More than 10 Presleys and non-Presleys in sparkling embroidered jackets and sparkly fitted dresses covering country standards like Randy Travis’ “I Told You So” and Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” performers will appear. Among their fans on this night are retired Bill and Joe Hale. They drove him eight hours from Houston to this Ozark entertainment oasis. This Ozark entertainment oasis features his 30-odd theaters filled with country singers, illusionists, religious spectacles and equestrians.
Good-natured Hales, a Return Branson customer, and two members of the Texas Senior Softball Hall of Fame, Gary Presley in a goofy ripped hat, sunflower-yellow shirt, and blue overalls, between songs with Eric. Appearing as a clown bumpkin, he laughs appreciatively. Old as Shakespeare. When the band plays a version of the theme song to his 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, I sing along at the end, and some of Herkimer and Cecil’s rattling one-liners are so corny that they make me It makes me laugh or cringe. at the same time.
“There are foods that can ruin your love life,” declares Gary. “Wedding cake!”
Live entertainment has been king in these parts since the 1960s, catering to Heartland audiences rarely interacted with by the city’s sophisticated theater critics. So I went to Branson, a town of 12,000 that swells to 70,000 on weekends in high season, to see what wide swaths of America would choose when they wanted to see a show. Few places in the country host professional show business destinations as quirky and sprawling as this mountain town in Missouri, dozens of miles north of the Arkansas border. Singer Andy Williams opened a theater here. So did comedian Yakov Smirnoff.
My curiosity stemmed from the sense that most Americans look forward to a night on the town, but disagree about what that night should look and feel like. Of course, it’s a reflection of a huge country with diverse tastes, but it’s also a reflection of the cracks in our nation’s cultural life.Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau data And, after a pandemic slide, Branson is on pace to hit nearly 10 million tourists in 2021 and surpass it in 2022. The majority arrive by car and bus from a 650-mile (650-mile) geographic circle stretching from Texas to Illinois and Oklahoma to Kentucky. (Only 8,227 people from outside the United States visited Branson in 2021.)
They come, of course, for music inspired by Nashville and Vegas and the great guitar and banjo picking traditions of these mountains. Branson’s popularity stems from the Presley family’s pickers, who once entertained tourists in the Caves of the Ozarks. Roy Clarke, Wayne Newton and Willie Nelson are just a few of the stars who have played here.
But many visitors also come to reaffirm the value of bedrock. It’s no secret that Branson caters primarily to clients who worship a Christian God and who develop a particular vision of the country. On downtown’s homely West Main Street, his T-his shirt hangs outside a souvenir shop emblazoned with “I stand for the flag, I kneel for the flag.” Crosses” and “Anyone who voted for Biden owes me gas money.”
In this beautiful corner of Missouri, you can’t escape the feeling of being an audience whose worldview is perhaps not widely shared.
‘Sir, do you have a concealed weapon?’ Buffalo Roaming, Agility Dog Contest.
The idea of packing up heat, eating biscuits, and watching piglets run around a dirt track blows my mind.
“Hidden weapon? Is it thing?” asks the security guard. He looks at me like I’m crazy.
At the eight performances I attended in late September (ticket prices ranged from reasonable $42 to $85), testimonies of faith were frequent, and veterans applauded nearly every performance. was given. The Stars and Stripes were ceremoniously displayed, for example, at the end of “Dolly His Parton’s Stampede”, along with a parade of flag-bearing horses and a recording of Parton singing patriotic tunes.
At concert-style shows such as the Boomer-nostalgic “Anthems of Rock” anthology with an energetic cast of singers and dancers playing Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Elton John, Tina Turner and Bon Jovi, I I also got the groove on Presley and the rest of the family playing Johnny Cash’s country tunes and Barbara Mandrell’s famous country tunes.
Elsewhere, the American flag flashes electronically across screens, including performances by gizmo-crazy country band Heygood and a cruise on the Showboat Branson Bell on Table Rock Lake. Like the old prayers in public schools, you will feel the eulogy is necessary. Even magician Rick Thomas — once a Vegas mainstay and now headliner of the “Rick Thomas Mansion of Dreams” show at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in the Branson Entertainment District — says, “Thanks again veterans. Please,” concludes the performance.
But surprisingly, MAGA caps are nowhere to be seen in the overwhelmingly older white crowd. (Occasionally I counted a black couple, a Latino family, and one hijab-wearing woman.) The vibe of the town is that of the countryside. This isn’t Branson’s strategy, it’s part of the local culture. Gary As Herkimer delivers a somewhat skeptical joke at the expense of climate change, but the performance is mostly nonpartisan. What I find most offensive is the epic scale mounting of the story of Jesus titled ‘Jesus’ by his Sight & Sound Theaters, a company that has a sister theater in Lancaster. Only for spectacular and extravagant events. Pa.
“Jesus” is a musical, theatrical spectacle the size of a bent over Cecil B. DeMille. A cast of 50 perform on a monumental set that surrounds half of the 2,000-seat theater. From the outside it looks like a cross between a fake classic megachurch and mall. The Son of God walks on water. Jesus heals a leper and expels a moneylender from the temple. Lazarus rises from the dead. Camels, goats, sheep and horses traverse the carpeted walkways. From the manger to the crucifixion, no expense seems to have been spared in this well-organized two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza.
The venue is packed and the audience is enthusiastic about the matinee. “Godspell”, but this is not. In multiple scenes, Israeli rabbis are portrayed as overly vocal proponents of the execution of Jesus. It is sometimes reverently recited in Hebrew, but is also portrayed as a menacing and conspiratorial character, influencing ugly stereotypes. A sentiment confirmed when Pilate was besieged by rabbis and took a mere stroll agreeing instantly to their demands for blood.
Some tourists I met say they traveled to Branson primarily for “Jesus” (the “Miracle of Christmas” show begins next November). The 1907 best-selling novel The Shepherd on the Hill was written by author and preacher Harold Bell his Wright. Wright writes, “From what we call civilization in the city.” (The 1941 Hollywood version starred John Wayne.)
Shepherd of the Hills theme park, located in rolling terrain a few miles outside downtown, features open-air plays based on Wright’s books with dozens of actors in the Thurman Outdoor Theater.
“His story told of the beauty of the Ozarks and the strength of the people who live in the area,” said Jeff Johnson, a former banker, who showed us around the 177-acre adventure park. increase. Stayed for several years. “We have a duty to tell the story in the way that Harold Bell Wright made it stand out.”
This literary legacy places Branson in a solid narrative framework. And what intrigues me most is the innate urge to gather crowds to sing and talk about the history and traditions of this part of the world.This strip – officially known as West 76 Country Boulevard The 1.6km long path – could offer chain restaurants and attractions in other brilliant entertainment districts. But what makes the Branson experience most memorable is the performances that authentically resonate with the countryside.
Like the Petersens playing American roots music in the 200-seat Little Opry Theater on the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, the most intimate space I’ve ever encountered. They are another local family that seems to have a genetic predisposition to treble clefs and arpeggios, like the Presley and Haygood families. Mama Karen on bass, her adult child Katie on fiddle, Ellen on banjo, Matt on guitar, and Emmett Franz of “Honorary Petersen” on dobro guitar, which he turns sideways. I am playing a finger pick. (Another singing Petersen sister, Julian, is studying English Literature at Oxford.)
Their fresh, easy-going demeanor and effortless harmonies bouncing bluegrass gleefully from John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” to the gospel’s “Down to the River to Play” to the Eagles’ “Desperado” It blends smoothly into the arrangement of Devotional messages also feature in their shows. But the spirit that most delights and moves me is Abba’s fun, humming version of “Mamma Mia.”
Ellen, who is married to Michael Haygood, who sings Heygood, says the roots of the band lie in her mother’s passion. “She loved music,” says Ellen. “That’s how she got her master’s degree in music education. Music theory seems to be her jam.” I like. His father was a doctor, and Johns attended Hopkins University. It’s an engaging way to let fans know more about them and let them know that their interests extend beyond their instruments.
My favorite takeaway from listening to music in the mountains is the rewarding focus on family and artistic pursuits. Mr. and Mrs. Presley still personify that with sophisticated silliness and sophisticated craftsmanship, even after all these years. Glazed pecans at the concession stand are happy memories for me too—Gary in his Presley-memories-filled theater.
The Presleys often say that when they built the theater, originally called the Mountain Music Theatre, they weren’t sure if an audience would come. Gary’s backup plan was that if things didn’t work out, the place could be turned into a winter warehouse for boats moored on the lake. The sea of faces that greeted us happily brought to light the dreams of Mr. and Mrs. Presley.
“Repeat business has been great,” says Gary. “Audiences come to our theater and feel a warm and homely atmosphere. It took him 55 years to get here.”