Magical mirth is in the air, when Asheville’s Sneaky McFly performs. His LEAF performance will include with the Unifire Theatre. Here, he does sleight of hand tricks in a recent Asheville Vaudeville show. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas
LEAF goes beyond its usual array of music, dance, poetry and healing arts for a spotlight on local performers such as illusionist Sneaky McFly.
The 46th LEAF festival at Lake Eden in Black Mountain is May 10-13. Musical headliners are jazz fusion virtuosos Snarky Puppy on Saturday, May 12 at 10:25 p.m, and veteran Ani DiFranco with “righteous babe folk” as the closing main act at 4:30 p.m. that Sunday. World folk duo sister act Rising Appalachia from Asheville heads the lineup that Friday night, and member Leah Song does a Southern soul solo show indoors at 6:15 p.m. that Saturday.
Snarky Puppy won Grammy awards for Best R&B Performance in 2015, then Best Contemporary Instrumental Album both in ’16 and ’17. Its flowing comfortable sound includes bouncy rhythms, intricate melodies, light percussion, some flute, and plenty of horns. The multi-cultural band has recorded 11 albums since launching in 2003, toured for over a decade, rotates 25 members from across the globe, originated in Texas, is based in Brooklyn, and has been produced by the likes of folk rock star David Crosby.
LEAF this year was among Reader’s Digest’s Top 10 Outdoor Festivals Your Kids Will Love This Year.
There is again a variety of local acts. For instance, Daniel “Sneaky” McFly will do magic and be part of a fire show.
The fiery display fits the festival’s warming theme of “Trailblazing” and realizing potential, as described by Performing Arts Director Ehren Cruz. “Each and every one of us has the power to forget our own destiny,” Cruz stated. “To dig deep, take hold of our inner fire, and courageously set out on a path never before travelled….each artist selected has taken up the torch of this great call. They are visionaries, trailblazers, musical pioneers.” Cruz invites festival-goers to “embark on an odyssey of inner and outer discovery.”
McFly returns to LEAF, where he has done magic and fire shows. Once in Asheville, he joined the Unifire Theatre that he said is acclaimed as among the Southeast’s finest fire and dance troupes. He has performed with Unifire for nearly a dozen years, using traditional and original “fire manipulation.”
This group puts on LEAF’s famed lakeside fire shows at night, always drawing a packed, crowded and responsive crowd. That will be Saturday, May 12 at 9 p.m. Unifire performs on the main stage the night before, at 9:30 p.m.
McFly stated his underlining goal is to “bring a new level of respect and support for our local performers.” He is an integral part of the Asheville performing arts scene.
He was part of a local all-star versatile cast in Asheville Vaudeville’s show March 17, in Isis Music Hall. He did various card tricks and illusions.
The magician is also an actor, a juggler, puppeteer, hypnotist, and a clown providing “magical mirth.”
In a burlesque show in the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival this past winter, McFly wore a monkey suit as he mimed a skit. He got people from the audience into a “monkey see, monkey do” routine, mimicking his gestures and motions across the stage.
McFly noted he liked the circus and music as a boy, and ended up in the Modern Gypsies Circus Sideshow. He honed such skills as juggling, and “acrobalance” which is solo hand balancing and partner lifts, poses and tosses. He learned physical comedy, slight of hand tricks, comical hosting and sideshow barking.
A dozen years ago, McFly co-founded Seduction Sideshow that blends burlesque, vaudeville, cabaret and circus sideshow acts. McFly calls it Asheville’s longest-running variety performance troupe. He has been part of the Fox and Beggar Theater’s recent hit series of “Tarocco” pensive dark shows.
Another link with LEAF and Fringe and zany local variety is Keith Shubert. He leads the Toybox Theater puppet show, May 13 at 11-11:30 a.m. on LEAF’s Sunshine Stage.
Check theleaf.org for more about the festival, performers, and to buy day tickets or Buncombe weekend commuter passes.