A Righetti High School graduate who launched his career as an illusionist at the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival is returning for the first time in about 34 years to perform his magic at the festival this weekend.

Anthony Hernandez said he and his “better half” Dawn Morgan will take the Sun Center Stage to perform three different and varied magic shows Saturday.

It will be his first performance at the festival since his inauspicious beginning back in 1988 when he was 12 years old and attending Kermit McKenzie Intermediate School in Guadalupe.

“But, yes, it’s the very first time I’ve been back,” Hernandez, now 46, confirmed Tuesday afternoon while driving to Arizona from Southern California.

That fateful day, Hernandez said, friends and family turned out to watch him make his debut as a magician, and he was introduced to the audience by the weatherman for KCOY-TV at that time.

“I wasn't at all prepared for what I was about to do,” he said, describing his first public performance as “a disaster from the beginning.”

“My props were way too small, I didn’t practice at all, my assistant was my 7-year-old male cousin,” he said, shaking his head at the memory.

“My finale was going to make [my cousin] disappear,” he continued. “There was a trap door on the stage. I covered him with a blanket, and he moved the board and jumped in, and I pushed the board [back] with my foot and smiled really big.

“The problem? My cousin was too short to come back out,” he said. “So I did what any great magician would do, and took my bow and left!”

Hernandez has obviously done better since then, performing shows all over the world.

He is a performing member of the World Famous Hollywood Magic Castle and was named a Top 5 Best Male Performer by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

But he said his best magic trick was meeting his “partner in crime,” Dawn Morgan, whom he credits as the “brains of the show.”

Hernandez said Morgan not only helps with the onstage portions of the performances but also creates some of their original illusions, all while handling almost all of the business side of the show.

While they were on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote a book titled “52-Card Pick Up: How COVID Made Magic Disappear” that’s sold through Target, Walmart, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Now, with success under his belt, Hernandez is returning to offer Santa Maria audiences the thing he wanted to give them more than three decades ago — a world-class show of illusions.

“This is my Redemption Show,” he said.

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