Category Archives: Entertainment

Five special ways for kids to visit with Santa Claus in Branson

Santa waiting to talk with children in Branson about what they want for Christmas.

Santa waiting to talk with children in Branson about what they want for Christmas.

When he’s not supervising his elves at the North Pole, Santa loves to spend time in Branson where he can not only rest and be entertained, prior to his long night’s journey and work on Christmas Eve, but do what he loves to do most. That’s meeting all the children who live in Branson and those visiting, during Ozark Mountain Christmas, to find out what they want him to bring them for Christmas. Here’s a list of five places and the times* where kids can meet Santa Claus in Branson:

1. Branson Tourism Center: Give the kids a break, and help get them into the Christmas spirit, on Black Friday, November 25, 2016, with a visit to see Santa Claus at the Branson Tourism Center, one of his favorite places outside of the North Pole. After they visit with Santa, and have the chance to tell him what they would like him to bring them for Christmas, they will receive a complimentary souvenir photo of their visit. It’s all free and there are no photos to buy. It’s just the Branson Tourism Center’s way of saying, “Merry Christmas!”

2.  Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas: Santa will be in his workshop on Santa Claus Lane through Dec. 23, where he’ll be waiting for children to come and tell him what they are hoping he will bring them for Christmas this year. Santa and his elves will be there from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM on Thursday, Friday and Sunday; except for Thanksgiving Day where he will be there from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM; and Saturdays and November 25 when he will be in his shop from 2:30 PM to 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM.

3. Branson Landing Town Square: Santa will be found in his “Christmas Tree House,” underneath the 50 foot Christmas Tree at the Town Square, from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM Sunday through Thursday, except for Thanksgiving Day and from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, except for Nov. 23 and Dec. 24 when the hours will be 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Santa takes a break from 3:00 PM to 3:45 PM each day to feed his reindeer.

4. Kringles Christmas Store: Until Dec. 23 Santa is scheduled to visit Kringles in the Grand Village Shops Wednesday through Sunday from at least 11:00 AM through 4:00 PM and later some days. Please call (417) 337-5426 if there are any questions.

5. Bass Pro Shops at Branson Landing: Santa will be at “Santa’s Wonderland,” filled with free games, crafts and activities, at Bass Pro Shops until December 24. He will be available weekdays from 5:00 PM to 8 PM through December 3 and from 10:AM to 8:00 PM December 4 through December 22. On weekends, he will be available from 10:00 AM until 8:00 PM, on Saturday, and from Noon to 5:00 PM on Sundays. Thanksgiving Week he will be available from 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM November 23; 10:00 AM to 5 PM Thanksgiving Day, 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM on November 26 and 27; and from Noon to 5:00 PM on November 27. As he prepares to return to the North Pole Santa will be available from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM on December 23, and from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on December 24. Each child will be given a free 4×6 studio quality portrait.

They are all free, except for Silver Dollar City where a visit with Santa is included in the price of admission as part of its  “Old Time Christmas Festival.” Ho, Ho, Ho, and a Merry Christmas to all!

* Schedules subject to change

Five reasons why Thanksgiving in Branson is so fascinating!

From the splendor or millions of Christmas Lights, to a Thanksgiving meal aboard a luxury yacht, shows from our families to yours, and world class shopping Thanksgiving in Branson is fun, unique, and inspiring.

The splendor or millions of Christmas Lights, a Thanksgiving meal aboard a luxury yacht, shows from our families to yours, world class shopping, and so much more help make Thanksgiving in Branson the unique fascinating event it is.

“From feasting, to entertaining, shopping, and so much more, Branson’s Thanksgiving cornucopia is overflowing with fun, excitement, adventure, and the spirit of Christmas,” said Preston Garrison, Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center. Garrison suggests five reasons why spending Thanksgiving in Branson is a fascinating way to celebrate Thanksgiving while having fun and making special family memories that could last a lifetime:

1. Bountiful Choice of Thanksgiving Meals: From the traditional Thanksgiving fare like that served at the Welk Resort’s Stage Door Restaurant to mouthwatering Thanksgiving buffets and brunches such as those served at Grand Country, College of the Ozark’s Keeter Center, and the Chateau on the Lake, non-traditional Thanksgiving food such as the Italian cuisine at Florentina’s Italian Ristorante, and dozens more Branson diners will have a bountiful choice Thanksgiving dining options for every pallet and budget including a scrumptious traditional Thanksgiving dinner served aboard Main Street Lake Cruises’ Landing Princess, amid the luxury of a 100 foot yacht, while cruising on beautiful Lake Taneycomo.

2. Branson’s Great Shows: Although some of Branson’s shows will not be performing on Thanksgiving Day, many of its most popular shows will, including the Acrobats of China, Amazing Pets, Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganza, Grand Jubilee Hughes Brothers Christmas Show, Legends in Concert, Million Dollar Quartet, New Jersey Nights, Puttin’ on the Ritz, The Haygoods, The Lettermen, Shoji Tabuchi, and many more. The full complement of Branson shows, including Billy Dean In Concert With Jarrett, Christmas Wonderland, Clay Cooper’s Country Express, Moses, Presleys’ Country Jubilee, SIX, The Texas Tenors, will resume their normal performance schedules for the remainder of the season on November 25.

3.  Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas: Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas Festival is one of America’s top holiday events. Its spectacular display of five million Christmas lights throughout the park, entertainment, parade, Broadway style shows, and much more has been recognized and featured nationally by USA Today, CNN Travel, The Travel Channel, Good Morning America and many others. One of the many features of this festival happens each evening at dusk, in the Square on Main Street with the lighting of the 5-Story Special Effects Christmas Tree. As it sparkles to life with its 350,000 colorful sparkling LED lights, choreographed to Christmas music, and making over 100 light changes per second; it signals the beginning of Rudolph’s Holly Jolly™ Christmas Light Parade led by “the most famous reindeer of all.” Rudolph leads a spectacular parade of “nine musical, lighted floats, illuminated with 200,000 ultra-bright LED lights accompanied. “by 33 colorful costumed characters, including Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, 14-foot moose characters, 12-foot tall elves and 10-foot candy canes, plus penguins, elves and a troupe of marching wooden soldiers” that will amaze and delight all ages.

4. Fun, Attractions and Activities for Everyone: Many of Branson’s attractions will be open on Thanksgiving Day, and all over the weekend, including the extremely popular Branson Titanic Museum Attraction, as it celebrates its unique and beautiful Winter Celebration filled with beautiful decorations, unique shopping, and different special events, including, over Thanksgiving Weekend, 1500 luminaries casting a beautiful glow over its entrance. How about three spectacular drive through light displays including Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights, Ozark Mountain Christmas Lights and Village, and Branson Gift of Lights; a round of golf at one of Branson’s championship courses, or any one of dozens more exciting attractions and activities?

5. Shopping: Branson provides a world class shopping experience anytime of the year, and that is obvious over Thanksgiving, as Black Friday, and Christmas shopping takes center stage. Branson’s major shopping areas, such as Branson Landing, Tanger Outlets, The Shoppes at Branson Meadows, historic downtown Branson, Grand Village Shops, Branson Mill Craft Village and its more than 250 different boutiques, specialty shops, national chain stores, flea markets, craft malls, and famous-name outlet stores provide a wonderful opportunity to “shop till you drop” while making it easier to find that special gift for that special person. National chain stores in Branson will have the same Thanksgiving sale hours as elsewhere, and just about all Branson retailers and shops will be having Black Friday specials. Not surprisingly, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year in Branson.

For additional information on Thanksgiving in Branson, Ozark Mountain Christmas or for information or tickets for any of Branson’s shows and attractions, or for lodging arrangements, please contact the Branson Tourism Center by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website Branson Tourism Center.com.

 

Raiding the Country Vault will blow your socks off!

Colt Prather and Melody Hart during their spectacular performance of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia."

Colt Prather and Melody Hart during their spectacular performance of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

Branson’s newest major show, Raiding the Country Vault, has only been open for a few short weeks and it’s the talk of Branson. For those who haven’t heard, six words pretty well sum up what all the talking’s about, “It will blow your socks off!” After seeing the show on July 7, I sure had to grab my socks and put them back on.

Devoted to traditional country music, it is an extremely well-produced show, presented by a cast who are not only masters at their craft, but obviously have a love and enthusiasm for the music they are performing. And perform it they do, with the title of an early George Straight hit, Give It All We Got Tonight, song sung early on by Billy Yates, describing the energy and passion this extremely talented cast puts forth from beginning to end.

It would take quite a bit of space to list all their professional accomplishments so, suffice it to say that they are extremely talented, well rooted in traditional country music, and, except for one, are based in Nashville and other points outside of Branson. Led by Michael Peterson, Musical Director, Guitarist, and Lead Vocals; it consists of Billy Yates, Lead Vocals and Guitar, a Missouri Native who co-wrote the Grammy Award winning song, “Choices” and the George Jones Classic, I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair;  Colt Prather, Lead Vocals and Lead Guitar; Michael Peterson, Lead Vocals and Guitar; Derrek C. Phillips, Drums, Scott Kwapiszeski, Pedal Steel and Banjo; Danielle Peck, Lead Vocals; Michelle Poe, Lead Vocals and Bass; Steve Ramsey, Keyboards; and Melody Hart, Lead Vocals and Fiddle, who has been a Branson favorite since she started playing the fiddle and singing in Branson in 1989.

The show includes a “lite” story line involving “Roadie” Taylor Kidd, played by Actor/comedian Luke Ashlocke, as he shares his back stage experiences about what happens on tour. Ashlocke also plays the part of country music star, Ricky Montana as he is interviewed by the effervescent Jackie Daniels, star of her TV show, Road Tales, but the shows primary focus is on legendary country music and those who made it so.

Danielle Peck and Billy Yates performing the classic Dolly Parton-Kenny Rogers duet of "Islands in the Stream."

Danielle Peck and Billy Yates performing the classic Dolly Parton-Kenny Rogers duet of “Islands in the Stream.”

“BobC,” who saw the show, and commented about it on the Show Forum of WWW.1Branson.Com, summed the result up so well, when he wrote, “Raiding the Country Vault is a master production of the highest quality and it is devoted to traditional country music. While staying true to the traditional country sound, the music is presented with enthusiasm and attitude.” As three large screens display the name of artist who made the song famous, their history, and other information about the song itself, the cast reaches into the “Vault” and performs each, turning legendary songs from the past into what is easily one of the most amazing entertainment experiences in Branson.

Some might ask, “How can a group of musicians and vocalists, even those as talented as these, playing and singing songs from the past, provide a relevant amazing entertainment experience today?” The answer is simple, “Because they can!” From the beginning to end, this wonderful country music journey has one WOW performance after another, and it’s not just their considerable talent. Although intangible, when you sense and feel their commitment and passion to the music they are performing, it takes an already great entertainment experience and makes it an absolutely amazing one.

For each show that I review I list three highlights and, it will be no different here, but I have to say, that very seldom, have I had so many highlights to pick from. Billy Yates’ great performance of the George Jones hit, I Don’t Need No Rocking Chair had special meaning to me on two counts. Billy co-wrote it and, to me, there’s something special about hearing someone perform a song they have written and, it was the last song I ever heard, Branson legend, Lloyd Presley perform. The performance of the Charlie Daniels’ hit, Devil Went Down to Georgia, featuring Melody Hart on the fiddle, Colt Prather, on the guitar, and Billy Yates on vocal, was one of the most powerful and exciting versions of that song I have ever heard and Danielle Peck’s performance of the Tammy Wynette hit, Stand By Your Man, was beautiful.

It ended all too quickly, and is a show that should absolutely not be missed. For additional information or tickets for Raiding the Country Vault, please feel free to contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services; call 1-800-785-1550 or visit www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

Is Pokémon Go actually Branson’s most awesome new show or attraction?

The Branson Tourism Center is one of many PokéStops in Branson.

The Branson Tourism Center is one of many PokéStops in Branson.

“Well, not really, but it’s not because it is not one of the most popular things people are doing while in Branson right now,” said Preston Garrison, the Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest providers of tourism services and information. “It’s because Pokémon Go is not a Branson show or attraction, but a new game people play on their mobile phones as they are out and about searching for a ‘Pokémon,’” he added.

Since being introduced, less than a week ago, the growth of Pokémon Go, a new augmented reality exploration game that is played on mobile phones, has been nothing less than phenomenal. It’s a game that requires players to actually leave their homes and search for “Pokémon,” and that’s a plural thing, as in their numbers stretch into infinity. As they travel around Branson, or almost anywhere else, their phone will signal when “Pokémon” are near which will generally be near a “PokéStop” or “Gym.” Players “spin” and get rewards such as Pokéballs which can then be used to try to capture a Pokémon. There’s a lot more to the game than that, but, at least initially, the main objective is to capture “Pokémon.”

The neat thing is that playing the game can be done as an activity in itself, or as many do, played in conjunction with doing other things and deciding if and when to respond to a Pokémon sighting when their phone signals. The Branson Tourism Center (BTC) is a PokéStop, as are, we believe, many of Branson’s shows, attractions, and businesses. Connar Dougharty, one of BTC’s Branson based Travel Planners, who is playing the game, said that many of the people checking into BTC are playing the game and that they have noticed people “driving through” the parking lot stopping to play.

So, while Pokémon Go is an extremely popular activity  it’s just another thing that Branson visitors can enjoy along with everything else Branson has to offer. One never knows though, there might be a Pokémon waiting as you pull into the parking lot of a Branson theatre or attraction, but even if there isn’t, there will be fun, adventure, and excitement.

The Best of Branson July 2016 Insider Highlights

Part of the excitement and action of Buckets N Boards.

Part of the excitement and action of Buckets N Boards.

“With so many families vacationing in Branson during July, the sound of people laughing and having fun together is just about at every turn, as they enjoy all that Branson has to offer,” said Preston Garrison, the Director of Operations Branson Tourism Center. “From the delightful sandy beach on Table Rock Lake, to the new 150-foot tall Branson Ferris Wheel, acrobats, amazing pets, tigers, and over 100 live shows and other attractions Branson has a ‘lot’ of something for everyone in your family to enjoy,” he added.

In addition to everything else Branson offers, here’s our highlight list, containing some of the best of the additional events going on in Branson during July, including our Featured Show, Limited Engagement, and Event of the Month:

Featured Show of the Month: Dublin’s Irish Tenors and The Celtic Ladies brings some of Ireland’s best to Branson!  This exciting production combines two great groups of performers; four beautiful ladies with angelic voices and five of the country’s finest tenors performing a unique blend of traditional folk ballads and classical and adult contemporary favorites.

Featured Limited Engagement of the Month: Buckets N Boards delivers Branson entertainment that easily stands out in a long list of excellent shows!  Co-creators Matt and Gareth share their impeccable and slightly wacky skills that include precise percussion on a variety of surfaces, accompanied by delightfully silly songs, tap dancing, and lots of laughter!

 Featured Event of the Month: There just has to be two this month. Branson has a number of outstanding fireworks displays over the Fourth of July Weekend. Click here for more information. In addition, Santa Claus is coming to Branson in a big way as hundreds of Santa Clauses and Mrs. Santa Clauses come to Branson for the 10th Annual Discover Santa Convention July 6 through 10. Don’t miss the “Parade of Red Suits,” as they parade down the Branson Landing Promenade together starting at 8:00 AM on July 7. It is one of the largest gatherings of Santa’s anywhere and is something unique and wonderful for families to enjoy together.

LIMITED ENGAGEMENT PERFORMANCES (Sorted by starting date)

Jul 1: Crystal Gayle & TG Sheppard
Jul 1-Jul 16: Rockapella
Jul 1-29: Prince Ivan
Jul 1-Jul 31: Buckets N Boards
Jul 15: Tanya Tucker
Jul 23: Wynonna Judd

SPECIAL EVENT HIGHLIGHTS (Sorted by starting date.)

Jul 1 – Jul 24: Silver Dollar City Star Spangled Summer Festival
Jul 1 – Jul 31: 2016 World Exclusive Exhibit – Titanic Museum Attraction
Jul 2 – Jul 4: List of 4th of July Fire Works Displays and Celebrations
Jul 6 – Jul 10: Branson Star Power at Branson Convention Center
Jul 6 – Jul 10: Discover Santa 2016 Convention
Jul 7: Discover Santa 2016 – “The Parade of Red Suits”
Jul 9: Promenade Pop-Up Shop
Jul 16: Ozarks Teen Challenge – Home of Hope 5K
Jul 16: Jubilation Jazz Big Band Performance
Jul 17 – Jul 23: FASA’s Girls World Series 14U to 18U
Jul 19 – Jul 24: Showbiz National Talent Competition – 2016 National Finals
Jul 24 – Jul 30: FASA’s Girls World Series 7U to 12U
Jul 30 – Aug 5: Ball Parks of America Bring the Lumber Baseball Tournament

For additional information on these events, or 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 visiting www.BransonTourismCenter.com, or calling 1-800-785-1550.

An amazing swift change made from the classroom to the Legends

Elizabeth Scarbourough performing her Taylor Swift tribute at Legends in Concert.

Elizabeth Scarbourough performing her Taylor Swift tribute at Legends in Concert.

One of the reasons that Legends in Concert is “the world’s greatest live tribute show” is the infusion of quality new tribute artists, and the stars they pay tribute to, into its lineup of “legends.” Elizabeth Scarbourough and her Taylor Swift tribute is a wonderful example. In the summer of 2015, as she was concluding her engagement at Branson’s Legends in Concert, she was kind enough to share her amazing story, and we held it until now so there would be a tie-in with her 2016 summer appearance at Branson’s Legends in Concert.

“Branson-Up Close and Personal,” is a service of the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) and is intended to provide readers with an unprecedented look at a Branson celebrity or personality. Except as noted below, this interview with Elizabeth Scarbourough (ES) was conducted, in August, 2015, for BTC by Gary J. Groman, a 30 year resident of the Branson area, local columnist and freelance writer, and is presented in a Question and Answer format:

BTC: When were you born?
ES: April 9, 1993

BTC: Where?
ES: Charleston, SC.

BTC: You have graduated from college fairly recently. Where and when?
ES: The University of South Carolina on May 11, 2015.

BTC: In what was your degree?
ES: Public Relations from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Minor in Spanish.

BTC: How do you prefer your act to be categorized? i.e. Impersonator, Tribute Artist etc.
ES: I prefer Tribute Artist, because everything we do is live and we are proud of that.

BTC: Were you singing and dancing before you first became interested in Taylor Swift?
ES: No.

BTC: How old were you when you first became interested in Taylor Swift?
ES: I was 12 and I heard her sing “Tim McGraw” from her first single on the radio.

BTC: What was the first Taylor Swift song you did and how many chords did you play?
ES: “Love Story” and I played four chords.

BTC: How did your first Taylor Swift guitar evolve?
ES: Well, I kind of borrowed it from my church on non-returning grounds. It was an old guitar without strings that had been in a closet for over a year without any use. My brother who was with the Praise Team said, “Take it and learn to play.” I took it, sanded it down, put silver glitter all over it to make it look like her diamond guitar and restrung it.

BTC: When did you first perform publicly?
ES: It was in school at a Halloween Carnival where I appeared as Taylor Swift and played, “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.”

BTC: What made you decide to turn professional?
ES: I had been doing kids’ birthday parties at home until I went to college, but when I started college I had to build a new audience so I decided to market my Taylor Swift skills by putting up a Facebook page. I put up TaylorSwiftTribute with a few videos that I took myself. I got some bookings working kids’ birthday parties and nursing homes, but it resulted in getting a call from Legends in Concert in Myrtle Beach in early in 2014.

BTC: How long have you been performing Taylor Swift professionally?
ES: If you go from the very beginning to right now it’s been just about a year, but for ten months of that year I was finishing my degree in school.

BTC: Where did you perform your first gig as Taylor Swift?
ES: It was on my spring break of 2014, at BorderFest in Hidalgo, TX.

BTC: How long have you been performing Taylor Swift for Legends in Concert?
ES: Last summer [2014] I performed for Legends in Concert in Myrtle Beach, SC. My contract expired just a few days before I returned to school for my final year.

BTC: What’s the most challenging part of portraying the character of Taylor Swift?
ES:  Balancing the up to the minute details about what Taylor is currently doing or the way she looks with the general look, actions, and perceptions that my general audiences expect.

BTC: Have you ever met Taylor Swift personally or been to her concerts?
ES: I have never met her personally, but I have been to some of her concerts and am going to one in September [2015.]

BTC: Before we go into the more Branson related questions is there anything you would like to add?
ES: It’s like a dream come true for me. I would have been happy just playing birthday parties and nursing homes, but I am so happy that Legends picked me up.

BTC: Is this your first time performing in Branson?
ES: Yes.

BTC: Had you ever been to Branson before?
ES: No.

BTC: When you found out you were coming to Branson, for the first time what did you expect?
ES: I had no idea.

BTC: Had you ever heard of Branson and if so what had you heard?
ES: Yes. That it was a small country version of Las Vegas.

BTC: Now that you’ve been here for a while, what is your first impression of Branson?
ES:  I think that it’s a really neat place with special character, a small town feel, and a lot going on.

BTC: What do you like best about performing in Branson?
ES: The people are so nice and appreciative.

BTC: What’s your favorite thing to do in Branson when you are not performing?
ES: I enjoy hiking the local trails and do that about every day.

BTC: If you could perform or meet with any entertainer/person (living or deceased), outside of Taylor Swift who would it be and why?
ES: The Beatles because they are the definition of a legend.

BTC:  Do you have a favorite hobby or activity and what is it?
ES: Hiking with “Rerun,” my Black Lab.

BTC: Do you have a little known fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy?
ES: I am the exact same height as Taylor Swift.

BTC: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while performing in front of an audience?
ES: I was performing and one of my boots split open so I had to stop and take them off in the middle of the set. I gave them to a little girl in the audience and finished the set in a pair of mismatched polka dot socks.

BTC: What part of your current act do you enjoy performing the most and why?
ES: The song “Blank Space” because its high energy and dramatic interaction with our male dancers.

BTC: What is your favorite Taylor Swift song and why?
ES: “Wildest Dreams” because it’s so beautiful, romantic, and leaves you questioning.

BTC: What is your favorite non Taylor Swift song and why?
ES: I love Jason Pritchett’s new song, “Good Show.”

BTC: Where do you go when you leave Branson?
ES: I will be performing for five months in Las Vegas with Legends in Concert.

The following was from a short interview conducted by telephone on March 28, 2016, to bring things current:

BTC: How did the Las Vegas gig go and what have you been doing since you left Branson?
ES: It went great and I have, been working with Legends in Concert since I left Branson. Currently, I am doing a spring engagement with them at Myrtle Beach.

BTC: When will you be returning to Branson?
ES: I finish up in Myrtle Beach and then come to Branson for the most of the summer season starting June 1.

BTC: Are you looking forward to coming back to Branson?
ES: I absolutely love Branson and am so excited about coming back.

Jeannie Horton, General Manager of the Legends in Concert in Branson, said that they are just so excited to have Elizabeth back with her Taylor Swift tribute for the summer season because it’s a perfect fit for the younger family audiences that normally attend at that time of the year. Horton points out that the Taylor Swift tribute will be performed from June 1 through August 15.

For additional information or tickets for the Legends in Concert  show 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 .

Branson Up-Close-and-Personal with Grand Jubilee star Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown performing "When I Think About Angels" in Grand Jubilee.

Jackie Brown during recent Grand Jubilee performance of “When I Think About Angels.”

Grand Country’s Grand Jubilee is one of Branson’s most popular shows, combining the vocals of New South, the comedy of “Jim Dandy,” the MC mastery of Mike Patrick, and the award-winning vocals of Jackie Brown into two hours of fantastic entertainment! Recently, Jackie took time from her busy schedule as an entertainer and mom to share a bit of herself, and her career, with us in an interview for “Branson – Up Close and Personal.”

“Branson – Up Close and Personal” is a service of 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 Jackie Brown (JB) uses a “Question and Answer” format, and was conducted for Branson Tourism Center (BTC) by Gary Groman, a 30 year resident of the Branson area, and a local columnist and freelance writer.

BTC: Where were you born?
JB: Phoenix, AZ

BTC: When?
JB: January 23, 1974

BTC: When did you first start singing?
JB: When I was four.

BTC: When did you first sing publicly?
JB: I was four and sang in church for a Mother’s Day Pageant with my mom.

BTC: Do you remember the name of the song?
JB: “Jesus Loves Me” and “You Light Up My Life.”

BTC: Do you have any formal vocal training?
JB: No. My mom was an elementary school music teacher. I just followed her lead, learned from her choir practices, and taught myself from some of the things that she taught me.

BTC: What is your favorite genre of music?
JB: I have no one favorite because I like so many different styles.

BTC: What is your favorite song to listen to?
JB: I love to listen to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but outside of Christmas and “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” I don’t have a favorite

BTC: What is your favorite song to sing?
JB: I’ve always liked singing “I Will Always Love You,” which I sing in the show this year in a duet with Luke [Menard], or as a solo if he isn’t here.

 BTC: When did you realize that you wanted to sing professionally?
JB: When my mom and I visited Opryland in Nashville when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old; we went and saw the show “Country Music USA.” I told my mom, “I want to do that. That’s what I want to do for a living.” We went back to Opryland when I was about 20, I auditioned, was hired, and the rest is history.

BTC: When did you first start performing professionally?
JB: Although we had a local band in Phoenix, I consider Opryland as the start of my professional career.

BTC: Do you remember the first number you performed professionally?
JB: I do, it was “Independence Day,” by Martina McBride.

BTC: Where else did you perform prior to coming to Branson?
JB: Dollywood, Disney Cruise Lines, and Country Tonite in Pigeon Forge.

BTC: While there, did you get to meet and perform with some country music legends?
JB: Actually we did; at Opryland I got to perform with some of the Grand Ole Opry stars such as Porter Wagoner, Jeannie Seely, Margo Smith, and others.

BTC: Did you ever get the chance to meet Dolly Parton?
JB: At Dollywood, she was the producer of the show, which was the story of her life. She worked with us and when she was in town she would sometimes surprise us, and come sing on stage with us.

BTC: Do you have a little-known fact about yourself that you think our readers would be interested in?
JB: While at Opryland, they picked me to be “Country Rose Barbie.” It’s the only Grand Ole Opry Barbie Doll that Mattel ever had. They hired two of us who looked alike, one to be the interviewer spokesperson, and me to sing. We were each dressed like the doll and I was the singer who introduced her on national TV, on the Grand Old Opry Show singing the Loretta Lynn song, “You’re Looking At Country.” It was a lot of fun!

BTC: While in Pigeon Forge, did you meet anyone else who was to be a large part of your life?
JB: Yes, I met my future husband, guitar player Matt Hanshaw, while we were working there.

BTC: What brought you to Branson?
JB: Matt had come to Branson while I was still working at Country Tonite in Pigeon Forge. It was a sudden move. He got the call in Pigeon Forge that the job was available on a Saturday, and he was in Branson on Monday. With our schedules, I didn’t get to see him for three months when we each drove part of the way and met in Paducah, Kentucky. I finished out my contract with Country Tonite and moved to Branson in January of 2004. Matt and I were married on August 23, 2004.

BTC: How long have you been performing in Branson?
JB: I started performing at Country Tonite in Branson in March of 2004.

BTC: What was your first impression of Branson?
JB: How compact the strip and its entertainment is compared to Pigeon Forge, and the “non-prideful” proudness it emanated.

BTC: What is your favorite thing to do in Branson when you are not performing?
JB: Watch movies at home after the show.

BTC: What do you like best about performing in Branson?
JB: The loyalty and family atmosphere of the entertainment community.

BTC: Prior to becoming the featured female vocalist in Grand Jubilee, what other Branson shows have you performed in, if any?
JB: Country Tonite, Legends in Concert, and The Entertainers at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre.

BTC: If you could perform or meet with any one entertainer/person (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
JB: Amy Grant. She’s the I one grew up listening to, and I have always loved her style and voice. I would give anything to be able to sing in a duet with her someday.

BTC: Do you have a favorite Amy Grant song?
JB: “If These Walls Could Speak.”

BTC: In your career, of all the performances you have been in, no matter how big or small, which one personally meant the most to you and why?
JB: Singing as “Country Rose Barbie” on the Grand Old Opry Show.

BTC: Do you have a favorite hobby or activity, and what is it?
JB: I love do-it-yourself projects and yard sales.

BTC: Do you have a “little known” fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy?
JB: I love to cook when I have time. People just love my “Baked Chicken Nachos.”

BTC: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in front of an audience?
JB: There’s a lot to pick from, but one that stands out is the day I forgot to zip my skirt while performing in the Country Tonite Show here in Branson. I had hooked it, but forgot to zip it for a bluegrass number that required a lot of movement and, every time I turned or pivoted around, unbeknownst to me, the audience got a view of my derriere and thong. Clay Cooper, who was performing in the number with me, whispered, “Your skirt’s unzipped.” I was horrified and immediately reached behind and zipped it. Adding to my embarrassment was the fact that the mike was still in my hand when I reached behind to do it, and caught the sound of the zipper going up. An embarrassing situation became more so, and I was as red as the red skirt I was wearing.

BTC: How long have you been performing with Grand Jubilee?
JB: I started with the Grand Jubilee in 2008. For many of those years, I also performed in the Comedy Jamboree, but have not been doing that for the past couple of years so that I can spend more time with our son.

BTC: What part of this year’s do you personally enjoy performing the most?
JB: Performing “Let It Go,” from Disney’s “Frozen.”

BTC: Why?
JB: It’s a little different number than we normally do in the show and challenging because of the costume change with all its accessories, but I really like it because of the audience reaction; especially the kids, they love it.

BTC: Why should someone coming to Branson plan to see the Grand Jubilee?
JB: Because it’s one of Branson’s best kept entertainment secrets. Although not a secret to us, when people see the show for the first time, a typical reaction we hear a lot is, “Wow, we were blown away, we didn’t know it was going to be this good!”

For additional information or tickets for the Grand Jubilee, or any of Branson’s shows and attractions, or for lodging arrangements, please contact the Branson Tourism Center by calling 1-800-785-1550, or by visiting www.BransonTourismCenter.com.

 

Branson Up-Close and Personal with the illusionist who pays tribute to Michael Jackson

Michael Knight in his Michael Jackson tribute role.

Michael Knight in his Michael Jackson tribute role.

Legends in Concert, “the world’s greatest live tribute show,” and one of Branson’s most popular shows, is constantly changing its acts to provide the audience with a fresh new entertainment experience. Michael Knight, who is currently performing his tribute to the legendary Michael Jackson during the summer season, describes himself as an illusionist as much as a tribute artist. He recently took time to share a little bit about himself and his career in a “Branson Up Close and Personal” interview.

“Branson-Up Close and Personal,” is a service of the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) and is intended to provide readers with an unprecedented look at a Branson celebrity or personality. The interview with Michael Knight (MK) was conducted earlier this week for BTC by Gary J. Groman, a 29 year resident of the Branson area, local columnist, and freelance writer, and is presented in a Question and Answer format:

BTC: When were you born?
MK: 1985

BTC: Where?
MK: Woonsocket, RI

BTC: How do you prefer your act to be categorized?
MK: Tribute Artist, but I am also an “Illusionist” because my objective, from costuming, to make up, vocals and dance, is to create the illusion of Michael Jackson.

BTC: Were you singing and dancing before you first became interested in Michael Jackson?
MK: Although I had dabbled with singing and dancing I didn’t really get serious about it until I became interested in Michael Jackson.

BTC: When did you become interested in Michael Jackson?
MK: When I was about 14 years old.

BTC: What was it about him that caught your interest?
MK: When I first saw Michael Jackson perform he just blew me away. I loved what he and his music stood for, peace, love, and unity at a time when a lot of music was gangster rap. It had a positive impact on my life from the way I dressed to the way I lived my life.

BTC: When did you first perform Michael Jackson publically?
MK: I remember it clear as day. It was an impromptu performance of “Billie Jean” at a 7th grade middle-school dance and I was wearing a vintage grey Fedora.

BTC: How did you get to see Michael Jackson perform?
BK: On TV and on videos that I had taped from VH1 and watched over and over. My first performance was based on watching part of the miniseries, “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” and a performance that I memorized.

BTC: How long have you been performing Michael Jackson professionally?
MK: I started doing private parties and stuff like that in 2006, but the demand for Michael was very low at that time and didn’t pick up until after his death in 2009.

BTC: Have you participated in any Michael Jackson Contests?
MK: Yes. In 2009 I won the “Best Michael Jackson Contest” in Providence, RI. As a result, I got hooked up with a manager and my career really got rolling.

BTC: There is an Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Is there a similar contest for Michael Jackson Tribute Artists?
BK: Not yet, but I am waiting and hoping.

BTC: How long have you been performing Michael Jackson for Legends in Concert?
BK: This is my first gig with Legends in Concert; I just started with them on May 21st. What’s really cool about this was that, in 2002, I was watching the “Michael Jackson Fan Club” and it had clips about E’Casanova, a Michael Jackson Tribute Artist who was performing with Legends in Concert. I said to myself, “Oh my God, I have to join Legends in Concert, wow that is just amazing.” Fast forward about 13 years and here I am!

BTC: Many have commented on your dancing skills and ability to make the Michael Jackson moves. How did you learn them?
MK: When I was 14, I learned how to “Pop and Lock” and “Moon Walk,” from my uncle Bob, who was a great Break Dancer in the 80s. It was after perfecting those basic steps that I started watching Michael and applying them to his moves.

BTC: Outside of videos and the initial help from Uncle Bob, what additional help or training have you had that has prepared you for this role?
MK: I have actually had the opportunity and privilege to meet with and work with people who actually worked with Michael Jackson. Among others, I have worked on his mannerisms with Majestic the Magnificent, a close friend of Michael’s, and had a one month “boot camp” on his choreography and style with Travis Payne and Stacie Walker, who were the two main choreographers for Michael’s “This Is It” video.

BTC: How long does it take to get your makeup on?
MK: It takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

BTC: Is this your first time performing in Branson?
MK: Yes.

BTC: When you found out you were coming to Branson for the first time, what did you expect?
MK: I had no idea of what to expect.

BTC: What is your first memory of Branson?
MK: The diversity of people.

BTC: What do you like best about performing in Branson?
MK: The audiences and working with this cast. I feel very blessed.

BTC: What’s your favorite thing to do in Branson when you are not performing?

MK: Just being a tourist and taking in what Branson has to offer.
BTC: If you could perform or meet with any entertainer/person (living or deceased), outside of Michael Jackson who would it be and why?

MK: James Brown because his soulfulness was such a huge influence on Michael’s life.

BTC: Do you have a favorite hobby or activity and what is it?
MK: I like to draw and sketch and go to movies.

BTC: Do you have a little known fact about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy?
MK: I have love for magic and circuses.

BTC: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in front of an audience?
MK: The time my wig came off while I did a spin. I knew something had happened, but the audience thought it was part of the performance.

BTC: What is your favorite Michael Jackson song and why?
MK: “Billie Jean.” It’s magic in the sense of that’s where you see the “Moonwalk” and the “Glove.”

BTC: What is your favorite non Michael Jackson song and why?
MK: “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars because of its story and up-tempo.

BTC: Anything else you want our readers to know?
MK: I really appreciate the support of those coming to the show. It means so much.

BTC: What’s the date of your last current Branson performances?
MK: On my 30th Birthday, September 8.

Jeannie Horton, General Manager of the Legends in Concert in Branson, said that they plan to have Michael Knight back next year and are working out the details, not only of his return, but exciting new additions to his set. Michael said that he is really excited about the changes, and that although he can’t be more specific at this point, he could say, “Think Jackson 5 and the old songs the old fashioned way.”

 

 

“Branson – Up Close and Personal” with Branson’s amazing bass icon, Mark McCauley

Mark McCauley, one of Branson's premier bass singers.

Mark McCauley, one of Branson’s premier bass singers.

Mark McCauley’s rich bass voice has been entertaining Branson audiences for over 30 years, during which time he has performed with a number of Branson shows and national stars. Currently, Mark is performing with Branson’s premier quartet, “New South,” in the Grand Jubilee show, where he’s been since the show’s inception more than 12 years ago. We hope you will enjoy this interview with this remarkable entertainer and individual!

“Branson – Up Close and Personal” is a service of 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 Mark McCauley (MM) uses a “Question and Answer” format, and was conducted for Branson Tourism Center (BTC) by Gary Groman, a 29 year resident of the Branson area, and a local columnist and freelance writer.

BTC: Where were you born?
MM: Tallahassee, Florida

BTC: When?
MM: 1961

BTC: When did you first realize that you had the gift of a bass voice?
MM: I was about 13 years old. It sprung from the exposure I had to gospel quartet singing and my fondness for it.

BTC: Are there different types of bass like there are different types of sopranos; and if there are, what type of bass are you?”
MM: Technically what I do is called “Contra Bass” in the classical music world. However, I believe it would be more accurate, in terms of the type I sing, to say that it is the type of bass normally associated with Southern Gospel quartets.

BTC: At what age did you first start singing and where?
MM: At about 10 years old I “started singing in the seats” with the “Inspirations Quartet” as they did shows around the area, brought their albums home, and sang around the house.

BTC: How did you transition from singing in the house to singing in public?
MM: My mother pulled a trick on me. We had a family group that kind of sang together when we got together, but I did not sing with them. We were at a family gathering one night, the group was singing and my mother, who knew I wanted to sing, said, “Go on up there and sing.” She ‘pushed’ me into doing it. If she had not, I never would have sung, but when I finished that first song something clicked inside and I knew that I wanted to sing.

BTC: Do you remember the name of that song?
MM: I most certainly do, it was the “New Jerusalem Way.”

BTC: When did you start singing professionally?
MM: I left home at age 16 and went to Pensacola, Florida to sing bass with a group called the “Singing Fowlers.”

BTC: Was your first trip to Branson for business or pleasure?
MM: Business, when we came to talk with Bill and Janet Dailey about moving our quartet, the “Tennessee Valley Boys,” to Branson.

BTC: What’s your first memory of Branson?
MM: It was Bill and Janet Dailey’s outdoor cookout with a giant roasted pig.

BTC: When and where did you first perform in Branson?
MM: In about 1983 at Bill Dailey’s “Country Music World” with the “Tennessee Valley Boys.” When the Tennessee Valley Boys split up I joined “Branson,” a new quartet made up of myself, Jimmy Ponder, Rick Baird, and Terry Kaufman that continued performing at “Country Music World.”

BTC: Throughout your career you have performed in the Branson shows of some big-name stars. Who were they?
MM: Loretta Lynn, Mel Tillis, and Anita Bryant.

BTC: How long have you been performing in the Grand Jubilee show at “Grand Country?”
MM: I am an original cast member and have been performing in the show since it started 12 or 13 years ago.

BTC: Do you perform in another show at Grand Country besides the Grand Jubilee?
MM: Yes the Branson Country USA Television show every Friday night and the New South Gospel show on Thursday afternoons.

BTC: Of all the songs you sing, what is your personal favorite and why?
MM: “How Great Thou Art” because I believe it is the greatest song ever written.

BTC: What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you while you were performing?
MM: During a rehearsal for the Mel Tillis show, while Connie Tillis was rehearsing “Mary Did You Know,” I did an impromptu dance around her and she had a hard time keeping a straight face. We were just kidding around and I did not know they had recorded it. The next night while I was singing the audience started laughing. I was perplexed as to why until I looked up on the monitors and discovered that they had recorded my “dance” for the whole world to see. It eventually became part of the show and, although I am not a dancer, I haven’t been able to get away from that stupid dance and am still performing it today.

BTC: What do you like best about performing in Branson?
MM: Being part of an entertainment industry that is based on the values of God, family, and country.

BTC: What do you like best about living in Branson?
MM: The people, they are some of the friendliest people I have ever met, and the natural beauty of the area.

BTC: What do you like to do when you are not performing?
MM: I really enjoy martial arts.

BTC: What kind of martial arts?
MM: Kenpo Karate in which I hold a 1st Degree Black Belt.

BTC: Do you have a little known fact about yourself that you would like to share?
MM: Well, not too many know about my involvement in martial arts.

BTC: If you could perform with and or meet any entertainer living or dead who would it be and why?
MM: That would be the “Oak Ridge Boys,” whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. To me they are the ultimate entertainers.

BTC: Your immediate family consists of?
MM: My wife Donel and my son Jacob.

BTC: Where and how did you meet your wife?
MM: I met her in Branson at a show where we worked together. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.

BTC: Why should people coming to Branson see the Grand Jubilee show?
MM: That’s an easy one to answer. There’s nothing missing out of the show. It’s fast moving, extremely well produced, has an extremely talented cast and has some of the best music and comedy in Branson. It truly has something for everyone. [The Grand Jubilee is one of Branson’s most popular shows and this review explains why.]

BTC: What’s in it for kids?
MM: Comedy, action, color, and music that will appeal to them. When it comes to quartets, kids are just like almost everyone else, they just like them.

BTC: Anything else you want our readers to know?
MM: I am a very blessed man.

Is everyday Christmas to Benjamin Dutton?

The Duttons, with Benjamin and Brande Dutton, in blue to the left.

The Duttons, with Benjamin and Brande Dutton, in blue to the left.

After seeing one of the last Branson performances of the fabulous Dutton’s Christmas show prior to them leaving for their winter season shows in Mesa, AZ, I interviewed Benjamin Dutton for a “Branson Up Close and Personal” piece which will be published in February. Maybe it was the influence of just having experienced the Dutton family performing together or the Christmas feeling, spirit and emotion it evoked, but his response to one of the questions I routinely ask, even though not a Christmas question, just touched my heart as a special Christmas blessing.

When I asked Benjamin, “What do you like best about performing in Branson?” he instantly replied, “What I like best about performing in Branson is the opportunity to make a living with my family. To have the opportunity that I have to go to work every day with my wife and my children and for my children to relate every day with their grandparents, their cousins and their aunts and uncles. Economics tend to draw families apart because people go to where the jobs are. It’s very rare in this day and age that a whole family can work together side by side and that has afforded so many blessings that I will be eternally grateful for. I could not have asked for anything better.”

Even as I write these words, the sincerity, emotion, and genuineness that I felt and the look of happiness and contentment I saw on his face comes rushing back. I doubt there will be a kid in this whole country that will have more joy on their face over the gifts they receive this Christmas then I saw on Benjamin’s face as he answered that question.

I sensed that he knows he has been given a special gift, but doesn’t take it for granted. He loves and appreciates that gift every day, not only in terms of his wife Brande, of whom he said, “When I think about Brande I think I am the most blessed man in the world,” and their four sons, Benjamin, Isaac, Christian and Luke, but his mom, dad, brothers, sisters nieces and nephews.

Benjamin’s response is a reminder, as we exchange gifts this Christmas that we might have already received one of the most valuable gifts of all, the relationships with the very people with whom we are exchanging gifts. Let us appreciate those relationships, not take them for granted and, I believe, like Benjamin, celebrate “Christmas” every day.

Note: The Duttons will be performing in their Mesa Arizona Shows through April 4 and debut their 2015 Branson show in Branson on April 8.