It was what you might refer to as a whirlwind visit to Branson, Mo., as during 2 1/2 days in this small southwest Missouri city our travel group attended six shows, five of which were of the musical variety.
You might ask how could you see that many shows in such a short period of time, but the answer is simple: the shows run morning, afternoon and evening.
While a number of “stars” — mainly country music performers — began arriving in Branson in the 1980s, the still-growing little city (population less than 8,000) has since attracted performers with other forms of music.
The natives are quick to tell you that the entertainment is more than country, although they certainly like the country music venue.
Having never visited what is described as the “live music capital of the universe,” before arriving I wondered how a city that small could have sufficient space to have more than 50 theaters and numerous restaurants and lodging to handle the nearly 8 million visitors a year.
As it turned out the attractions stretch several miles with some even located outside the city limits.
You can tell that the road system is fairly new, and you will notice building construction is continuing as other businesses are planning to move to Branson to take advantage of the tourism business.
Branson has become known for its entertainment, but there are lakes, world-class golf courses, and other attractions that attract visitors.
As one would expect with the number of tourists, business is flourishing.
The city has a new $420 million development that houses some 100 shops and dining facilities, along with housing in an upscale area known as Branson Landing, which is located adjacent to Branson’s original downtown area.
There are also three outlet shopping malls housing more than 200 retailers within the city limits.
My visit to Branson was during the Christmas season, which actually starts there on Nov. 1, and thus a portion of all the shows we attended were dedicated to Christmas music.
There was a drive-thru lighted Christmas display on a smaller scale than Oglebay Park, with one of the animated decorations being that of a young boy casting his fishing line, which is similar to the local one.
They even have Ghost and Haunt tours whose advertisement promises that by bringing a camera you will get paranormal pictures. Also, horse-drawn carriages are available for a unique form of transport. As to our shows, the first one was on the Showboat Branson Belle, which takes you across a lake.
The next morning, it was a visit to the Shoji Tabucki Show, a Japanese entertainer who arrived in Branson in 1981.
While the Shoji Tabucki Show itself was excellent entertainment, the grandeur of the theater was something in itself. The decor is reminiscent of theater places of the 1930s.
One of the topics of discussion after the show had to do with the theater’s lavish bathrooms. The men’s room is decked out with black leather chairs, a marble fireplace and a hand-carved mahogany billiard table. The ladies room, I was told, has jeweled and stained glass chandeliers and a fresh orchid on each granite and onyx sink.
As for Tabucki, he is a world-famous fiddle player.
Throughout the city there are numerous reminders that Smirnoff Yakov, who performs in a 2,000 seat theater, brings “Explosive Laughter” to his show. It is no joke, as this Russian entertainer delivers dynamite comedy and hilarious fun. Yakov’s genuine love for America is apparent throughout his show, and his patriotism is positively contagious as Yakov’s famous saying is, “What a country” in reference to the United States. In his fast-paced production, he even takes a turn as the president of the United States.
Branson has been home to Andy Williams for many years with his theater called, as one would expect, “Moon River.” There is even a small bridge you cross going to and from the theater with large gold fish. It is called, “Moon River.”
Trying to eat without utensils was yet another experience in Branson. It happened at the Dixie Stampede Theater where there was first a warm-up show, followed by everyone going into an arena for a show featuring horses and their riders. Not only did you have to eat without utensils, but you had to do it while the lights were turned down.
A theater that opened in 2000 was the Pierce Arrow Theatre, and we made that one of our attractions. In addition to musical performers, the show featured a comic by the name of Jeffrey Dougherty who actually “stole” the show.
The locals tell you that the entertainers are very friendly, and you may see them throughout your stay at the different venues.
For those on our motor coach, they were somewhat surprised when the performers from the Pierce Arrow Show came on the bus and thanked everyone for attending.
The other show we attended was the Mannheim Steamroller musical group which featured mainly classical music.
What was once the main road through the city of Branson, Mo., is now known as “The Strip.” This area is home to theaters, other entertainment venues and restaurants. While Branson had early theater development in the 1970s, “The Boom” era took place in the 1990s, with growth continuing in this city.