium seating and Vega takes the stage and the performance begins.

“The kind of magic that I do is geared towards adults and can often go over the heads of children because it’s more cerebral,” Vega says. There are many different magical disciplines, and magicians often concentrate their work in a single area. For example, illusionists may mystify audiences by sawing someone in half, whereas escape artists are specifically skilled at getting out of snares. Additionally, comedy magicians combine humor with classic, sleight of hand magic. 

Mentalism offers a performance experience that’s quite different than stereotypically flashy magic shows. “A lot of times, the reaction that I go for is silence, and

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‘Wow, I can’t believe that just happened. How is that even possible?’”

A great deal of Vega’s show involves audience engagement. What is a mind reader without minds to read? “I really use the audience for all of my effects,” Vega says. “I can’t do it without them.” As the audience becomes part of the show, the intimate setting becomes even friendlier, and the group shares the surprise and astonishment of the performance. 

Vega has christened the show Soiree Fantastique. “The show pays homage to the Robert Houdin, who is the grandfather of all modern magic. He invented a lot of tricks that are seen and used today.” According to Vega, an example of Houdin’s influence on the world of magic is legendary escape artist Harry Houdini who added an “I” to Houdin’s name in homage when creating his own stage character.

In addition to Houdin, another important figure for Vega is his personal friend and professional magician, Brenton Keith. “One day about six years ago, I happened to go to one of his performances. I’d seen magicians before and had messed around with stuff myself, though not too seriously,” Vega says. “I was able to reverse-engineer the tricks and figure out how they were done because my mind just works that way. I was completely amazed by it and also amazed by the effect he was having on the people around him. I thought to myself, ‘I could do that.’”

Starting the way that most magicians do, Vega then began manipulating cards. With help from Keith and referencing magician’s books such as Now You See It, Now You Don’t, Vega worked his way through the mechanics of card magic. Now, Vega reflects, “To have my own magic theater after only being a professional magician for six years is pretty remarkable.”

Soiree Fantastique is not the only magic show brewing in town. WNC Magic Club is working on putting together a Saturday matinee children’s magic show. The WNC Magic Club meets monthly and brings in guest magicians for lectures and seminars. According to Vega, the children’s show is “next on the plate for the magic community here.”

Once again, Asheville is blazing ahead with its cultural diversity. Between our circus community, puppetry troupes and many musicians and artists, Asheville will surely welcome magicians to its spectrum of performing arts.

— Stephanie Guinan can be reached at

what: Magic nights
where: Lower Level of Solace Restaurant
when: Wednesday nights (Doors at 7:45 p.m. $10 includes appetizers. 505-8333. Keep up with Soiree Fantastic and other events at The Lower Level at Solace at )


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