In 2012, Hickory native Sammy Cortino was calling Nashville home and offering Tennessee audiences “magic instead of music.”
Now, it’s both.
“My show used to be more old-fashioned, I guess you could say. I’ve downsized from doing a large show. No more big boxes on stage. No big props,” the 26-year-old said. “Now, I’m a one-man show, an entertainer playing music and doing magic with my guitar.”
“People have seen so much magic and become jaded,” Cortino continued, saying he had to devise a means to differentiate himself. “Magic is all about being natural and approachable. I act like a normal person and not a character.” He wears everyday clothing and has little more on stage than his guitar and related equipment.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10. Rock ’n’ roll became my second love (to magic),” said Cortino, who plays music he’s written as well as “from as far back as Chuck Berry and the garage rock scene from the ’60s. It’s been well-received all across the country.”
He lives in Los Angeles now, a place he described as being “very magic-friendly – more opportunities.” Cortino performs in LA and wherever he lands a gig, flying here and there or boarding a ship to entertain during a cruise.
The one place he hasn’t performed is the city to which all magicians aspire to headline – Las Vegas – but he’s closing in on that dream, having received an email a couple of weeks ago from someone interested in booking at a corporate event.
If it works out, the tall, deep-voiced kid from Catawba County will take his first step toward fulfilling a goal he talked about while still in middle school, which was the first time I met Cortino and heard the grown-up plans the 13-year-old had for his future as an illusionist. He’d already been devising, practicing and performing – if only for a video camera – for seven years. His bedroom was a combination stage, research and development facility, and storage room for his collection of magic-related paraphernalia.
Cortino pointed out back then that he had something as good as a green light from one of his heroes, magician Lance Burton. Cortino had sent him a video and Burton wrote back. “He said he liked my sleight of hand with cards,” said Cortino. “When I was 12, that definitely encouraged me.”
Along with big plans, Cortino had a big heart early on, taking his show on the road from his house to Frye Regional Medical Center where he performed tricks for the patients.
I was 100 percent sure that kid was going to have his name in lights someday.
On Sept. 8, 2014, the name Sammy Cortino appeared on the marquee of Whiskey A Go Go, a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, a decades-old venue famous for hosting the likes of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Aerosmith, as well as the up-and-coming. “I’m pretty sure I was the first magician to perform on that stage,” Cortino said.
A few weeks prior, he appeared at The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, Calif. Cortino was No. 7 during the 7 Comics for $7 All Star Comedy Show.
“A lot of comedy clubs are pretty magic-friendly,” said Cortino. “I’m not a comedy musician but I do bring situational comedy and jokes into the show.” Cortino added that the daughter of comedian Don Rickles was among the seven entertainers that night.
A month before the Ice House booking, Cortino worked the audience at Comic-Con in San Diego. While characters from Lifetime’s “Witches of East End” performed, Cortino and other magicians strolled among attendees, doing up close magic, as Cortino called it. “Like walking up to a table and doing small magic you carry in your pocket,” he explained. Cortino does card tricks and “I swallow razor blades.”
Cortino’s stage show includes him playing rock ’n’ roll on his guitar and doing tricks with the instrument or the equipment associated with it. In one stunt, he appears to sever the cable connecting his guitar to the amplifier and then ties a knot with the two ends of the cord, mysteriously moves the knot along the cable, and then unties it to find that the cut ends have miraculously reconnected.
Cortino said he occasionally works with one of David Copperfield’s consultants. “I’ll have an idea, and I’m not sure how it should be staged, and I’ll go to him,” Cortino said.
Cortino’s hoping for over-the-top brainstorms when he competes in a couple of weeks on SyFy’s “Wizard Wars” featuring and Penn & Teller.
“It’s essentially ‘Top Chef’ for magic,” Cortino said. He’ll be assigned random objects and a partner, and the pair will have to create a routine. “It’s you against another team,” said Cortino. It is scheduled to be shown at 10 p.m. March 5.
Life as a magic man “is not the easiest path to take,” Cortino concluded. “It takes lots of perseverance and lots of business sense.”