Forty-one years ago, William “Doc” Eason stopped off in Snowmass while on a cross-country motorcycle trip. His life changed forever when a guy doing magic at the Tower Restaurant on the Snowmass Mall mesmerized him.
A native of Connecticut, Doc had never pondered the notion of magic before that moment.
Now, Doc stands tall in front of me in his Basalt kitchen, a piece of ordinary white rope stretched between both hands as he talks …
“What’s the difference between doing magic now and when I started at the Tower 41 years ago? I think I have a greater appreciation of who my audience is and what they are getting out of this,” Doc says, fingers fiddling with the rope.
“Connecting with them is more important than fooling them,” he continues. “Forty-one years ago, I thought I was just showing off my magic tricks, as I was bartending at the Tower Restaurant in Snowmass. But when these people kept coming back: one decade, two decades, three, and I’m entertaining their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, it’s staggering.”
Doc got his nickname while working from 1971-75 in a natural food store in Cupertino, Calif., which, he says, was around the corner from Apple headquarters and he served nature burgers and smoothies to Steve Jobs.
“People would come in and ask nutritional questions like, ‘I've got hemorrhoids or hangnails, what vitamin do I need to get rid of them?’ Doc remembers.
When he started at the Tower in Snowmass, he didn’t want to be “William Eason, the magician,” so he adopted his old health food store sobriquet, Doc.
These days, instead of dispensing health and wellness advice, he’s been taking it in. Less than two months ago he had his right knee replaced, and he is currently doing rehab and not working his regular winter show at the Artisan Restaurant in Snowmass.
“When I tell people I’m 71 years old, they go ‘no!’ But cut me in half and count the rings. I’m really 71,” Doc notes with a grin. “I’ve never really had to confront the aging thing just because I was running too fast, staying ahead of the storm. But it finally caught up with me, and it’s kind of made me reassess what I’ve been doing, and what I might like to do in the future.”
A five-time winner from the Academy of Magic Arts and recognized as one of the premier magic bartenders of our day for his close-up magic tricks, Doc transcends being a guy performing behind a bar. It’s not too surprising to learn that he majored in psychology in college, because what Doc does is way more than magic. It’s all about connections. Doc uses magic and interactive comedy to connect with people.
“Nate Leipzig, who did magic in vaudeville in the ’20s, said, ‘If they like you as a gentleman, they will like your magic.’ A lot of my act is improv,” he says. “Who is the outspoken one? The one we can have some fun with? The one who is determined ‘to figure it out?’ The aim is to bond all the various individuals into a single unit: the cast. We’re talking about your vacation, what’s it like back home, the kids … and, bam! I’ve slipped the card underneath the glass without them noticing.”
The “card under the glass” trick is one of Doc’s trademark magic highlights, and it is actually a series of tricks interspersed with jokes, social comments, spur-of-the-moment reflections, a lot of gentle prodding and a good deal of fun. But over the course of 20-30 minutes, Doc ends up with the card under the glass, while no one notices, six, seven times or more.
While Doc changes up his act, refreshes bits here and there and alters the patter, he can still be found doing tricks he originated 40 years ago. You would think audiences would know what’s going to happen by now, and be on the lookout for the sleight-of-hand when it comes … but, no.
“With the popularity of magic on television — entertainers like Pen and Teller — the public is becoming more exposed to magic,” Doc explains. “And you can go on YouTube and probably find out an explanation for most of what I am doing on some tricks. But that’s where it becomes less about the trick and more about connecting.”
For more than three decades, Doc has connected with and been a resident of Basalt. Would he entertain thoughts of leaving now that he’s at a point — given his age and recent knee surgery — of reassessing his life?
“I love it that I’m 100 yards away from some of the better restaurants in the valley,” he says. “And a lot of the community that was upvalley are now down here in the Mid-Valley these days. The traffic does annoy me, and I’m getting a little less tolerant about snow and ice, but every time I think about leaving this place, then we get a (bluebird) day like today, and I’m like, what are you thinking about?!”
These days, two things bring Doc absolute joy: being in love at 71 and mentoring young magicians.
“I never thought that (falling in love) would happen again,” Doc says, shaking his head in amazement. “And the mentoring gig just brings be a lot of joy. I’m fully aware of the old wizened white-haired magician teaching the little kid and passing the wisdom on down through the ages.”
Does magic still has some hook for you 41 years after you started?
“Yeah, I think so,” Doc says. “It’s the dynamics of the whole thing. It’s so much fun to pull the strings.”
Which is what he does in front of me.
Taking the long piece of rope, he doubles it up and makes a loop. Extending the loop toward me, he asks me to pick up the knife on the kitchen table and cut the rope, which I do. Now, Doc has two pieces of rope, one short and one long.
He smiles. It’s a devilish grin. And, with a few words of mumbo-jumbo, he smiles again and, magically, Doc joins the rope together in one continuous length.
As always, it’s more than magic. It’s Doc.
Doc Eason lectures/performs his history of Snowmass every Wednesday afternoon in March in Snowmass’ Base Village The Collective.