Category Archives: Branson Shows

Why Presleys’ Country Jubilee is an unequalled Branson entertainment experience

 

Three generations of Presley comedy Herkimer, Cecil and Cecil Jr.

Three generations of Presley comedy Herkimer, Cecil and Cecil Jr.

Going to Presleys’ Country Jubilee is more than going to a show, it’s an experience that is unequalled in Branson. Where else in Branson can you see three generations of performers spanning from today back to the original cast who opened “Branson’s first show on the Strip” in 1967? In what other theatre in Branson can you walk into a lobby that’s as comfortable and inviting as Presleys’, join in a live gospel sing along, and enjoy the smell of roasting “Glazed Almonds and Pecans” made from a “secret” recipe developed by “Cecil,” Eric Presley?

Obviously the way the questions are crafted, the answer is, “None,” but that’s the point. From its lobby to the show itself seeped in history and talent, there is nothing else in Branson offering the total entertainment experience for the whole family that a night at Presleys’ Country Jubilee offers. Its unique hilarious comedy, with a familial flair, combined with some of the best vocalists and instrumentalists in Branson, colorful costuming and great production provides an entertainment experience that demonstrates why this show has achieved legendary status and has been a consistent favorite of Branson audiences for over 47 years.

Since the Presleys’ opened on the Branson strip, Gary Presley, known on the stage as “Herkimer,” has been performing his unique blend of Ozark comedy. In combination with his son, Eric, “Cecil” in the show, their comedy is a unique blend of Ozark humor, one liners, action and skits that always seem to be relevant to current events and keeps the audience, kids and adults alike, laughing throughout the show.

Jay Wickizer, one of the shows vocalists, acts as the “straight man” or go-between in much of the comedy. One of my favorite comedic moments was the reconciliation of Herkimer and Cecil and what “being ‘open’ to reconciliation” meant to them. Another was the skit when young Master Benjamin Presley, the son of Eric, appeared as “Cecil Jr.”

The show is a well-coordinated mixture of music and comedy. Its format of one or two musical numbers followed by a comedy segment, coupled with the variety of ways each is performed, holds the audience’s attention, including kids, throughout the whole show. From their all cast opening number, “Take Me Back To The Country” to their finale, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the music in this show, while definitely favoring country, has something for everyone including gospel, rock and roll and more, all performed by superb musicians and vocalists.

Ambrus Presley performing  "Over the Rainbow."

Ambrus Presley performing “Over the Rainbow.”

To say the vocal performances were outstanding would be an understatement. The shows vocalists Ambrus Presley, Kimberly Barber, Devonna Wickizer, Lauren Presley, Jay Wickizer, Tim Gregg, Chuck Crain, Scott Presley and Bruce Haynes performed a range of music in a variety of ways, solos, duets and quartets. A few of my personal favorite vocal highlights would be the performance by the Gospel Quartet composed of Jay Wickizer, Tim Greg, Chuck Crain and Bruce Haynes; Kimberly Barber’s performance of Patsy Cline’s hit “Crazy;” the duet by Jay and Devonna Wickizer of “Together Again” and Ambrus Presley’s performance of “Over The Rainbow” from the “Wizard of Oz.”

Over six years ago someone told me that I had to hear “Ambrus” at Presleys’ sing “Over The Rainbow.” Since then she has married John Presley, had a son and is expecting again in March of 2015, but until now, although I have heard her sing countless times, I had never heard her sing that song. It was worth the wait!

The Gospel Quartet of Tim Greg, Chuck Crain, Bruce Haynes and Jay Wickizer.

The Gospel Quartet of Tim Greg, Chuck Crain, Bruce Haynes and Jay Wickizer.

The shows band is composed of Steve Presley, Drums; Scott Presley, Guitar and Fiddle; Greg Presley, Harmonica; John Presley, Piano and Keyboard; Bruce Haynes, Bass Guitar; Kevin Clemens, Steel Guitar and Cortland Ingram, Fiddle. Absent, but there in spirit, after over 25 years of never missing a performance, was Mark Walker, who played Fiddle, Guitar, Banjo and Saxophone and is recovering from a recently suffered stroke. Godspeed, Mark.

The band and vocalists just blend together so beautifully and comfortably, whether it’s the band accompanying the vocalists, featured as part of a vocal performance or an instrumental solo. From many, here’s a few of my favorite “instrumental” highlights. Every time I hear John Presley on the piano I am amazed and this was no exception. I just loved his performance of the Floyd Cramer medley. Two others would be the cast’s performance of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” featuring Cortland Ingram on the fiddle and Greg Presleys’ performance on the harmonica. Wow can he ever play!

Alone, its origin and the faithfulness of four generations in maintaining the traditions and heritage of that origin make the Presleys’ Country Jubilee unique. Combined with the shows genuineness, the talents of the Presley family and the shows other cast members, its musical variety, the uniqueness and humor of its comedy, and their blending into a show that seamlessly flows from one entertaining segment to another there can be only one result; an evening spent with the Presley family and their cast will be a special unforgettable Branson entertainment memory.

For additional information on Presleys’ Country Jubilee or tickets for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

Future’s so bright for Branson comedian Paul Harris he’s “gotta wear shades”

Paul Harris, 3rd from left, and the "Cleverlys."

Paul Harris, 3rd from left, and the “Cleverlys.”

“Branson is well known for the quality and variety of its live shows and entertainment,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. “Its great music shows, covering just about every genre of music, are legend, but, while perhaps not as well known, Branson is also blessed with a variety of some of the funniest comedians anywhere. From Branson’s longest performing comedian, the incomparable Gary Presley as “Herkimer” in Presleys’ Country Music Jubilee to the comical characters of Jarrett Dougherty at the Billy Dean Live show, the antics of Jamie Haage of the Grand Jubilee , the great standup comedy of Paul Harris from  Paul Harris and the Cleverlys and many others, Branson audiences are full of laughter every day,” she added. Wood said that the announcement this week about the future of Paul Harris, one of Branson’s longtime favorites, is both an example of the quality of comedians Branson has, but also their wit and humor. The announcement of his future plans, which still involves doing shows in Branson, was accompanied by a photo featuring him wearing a “standout” pair of sunglasses and Paul saying, “The futures so bright I gotta wear shades.” Recently Harris and The Cleverlys have had to make some changes to their Branson show schedule at the Starlight Theatre to accommodate some of the opportunities coming their way. One of those opportunities is touring” with the most awarded band in country music’s history, “Alabama.” In addition, Harris has become the national spokesman for Bad Boy Mowers,”the mower with an attitude,” built by American workers “right in the middle of the country in the Ozarks Mountains” and has a recording deal and a TV project in the works. The Starlite Theatre said that they are ecstatic about the possibilities for Paul and have been working with him on scheduling to free up time for these opportunities that are beneficial to both Paul and Branson. Harris said that he is appreciative of not only the theatres flexibility, but that of his fans. Branson Tourism Center’s Wood reminds those coming to Branson of the advice contained in the announcement saying, “Don’t miss your chance to see Paul before his craziness is unleased upon America in a big way!” She points out that even while taking advantage of these opportunities Paul Harris and the Cleverlys are scheduled to perform a number of Branson performances between now and the end of December. For their latest schedule, information and tickets please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550.

The Adventures of Marco Polo – an epic Branson entertainment adventure

The Swan Dance was a wonderful example of the beauty and elegance of this show.

The Swan Dance was a wonderful example of the beauty and elegance of this show.

After having seen The Adventures of Marco Polo last week I can say that it is a remarkable and unique show the likes of which has never been seen on a Branson stage before. This spectacular production, through the use of a 2000 square foot LED screen, an extremely talented international cast of over 60 dancers, acrobats and other performers, over 300 colorful costume changes and magnificent sets, vividly and colorfully brings the essence of Marco Polo’s epic 20 year plus adventures in central Asia and China to life on the stage all wrapped in a touching love story.

The panoramic sweep of the production, in terms of what it covers, is amazing. From one of the most dramatic and action filled shipwreck scenes most people will ever see on a stage, to Marco’s near death in the cold snows of Mongolia, his rescue by the Princess Sa Ren, his time amid the grandeur of the court of the China’s Kublai Khan and his travel throughout Asia this production is a “cultural experience” filled with pageantry; beautiful dancing, featuring ballet and a variety of other dances all impeccably performed by the shows cast. It makes no difference if it’s an exquisite ballet duet or an ensemble number, each is superbly performed with a grace, precision and beauty that is almost spellbinding.

You do want to be in your seat for the start of the show as Marco starts his adventure and ends up in a shipwreck. The integration of lighting, sound, special effects and acrobatics of the crew with the huge 2000 square foot LED screen across the back of the stage results in one of the most exciting beginnings to any show that I have ever seen in Branson.

This scene from the court of Kublai Khan is, but one example of the shows exciting pageantry and color.

This scene from the court of Kublai Khan is, but one example of the shows exciting pageantry and color.

The shows format does not involve any spoken parts by the cast, English or otherwise. The audience is guided from one scene to the next by a short introductory narrative, in English, that explains what it is that is being portrayed next. The cast’s communication with the audience, whether using ballet, another form of dancing, acrobatics or other action, is through their performance with no dialogue, but it was easy to follow and it did not impact on my enjoyment of the show.

In the first half of the show Marco travels from Venice to China; delivers a message from the Pope to China’s Kublai Khan in Dadu, China, which is today named “Beijing” and develops his relationship with the “Great Kahn.” The journey takes years during which he is involved in a ship wreck, almost dies in the snowy cold of a Mongolian winter and is rescued by the Princess Sa Ren, with whom he falls in love during his recovery and has to leave to continue his journey.

During the second half, as Marco travels China serving the Kublai Kahn, the story is told with a mixture of dance and “cirque” as performers are infused into the performance at different times with the Chinese Boomerang; the Diabolo, Chinese Yoyo, a unique Chair Stacking Act and other surprises. Marco is reunited with Sa Ran, but is all too soon separated from her as he is required by Kublai Khan to escort another Chinese Princess to Persia to be married to a Persian monarch. Marco is never to return to China.

The poignant ending to the show, features a very old Marco still dreaming of Sa Ren and a beautifully orchestrated ending to the story that is at the same time sad, but fulfilling. It is a spectacular, touching and beautiful ending to the show involving an absolutely exquisite dance, the LED screen, special effects and a high flying Silk Routine and one that touched my heart.

The Adventures of Marco Polo is a wonderful cultural experience, based on an historical event that most are familiar with that is presented through one of the most spectacular productions every to appear on a Branson stage. For additional information or tickets for The Adventures of Marco Polo please call the Branson Tourism Center by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.

Clay Cooper show is a nonstop entertainment “express”

 

140824  Clay Cooper Clay Tina Duet Squeeze Me

Having just seen the Clay Cooper’s Country Express Show on Aug. 24 the only way I can describe it is by saying, “WOW!” When you take an entertainer like Clay Cooper and blend in a great band, some of the best dancers and choreographed dance routines in Branson, the comedy of Matt Gumm, the rope and gun handling performance of Johnny Lonestar and the strategically placed vocal performances of other cast members, it is over two hours of the finest nonstop “express,” or otherwise, entertainment in Branson.

The “engineer” of this “express,” at least while on stage, is the show’s star, Clay Cooper. From his “zipping” entry onto the stage and the show’s full cast opening number, “Fever” until his performance of the original song, ” America Stand Strong,” written by his wife Tina, in the show’s patriotic finale, Clay’s vocal talents and charisma are the “tracks” upon which this express speeds along.

Clay performing "Crying."

Clay during his beautiful rendition of “Crying.”

During the show he performs a number of vocals covering a variety of musical genres with, the emphasis on country music performed as only he can. From among many, my two favorites were the Hank Williams hit “Kaw-Liga.” Loved the whole number, but wait for “the notes.” You’ll know what I mean when you hear them. His performance of the Roy Orbison hit “Crying” was beautifully done and was yet another demonstration of Clay’s vocal range and talent.

As remarkable as his singing is, it is surpassed by his personal charisma and ability to not only relate to the crowd, but interact with them in a way that entertains the whole audience. In the past I have described it as that “innate Neil McCoy ability to relate to his audience and draw them into their own entertainment experience,” but Clay takes it a step beyond. He triggers responses from audience members that lets him interact simultaneously with them personally and the audience with a warm comfortable humor that has everyone laughing, having fun and wondering what is coming next.

R. P. Harrell performing "Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy" during the Gospel segment

R. P. Harrell performing “Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy” during the Gospel segment

And Clays not the only one performing vocals. R. P. Harrell’s performance of “Bowed On My Knees and Cried Holy” during the Gospel segment of the show was simply beautiful and I loved  “Down By the Riverside” performed acapella by “the girls.” Among others the vocal highlights include Matt Gumm’s performance of “I Want Crazy,” ten year old Colt Cooper’s performance of “Rockin Robin” and 11 year old Ezrah Noelle’s performance of “He Taught Me How To Yodel.”

This show should have a lot of appeal for kids. There is constant action, color, dancing and a number of costume changes which helps holds the attention of adults and kids alike. In addition with acts like Johnny Lonestar, Matt Gumm’s “horn” routine and strategic “peer to peer” performances of Colt and Ezrah along with an assist from young Master Caden Cooper,  kids are entertained, simultaneously with adults throughout the show.

A unique aspect of this show is its dancing troupe. It’s choreographer, and one of the dancers herself is Tina Cooper, who has been dancing professionally since 1989 and holds a “Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Music Theatre with a Minor in Dance” from the University of Oklahoma. The way the dance routines are seamlessly integrated into almost every vocal performance, whether it’s one or two of the dancers or the whole troupe is a thing of beauty, adds so much to the show and easily sets it apart from every other country music show most of us have ever seen.

And it’s not just the dancing, it is the way they dance; no matter what style, it is done with an energy, race and precision that demonstrates why they are one of the top dancing troupes in Branson. Although there are many dancing highlights, their performance during the show’s opening number, “Fever” and “House Is A Rocking” illustrate their talent, choreography and how much it adds to the total entertainment experience the show provides. In addition to Tina Cooper, the “Country Express Dancers” include Jenn Turner, Kelly Smith, Kristen Chandler, Elizabeth Harris, Lara Moffett Menard, Matthew Smith, Todd Coker, Clark Roberts, Nate Bittner and Sarah Blackerby.

The “Country Express Band” consists of R.P. Harrell, piano and Musical Producer; John Lance, keyboard and vocals; Barry Bales guitar and vocals; Dave Clark, bass guitar, Mark Pearman fiddle and steel guitar and Grant Moody, utility player. Although their talent is obvious throughout the whole show it is highlighted in their performance of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running.” Dave Clark’s bass guitar solo performance of “Amazing Grace” was as beautiful as it was unique.

I would be remiss if I did not specifically mention the outstanding job that that the versatile Matt Gumm did throughout the show. From the preshow comedy and his extremely entertaining “Teamwork” piece to his “wind instrument audition” piece he demonstrates his comedic talents which when combined with the subtle comedy of Clay, as he interacts with the audience, creates one of the funniest shows in Branson. Gumm’s talents do not stop there however, as he also sings and is featured playing the drums and hammered dulcimer in the show.

In my last “review” of this show I wrote, ” From before the curtain goes up until it drops this show is an “express” ride through two plus hours of the most engaging, energetic and talented entertainment available in Branson hosted by a performer who can work an audience as beautifully as he sings and his wife choreographs and dances.” After seeing the 2014 edition of this outstanding show there is not one word that I would change except to add “Wow!” before the word “From.”

For additional information on the Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express Show or tickets for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website.

 

Material Connection

“Ayo,” short name for a Branson show full of “joy” and entertainment

Avery, left, Nadia and Michael Cole performing during the shows opening set.

Avery, left, Nadia and Michael Cole performing during the shows opening set.

When the Cole siblings, Michael, Avery and Nadia burst onto the entertainment scene on the hit NBC prime time show “America’s Got Talent (AGT)” in 2009 as the “Voices of Glory” their story and musical ability touched America’s heart and took them to a fifth place finish in the Finals. Having seen their appearances on AGT and their Branson show recently, Ayo Starring Voices of Glory, recently, I feel very safe in saying that same story, charisma and talent, aged like a fine wine, that captured the hearts of America when they were on AGT, is now capturing the hearts of Branson audiences.

The story of how they came together and started singing to entertain their mother while she was in the hospital, in a coma, suffering and fighting back from the results of a horrible automobile accident, is as inspiring today as it was back in 2009. Their talent, both collectively and as individual performers has matured and is applied to a variety of music including, mostly cover songs and some original songs. Their original song, “You Sent A Miracle,” which is the story of the miracle involved with their mother’s survival of her accident set to music, was as beautifully performed as it was inspiring.

This show is not about glitz and glamor, it is presented in a concert format, with a live band, and is about the performers, their music and their ability to relate to and entertain their audience. From the time Nadia comes out, before the show begins to welcome the audience and answer questions, until the beautiful and inspiring patriotic ending of the show, it is a wonderful entertainment experience filled with warmth and beautiful music. “Ayo,” means “joy” and, whether it’s one of the group doing a solo or all of them singing together, each number is truly a “joy” to hear.

Their individual talents sparkle in numbers such as Michael Jackson’s “Superstition by Michael, Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got The World On A String” by Avery and the Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You” by Nadia. When they perform together in numbers like their original song “Ayo,” the Lionel Richey classic, “Dancing On the Ceiling,” the gospel segment or a variety of others, the power, familial harmony and beauty of their combined voices is truly a one of a kind musical experience.

And it’s not just their voices; it is the way that talent is artfully combined with a great band, costuming, choreography, large video screens, lighting and other special effects into a wonderful entertainment experience. The use of the large video screens showing the “Voices of Glory” singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” when they were younger that “dissolves” into them singing it live as part of their powerful Gospel music segment is a great illustration of this point.

The band, consisting of Tim Pope on drums, Jared Lee on base, Michael Kiersey on guitar and band leader Ray Harris on keyboards and trumpet enhances the total entertainment experience and was featured during many of the show’s vocal performances. The trumpet feature by Ray Harris, as Nadia performs “Blue Skies” is an excellent example.

As I observed some of the kids watching the show they appeared to be having as great a time as the adults. This is probably because they not only relate to the music, but to their “peers” who are performing it. This show is truly a “joy” to experience and one that the whole family can enjoy together from beginning to end.

For additional information on Ayo Starring Voices of Glory or for information or tickets for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com

6th Annual Branson Gospel Sing Off sparkles with talent

George Dyer and lead guitarist Bogie Bhoinc seen here performing a duet during the "George Dyer" show, are two the celebrity judges.

George Dyer and lead guitarist Bogie Bhoinc seen here performing a duet during the “George Dyer” show, are two the celebrity judges.

Branson’s Sight & Sound Theatre, the home of the spectacular biblical production, and one of Branson’s most popular new shows, Jonah, will host the 6th Annual Christian Action Ministries (CAM) Gospel Sing Off (Sing Off) at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday Aug. 31. Ten finalists, selected from over 80 entrants, will compete in the Sing Off for $3,000 in cash, trophies and the chance to sing at Silver Dollar City during the last day of its “Southern Gospel Music Picnic,” September 1.

The ten finalists will be judged by a panel of six Branson celebrity judges. The panel will include Benjamin Dutton, singer, dancer, and versatile musician with The Duttons; Bogie Bohinc, currently the guitarist in the George Dyer show who has been the lead guitarist for such other stars such as Andy Williams and Tony Orlando; George Dyer, Branson’s premier tenor from The George Dyer Show; Jak Knudsen of another of Branson’s most popular shows, SIX; Joshua Clark, the Entertainment Editor for the Branson Tri-Lakes News and Sarah Fair, who, along with her brothers, won the 2012 Gospel Sing Off and have since opened The Fair Family Show at the Hamner Theater in Branson

AM Board Chairman Jack Burke said, “Over 80 very talented entrants vied to get in the finals and we are very excited about the ten finalists in the Sing Off. It will be a wonderful afternoon of amazing gospel music with all the proceeds going to benefit Christian Action Ministries, whose food pantry distributes hundreds of thousands of pounds of food and grocery products to hungry aCnd needy people in our community.” The Gospel Sing Off finalists, in alphabetical order are:

4 Christ:  A male gospel quartet from Galena, Missouri that loves to carry the gospel message and spread the Good Word with their unique vocal harmonizing.

DC-3 Trio (Daughters of Christ): The DC-3 Trio, based in the greater Chicago area, has been singing together for 18 years at various church and community events.  Mary Kirby, Lorraine Malone, and Dani Martinez make up this talented trio.

Faith’s Journey: Faith’s Journey is a Branson-based trio with a passionate commitment to spreading the Word of the Lord through their skillful vocal harmonies.

Margo Rodewald: Margo is a solo singer who moved to Branson from Paola, Kansas after graduating from Baker University with a degree in music.  Hoping to turn her musical passion into a career, Margo has an affinity for gospel music.

My Brother’s Sister: This brother/sister duet from Coldwater, Mississippi, Taylor and Bethany Pope, have already developed a large fan base over the past two years with their strong vocals and mastery of string instruments.

Peggy Neely Harris: Peggy is a Lincoln Center Institute/Juilliard School trained soloist from St. Louis, who loves to share her passion for Christ with others through her music.

Peter Mauriello: Peter is a worship leader from the greater Chicago area.  With his 4 member Christian rock band, Peter loves to use music to facilitate meaningful experiences for people of all ages.

Rebecca White: Rebecca is a degreed musician from Raymondville, Missouri, who has taught music in public schools and has been continually involved with worship teams at churches and summer camps.

The Full Quiver: The Full Quiver is comprised of the Grubb Family from Collinsville, Texas.  These eight talented musicians and singers carry the gospel message through their versatile mastery of instruments and vocal harmonies.

Troy Johanson: Troy Johanson’s Sacred Fire Ministries from Buffalo, Missouri combines the gospel message in the spirit of traditional native American dance and song.

For the 6th consecutive year, Bob Hubbard of the “Foggy River Boys” and “The Jordanaires,” will emcee the Sing Off. Guest appearances will include Christy Sutherland as the opening act, The Fair Family, saxophonist Gary Dooms, ventriloquist Kerry Miller, and last year’s winner “Changed.”

Reserved seat tickets are a $12 donation for adults and $6 for children 12 and under. For further information or tickets please feel free to contact either the Sight and Sound Theatre or the Branson Tourism Center at 1-800-785-1550.

 

Branson Up Close and Personal With Mickey Gilley

Mickey Gilley during interview.

Mickey Gilley during in depth interview.

National entertainment legend, Mickey Gilley came to Branson in the early 90s and is starting his 26th year in Branson in 2015. Known for his honky-tonk piano playing style and a string of 17 Number 1 hits, this country music icon, even in the face of a paralyzing injury, which would have put a lesser man down, is starring in the Mickey Gilley show. Along with the “Urbanettes” and the “Urban Cowboy Band,” this consummate entertainer, with his genuine talent, warmth and smile provides an unforgettable memorable one of a kind musical entertainment experience.

“Branson – Up Close and Personal,” is a service of the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services, and is intended to provide readers with an up close and personal look at a Branson star or personality. The interview with Mickey Gilley (MG) uses a “Question and Answer” format with the interviewing being done for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) by Gary J. Groman, a 28 year resident of the Branson area, local columnist and free-lance writer.

BTC: What was one of the “”highs” of your life and one of the “lows?”
MG
: High in my life was in 1974 when “Room Full of Roses” hit and went to Number 1 for me. The “low” [with a grin] was trying to follow my cousin Jerry Lee Lewis for 17 years before I had the hit.

BTC: What is your favorite childhood memory?
MG: Telling my sister that I was not going to go to the back of the house while she was sweeping and cleaning the front room floors. I grabbed the door and shook it and she ran after me. The race was on, and I outran her.

BTC: Of all the hits you have had which one is your personal favorite and why?
MG: That’s a hard one to answer because my fans have given me 17 top ten songs. I will say that “Room Full of Roses” has a special place in my heart, “Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time” was the best song ever given to me and that my favorite recording and one of my favorite records is “That’s All That Matters To Me.”

BTC: What one song do you enjoy performing the most?
MG: “Stand By Me,” a beautiful song, from the soundtrack of “The Urban Cowboy.” I am using to close my show this year.

BTC: Of all the professional moments and performances you have had, which has meant the most to you?
MG: When I met Conway Twitty in 1974 and opened a show for him in my night club in Pasadena, TX.

 BTC: Do you have a little known fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
MG: In 1959 I had a chart record, “Is It Wrong For Loving You,” that Kenny Rogers played the base on. Also, probably a lot of people don’t know that I had Commercial Pilot and Instrument Ratings and have flown my airplane for over 8,000 hours. I am also in the process of bringing Gilleys Beer back on the market.

BTC: If you could perform on stage with any other performer, living or dead, who would it be?
MG: Elvis Presley because he was always one of my favorites.

BTC: What is your favorite part in your current Branson show?
MG: When we do the music from the soundtrack of “Urban Cowboy” because it has some great music in it.

BTC: Was your first trip to Branson, business or pleasure?
MG: My first trip to Branson was in 1987 when I played for Mr. Jim Thomas at the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre.

BTC: What was your first impression of Branson?
MG: Was wondering what was going on in this little town that I had never heard of.

BTC: In what year did you open your own theatre?
MG: Jim Thomas opened the “Mickey Gilley Theatre” in 1989 and in 1990 I it took over.

BTC: How many years have you been performing in Branson?
MG: This is my 25th year.

BTC: Are you celebrating that in a special way?
MG: We’ve got a celebration coming up on October 5th. We are going to start at 2:00 p.m. and go until the ending. I don’t know how long that’s going to be, but we have a lot of other people coming in to celebrate with us. I don’t know who they are because it’s supposed to be a surprise.

BTC: Where and when were you born?
MG: I was born in Natchez, MS on March 9, 1936.

BTC: What relationship is Jerry Lee Lewis to you?
MG: First Cousin.

BTC: What relationship is Jimmy Swaggart?
MG: Second Cousin

BTC: Did either, separately or together, have any influence on your decision to become an entertainer?
MG: Jerry Lee Lewis.

BTC: How?
MG: He played piano, sang and had “hits” in the 50’s. I was making $1.25 per hour doing construction work and when I saw the kind of money he was making I thought, “If he can do it I can too” and decided to jump in. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that everyone was going to compare me to my cousin Jerry Lee Lewis. Actually, although I didn’t think about it at the time, in essence, what I was doing was performing a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis and I was successful because I could do his music.

BTC: How long have you been performing professionally?
MG: Since 1957.

BTC: Where and when did you make your first professional appearance?
MG: That’s hard to pinpoint, but the first successful run I had in a “nightclub” was at The “Nesadel Club”, located on Spencer Highway in Pasadena Texas from 1960 to 1970. I worked six nights a week, did four sets a night and played piano, organ and sang along with a little three piece band.

BTC: When did “Gilley’s open?
MG: In 1971. I had decided to throw in the towel as far as recording goes and a partner and I started “Gilleys,” a honkytonk bar located on Spencer Highway not too far from the “Nesadel Club,”. In the first month in business with him I made more money than I had made since I had been in the music business period.

BTC: How did you get back in the recording business?
MG: In 1973 the lady who had the juke boxes in the club wanted me to record the song, “She Called Me Baby All-Night Long.” I told her I had not made a record in three and a half to four years, but I went in and made the recording for her putting “Room Full of Roses” on the flip, “B,” side. It took off locally in the Houston area in 1973 and became my first national hit in 1974.

BTC: What made you decide to open a theatre in Branson?
MG: My friend Jim Thomas thought it would be a good mix with those who were already  performing here and I was ready to get off the road.

BTC: You have been recovering from a horrific injury suffered in 2009. In terms of 100% how close are you to where you want to be?
MG: I’m about 80% recovered. I am walking performing and doing pretty well except that I can’t play the keyboards. My ultimate goal is to play golf again and play the  piano, but I think I will probably make the golf course before I make the piano.

BTC: Anything else you want our readers to know?
MG: I would like them to know that Branson has some great entertainers and shows, we have a lot of wonderful people who are trying very hard to please the people who come to Branson and with all the great things it has to offer is a great place to come to vacation. I would like to invite everyone,  “To come and see us.”

Well I sure know who Billy Dean is now!

 

Bill Dean during opening set.

Bill Dean during opening set.

When I first heard the name Billy Dean in association with him coming to Branson to star in Kenny Rogers’ “The Toy Shoppe” last year I said, “Billy Dean who?” It didn’t take too long for someone to set me straight however, and let me know that he is a Grammy winner who has sold over four million albums, has had 11 top ten singles, five number one hits and that the song, “Somewhere In My Broken Heart,” which he wrote, won a CMA song of the year award. Earlier this year during an interview for an article entitled Branson Up Close and Personal with singer song writer Billy Dean I was impressed with his warmth, friendliness, the story of his career and his family priorities, but I had still had never seen him perform. I had the chance to go to his Billy Dean Live! show last week and all I can say is, “Wow, now I know why everyone in the world except me knew who Billy Dean was when he came to Branson.” He is one great entertainer; no gimmicks, just great music, most of it sung by the man who wrote it, surrounded by a great band, and one of the funniest comedians in Branson. What a unique, wonderful and fun filled two hours.

Billy laughing during a comedy skit with Jarrett Dougherty as Security Officer Billy Club.

Billy laughing during a comedy skit with Jarrett Dougherty as Security Officer Billy Club.

From a musical perspective, the show is presented in a concert format by Billy and his band “The Steel Horses.” He also Emcees and works the comedy with Dougherty as it is artfully woven into the show starting with the appearance of “Security Officer Billy Club” warning him that a woman called “Ima Pain,” who might be stalking him, had been seen out in the parking lot. “Ima” and some other zany characters kept me laughing during strategically placed skits that all tie into Billy already being on stage doing something else as he is “drawn” into the skit. The comedy just seems to naturally fit in with the flow of the show. The show opens with a high energy performance, by Dean and his band “The Steel Horses,” of the John Denver classic “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” one of the few “cover songs” in the show, but one Dean recorded in 2004 that went into the top 30 in “Billboard’s U.S.Hot Country Singles & Tracks Charts.” This production does not rely on “glitz and glamor.” Oh there’s great lighting and some special effects, but the show is primarily about the man, his music and his special ability to relate his stories about his life, career and family to his audience in a manner that they relate to and, even if for just a few moments, become vested in. In most cases, as the writer of most of the songs he sang, he gave an introduction as to how the song came to be or what it means to him. What a joy it was to see his vision come to life as I sat and listened to his music, not just the melody, but the lyrics. Although there were many highlights in this show two that stand out to me in this regard was his performance of “Let Them Be Little” with the video screens showing his children growing up and illustrating the songs point and his introduction to how the song “Good Brown Gravy” explaining how it had been written. It really added to my enjoyment of the performance of this unique and entertaining song. It’s almost like you are feeling the genuineness of the man through his music and the way he interacts with the audience. I loved the performance of his first number one hit, “Only Here For A Little While” and the lyrics. What wonderful wisdom so beautifully expressed. Another favorite moment for me was when Billy and his steel guitar player, Robbie Springfield, performed Merle Haggard’s classic country hit, “You Take Me For Granted.” Its beauty and simplicity made for a special elegant musical moment. As is the case with most Branson shows, the content is suitable for children. In addition, most children will like the color and characters of Jarrett Dougherty and the way Billy, through music and videos relates to his children and his own childhood. Both kids and adults will enjoy finding out, Billy Dean style, why “Billy The Kid” was actually “Harold The Kid.” The “Steel Horse Band,” is composed of Dusty Gross – lead guitar; Jason Pritchett, an “America’s Got Talent Finalist,” – Vocals, acoustic guitar; Robbie Blackwood – Drums; Steve Leech – Bass and Robbie Springfield- Steel, Guitar. The musicians do a fabulous job throughout the show and they are nothing, but pure talent and energy. If you want a show filed with great music, personality, fun, and comedy that will have you leaving entertained and inspired two hours later, wondering how the time passed so quickly, this is the show for you. For additional information or tickets for the Billy Dean Live! show, or any of Branson’s other shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements, please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com           Material Connection

Missed the “shot,” but got the “picture” of Branson’s Doug Gabriel

Doug Gabriel playing his famous "Mufftar." (File Photo)

Doug Gabriel playing his famous “Mufftar.” (File Photo)

Even in Branson things don’t always go as planned, but perhaps for a reason. The plan was to take a couple of photos from about four morning shows all within about an hour for a story I was planning on writing. Things were on schedule as I walked into Doug Gabriel’s #1 Hits Tribute Show hoping to get a couple of quick shots of one of Branson’s premier vocalists performing.

Now you must understand that the success of the plan depended on getting in and out of each show quickly. I arrived in the middle of a pretty funny skit involving the shows comedian, Doug’s son Jordon, known as “The Flying J,” breaking in a new “horn” section comprised of audience volunteers. The new section was to accompany the band, with him as “director” and Doug in performing the Elvis hit, “It’s Now Or Never.” It was hilarious and, wow, “The Flying J” has some neat moves. Reminds me of some of the great moves made by Justin Clark as “Elwood Blues” in the “Blues Brothers” segment of the Legends in Concert Show, but I digress because, as enjoyable as it was, my time to get a picture of Doug performing was fast passing by.

“What luck,” I thought when Doug walked out on the stage with his “Mufftar.” It’s a one of a kind instrument made out of a 1969 Ford Thunderbird muffler by Doug’s dad, Don, when Doug first decided he wanted to play the guitar as a child. It has a very pleasant distinctive sound and he announced that he was going to play both parts of “Dueling Banjoes.” There he was, just where I wanted him, playing the very instrument he has made famous. I lined up the shot and took it only to find out that I had not put the memory card in the camera. Well so much for the pictures for the big “Branson Morning Show Story.”

As Doug played however, it didn’t make any difference. I like the sound of the Mufftar and the way Doug was playing the song so I thought, “Let’s just set a spell and listen,” and boy am I glad I did. Just about the time I figured Doug was through playing I saw something that I had not seen before as the band members all came forward with instruments they had made from car parts and joined him for one of the most exciting, unique and entertaining renditions of “Dueling Banjos” I have ever heard. Doug later told me that the band members had made the instruments originally to surprise him for his 50th birthday and that he liked it so much he kept “The Car Parts Band” in the show.

As I listened to him sing, “Unchained Melody” and experienced his performance of “Malaguena” on the acoustical guitar and “Chariots of Fire” on the piano I “got the picture” and was reminded of why Doug Gabriel has won so many Branson entertainment awards, been a Branson entertainment staple for over 29 years and, along with his lovely wife, the very talented Cheryl Gabriel, are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their own show this year. I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Doug Gabriel’s #1 Hits Tribute Show involves the whole Gabriel family, with son Jordon doing the comedy, Josh playing drums and Jasmine doing vocals. It is truly a show that the whole family will enjoy and relate to.

Might not have gotten the pictures, but perhaps today was meant to simply enjoy the moment. That I surely did.

A unique Branson entertainment experience of legendary proportions

 

Kenney Chesney, recreated by Todd Bradshaw, with dancers having "A Beer In Mexico."

Kenney Chesney, recreated by Todd Bradshaw, with dancers having “A Beer In Mexico.”

Is the Super Bowl just another football game or does it occupy a legendary place in the annals of football? In like fashion, Branson’s Legends in Concert occupies a legendary place in the annals of tribute artist shows not only in Branson, but worldwide. Where else, except Legends in Concert in Branson, can someone find recreations of Kenny Chesney, The Blues Brothers, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Whitney Houston and Elvis Presley ensconced in one spectacular entertainment production with talented dancers, great musicians, colorful costumes and great special effects and sets? The answer is, “Nowhere” and during the first week of July I had the chance to experience this wonderful production first hand.

It is obvious, that the “Legends” being recreated are the focal point of the show, but my enjoyment of the show, as a total entertainment experience, was greatly enhanced by the shows dancers, backup vocalists and the band. The shows dancers are Larry Miller, Jamie Curry, Stephanie Young, Cindy Dardas, Elisha Conner and Desta Pritchett with Conner and Pritchett also providing backup vocals. The band is composed of Kevin Allen, musical director and lead guitar; Eddie Howard, drums; Brian Zerbe, bass guitar and Lyman Clark, keyboards.

Katy Perry performing with Dancer in one of the many colorful costumes she wears during her set.

Katy Perry performing with the dancers in one of the many colorful costumes she wears during her set.

Each of the “Legends” being recreated has their own style and type of music. The talent, versatility, and energy of the dancers and band is beautiful to see and hear as they seamlessly adapt to the different styles and genres of music being performed by the individual super stars being recreated. Although there are many such occasions during the show, one that really stuck out in my mind came during the “Katy Perry” set when she was performing her “Part of Me /Dance Break/ET Medley.” The dancing, lighting and special effects were stunning and that’s just one number in one set.

Each of the performing “Legends” or “Superstars” does a set of four plus numbers including some of their biggest hits. Here’s a synopsis of each, in order of appearance, along with one of my favorite numbers from each set:

Kenney Chesney, recreated by Todd Bradshaw, a Branson favorite, starts the show off in grand style doing a number of Chesney’s top hits including “When the Sun Goes Down,” “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and others. Ok, I just have to say it, “I don’t know why ‘she thought his tractor was sexy,’ but I know why I think his tractor is sexy and so will you after seeing and hearing it performed Legends in Concert style. My favorite number from his set was “You Had Me From Hello.” Not only was it a great job on a very beautiful song, but he invited folks to come down to the front and dance to it which many did. It’s hard to describe, but it was a special moment.

Another thing that’s really neat, and goes on periodically throughout the show, is the large screens on either side of the theatre showing some of the original artists performing, minus sound, while the recreator performs. The similarities and mannerisms between the original performances and what I saw and heard going on live before my very eyes was uncanny.

Justin Timberlake recreated by Scott Jordon during his set.

Justin Timberlake recreated by Scott Jordon during his set.

The Blues Brothers, performed by Justin Clark as Elwood Blues and Bucky Heard as Jake Blues, are permanent Branson cast members, but no matter how many times I have seen them perform I am always amazed at their performance. “From their first number to the last they are nothing, but pure energy and entertainment and a joy to see and hear.” My favorite number from their set was “Shout” because it ties the talents of the two Blue Brothers together with the dancers, back up vocalists and band into another extremely energetic and entertaining production number.

Katy Perry, recreated by Stacey Whitton, gave a colorful high energy performance of some of Perry’s top hits including “California Gurls,” “Part of Me” and others with some of the quickest and “neatest” costume changes I have ever seen a vocalist make on a Branson stage. The use of the dancers, and the special effects during this set, particularly as noted above, coupled with her performance, and costuming really made for an exciting and colorful set.

My favorite number was her performance of “Firework” with her inspirational introduction and invitation for the “kids” in the audience to come up on stage and “help” her, which many did. I don’t know that I have ever seen the younger crowd in an audience as excited in a Legends show as I did during this set; they just loved her. Now I have to confess, I honestly did not know who “Katy Perry” was, but I do now.

Justin Timberlake, recreated by Scott Jordan, did a beautiful job performing a number of his top hits including “Suit and Tie, “Mirrors,” “My Love” and others. As the side videos played and I compared his sound, looks and mannerisms to those of Timberlake himself I was amazed. This guy is good. My favorite number was his performance of “SexyBack” with the shows dancers and backup vocalists.

Cynthia Minx as Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You."

Cynthia Minx as Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You.”

Whitney Houston, recreated by Cynthia Minx, started her set with a beautiful powerful rendition of “Every Woman” that set the tenor for the set. With Whitney Houston it was all about the voice and this lady has the voice. I just sat there and listened in joyful bliss as she sang “I Wanna Dance;” “Greatest Love,” which she dedicated to the children, and “I’ll Always Love You” which blew my socks off. What an extraordinary vocal performance!

Elvis was performed by Dean Z who won the national “2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest,” sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. As he performs a number of Elvis’ hits, from “Jail House Rock” to “If I can Dream,” it’s easy to see why. My favorite part was when he and the band had an informal jam session and took requests from the audience including, among others, “Steamroller Blues,” which Elvis added to his concerts in the 1970s. Although Dean Z lives in Branson and has been a permanent Branson cast member for a number of years he is traveling to other Legends in Concert venues at various times this year, but is currently performing in Branson.

Legends in Concert, with just the mini concerts of its “superstar” impersonators, would be great entertainment in itself. However, with the addition of colorful costuming, the band and dancers all seamlessly choreographed into the performances of the “superstars” the show becomes an entertainment production and experience of legendary proportions that truly has something for everyone. It truly is a unique Branson entertainment experience of legendary proportions.

For additional information or tickets for Legends in Concert or any of Branson’s other shows, attractions and activities or for lodging arrangements please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by either calling their toll free number 1-800-785-1550 or through their website www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

 

 

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