Grand Jubilee truly is grand entertainment for your whole family


"New South," Jon Drockelman (Left),  Mark  McCauley David Ragan and Luke Menard

“New South,” Jon Drockelman (Left), Mark McCauley David Ragan and Luke Menard

The short and quick of it is, “Don’t miss it, the Grand Jubilee show truly is “grand” entertainment for your whole family.” As many times as I have seen this show, I expect to see and experience dynamic vocals from the quartet “New South” and Jackie Brown, hilarious comedy from Jamie Haage, great music from the “Grand Band” and the excellent emceeing of the show’s producer Mike Patrick resulting in an absolutely “grand” entertainment experience. I have never been disappointed, but this year there’s a synergy and energy that just adds another dimension of anticipation, excitement and excellence to what was already one of Branson’s top shows.

From the time the curtain goes up, well maybe even a little before, it’s non-stop entertainment filled with some of the finest vocals and comedy on any Branson stage. The main vocal component is the group “New South,” composed of Lead Vocalist, David Ragan, Tenor, Luke Menard, Baritone, Jon Drockelman and Bass, Mark McCauley. New South has consistently been one of Branson’s most outstanding quartets even as different singers have rotated in and out periodically. David Regan, the newest member of the group, is starting his first full season with the group and, if the show I saw was any indication, his addition will do nothing, but enhance and grow that tradition of musical excellence.

Each member of the group has a great voice that is demonstrated in “solo” features throughout the show, but when they sing together well, that’s when you will find yourself shaking your head thinking, “These guys are good, really good.” And if it was just their singing that would be enough, but there is an energy, enthusiasm and spirit of fun that just seems to radiate from them to the audience and draw them into the performance that adds so much to the enjoyment of the show.

New South performs a variety of music from many different genres including country, gospel, patriotic, and even a dash of Irish hard rock covering decades of hits and does an amazing job on them all. From among many, and although certainly subjective, some of my favorites were “Elvira,” featuring the bass voice of Bass Mark McCauley, the Irish hard rock song, “The Boys Are Back In Town, and, my absolute favorite, “How Great Thou Art” which was simply one of the most powerful and beautiful renditions of that song I have ever heard highlighted by David Regan singing the second verse and “the note.” What’s the note? When you hear it you’ll know!

The lovely Jackie Brown, performing "Cry."

The lovely Jackie Brown, performing “Cry.”

Jackie Brown is the show’s female vocalist. Her vocal talents are demonstrated on a number of songs throughout the show. My personal favorite was her performance of the Johnnie Ray classic “Cry.” What a tremendous job!

The “Grand Band” includes of some of the finest musicians in Branson. It is composed of  Michael W. Davis, Piano/Keyboard & Vocals; Wayne Massengale, Fiddle and Acoustic Guitar; Larry Allred, Bass Guitar; Rob Blackburn, Drums; David Creech, Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar and Gene Mulvaney, Steel Guitar, Electric Guitar, Banjo and Band Director.

These guys are not just great musicians, they are consummate showman. Whether it’s a musical feature like Gene Mulvaney on the steel guitar with Jackie Brown in “There Goes My Heart Again,” Wayne Massengale’s fiddle feature with New South as they performed “Play Me Mountain Music” or the band playing a number like “Pick It Apart,” their musicianship and showmanship add yet another delightful element to the show.

"Jim Dandy" and Mike Patrick during the "magic banana" skit.

“Jim Dandy” and Mike Patrick during the “magic banana” skit.

“Jim Dandy,” played by Jamie Haage, one of Branson’s best comedians, along with “straight man” Mike Patrick, kept me laughing throughout the show with a blend of comedy skits and one liners. It can be safely said, “No dark comedy here, just “orange comedy” and who wouldn’t want to know how funny and magical a banana can be? The comedy just flows in with the music at exactly the right time as the show seamlessly moves from one entertaining segment to the next.

Watching the metamorphosis of Haage from comedian to instrumentalist and vocalist is a special treat to see and hear. His playing of the banjo, steel guitar, drums, piano and fiddle, especially his “train duet” of the “Wabash Cannonball” and ” Orange Blossom Special” with Wayne Massengale, was a joy to experience, not only testifying as to the versatility and talents of this “grand” entertainer, but as yet another thing that makes the Grand Jubilee unique among Branson shows.

It would be impossible to write about the Grand Jubilee without mentioning its Director and Producer Mike Patrick. Not only is he responsible for producing this “grand” entertainment experience, that just might be two of the best and fastest moving hours of entertainment in Branson, but he is also Emcee, Jim Dandy’s straight man and even plays a mean honky-tonk piano version of “Balls of Fire” with “fire” coming out of the piano.

In a previous review of the Grand Jubilee I said, “It might seem like a cliché, but the Grand Jubilee is truly ‘grand’ entertainment. I laughed until I hurt, listened to some of the most talented musicians and vocalists I have ever heard, in Branson or anywhere else, and was thoroughly entertained by a fast moving production that held my interest throughout. It was over all too quickly.” Isn’t it wonderful that some things never change except to get better!

For additional information or tickets on the Grand Jubilee 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,


“Buzzin in Branson” during May 2015

Moonshine Beach, an unexpected Branson surprise.

Moonshine Beach, an unexpected Branson surprise.

“Buzzin in Branson” is a concise and easy to read list of the major events taking place in Branson, Missouri during the month being “Buzzed,” which is May of 2015 for this issue. Each issue contains the “Branson Buzz of the Month” and a list of the major special events, shows and activities for the month.

Branson “Buzz of the Month for May 2015

Opening of Moonshine Beach – Table Rock Lake with its 43,000 plus surface acres of aquatic fun and adventure is an Ozarks treasure. One of the most popular recreational areas on the lake, yet least known to many who visit Branson, is Moonshine Beach an unexpected “sandy” surprise for Branson visitors. Who would expect a beautiful sandy beach in the middle of the Ozarks located only minutes away from the Branson Strip and all that Branson has to offer.

The following list of major special events, shows and activities in May is sorted by event date and contains pertinent and timely comments and contact information, through either a link or phone number, that can be used to obtain additional information where appropriate:

May 1 – May 30: The Hits starring the Osmonds
May1 – May 30: Ozark Mountain Shindig Festival
May 1 – May 3:World-Fest at Silver Dollar City
May 2 – May 3: Boot Daddy Presents Bill Medley
May 3: B.J. Thomas and John Conlee
May 5: Larry’s Country Diner-Gene Watson
May 5: Cinco de Mayo
May 6 & May 8: Larry’s Country Diner-Jimmy Fortune
May 7 – May 25: Bluegrass & Barbeque Festival at Silver Dollar City
May 7: 14th Annual Ozark Mountain Prayer Breakfast
May 7: Larry’s Country Diner-The Whites
May 9: Kayak Branson’s Biggest Flotilla Adventure
May 10: Mother’s Day
May 10: Mother’s Day Brunch at Keeter Center
May 15 – May 16: Health & Fitness Boutique Branson
May 15 – May 17: Home Front Shoot Out Tournament
May 15: Visions 2015 Branson Pontiac Meet
May 15: Moonshine Beach Opens
May 15: Candy Coburn Concert Branson Landing, 417-239-3002
May 16: Armed Forces Day
May 16: Shindig Shopping Spree
May 17: Divas Half Marathon & 5K Midwest at Branson
May 17: 2nd Annual Wheels For Freedom Car Show
May 18: Main Street Lake Cruises Lake Queen begins Lake Taneycomo Cruises
May 21: Jammin’ At Area 57
May 25: Memorial Day
May 30: The Shindig Shuffle

“Buzzin in Branson” is produced monthly by the Branson Tourism Center as a service to its customers and others interested in what’s going on in Branson to give them a “heads up” about what’s happening in Branson next month. If you have any further questions about these events or want information or tickets for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or lodging 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

Lower gasoline prices make an amazing Branson vacation for your family even more of a bargain

Like Branson itself, Silver Dollar City's iconic "WidFire" coaster takes its riders to lofty heights of adventure and excitement even as gas prices slide lower.

Like Branson itself, Silver Dollar City’s iconic “WidFire” coaster takes its riders to lofty heights of adventure and excitement even as gas prices slide lower.*

According to GasBuddy.Com the national average retail price of regular gasoline on April 15, 2014 was about $3.70 per gallon. According to the same source, that price has gone down to about $2.39 per gallon, or by about 37%, as of April 15, 2015. But wait, from a summer vacation and travel perspective, it gets even better!

The AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report for April 15 not only confirmed the $2.39 per gallon price as of that date, but estimates that prices will continue to slide lower for the peak summer driving period. Its commentary, entitled, Temperatures Rising But Gas Prices Expected To Slide said, “Any market moving developments in the aforementioned items will cause the price at the pump to fluctuate; however it is estimated that even with prices reflecting seasonality, consumers are expected [to] see prices move lower leading up to the peak driving season this summer.”

“What great news that is for those who are traveling to Branson for vacation this summer,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services. “When you combine the lower gas prices with the fact that Branson is one of the top two value cities in America for lodging and the reasonableness of the prices for Branson shows, attractions and other activities, it really makes Branson a great vacation value,” she added.

Wood points out that those who have been to Branson are aware of all it has to offer, but that there are many, located within less than a day’s driving distance of Branson who have yet to experience its natural beauty, fun, adventure, excitement and live entertainment. She suggests that with the lower gas prices and the great value that Branson offers this might be a great time for those who have never been to Branson or who haven’t visited in a while to plan a vacation in Branson this summer.

“Along with lower gas prices and the inherent value offered throughout Branson, visitors can save even more of their hard earned money by working with a company like Branson Tourism Center (BTC) that offers “packages,” shows, lodging, attractions and other activities bundled together at a discount compared to buying them individually. For the ultimate in convenience and value they offer a wide variety of preset Branson Vacation Packages from which to pick.

If one of the preset packages doesn’t meet your needs BTC will help create a custom package that will help save you time and money. It’s as easy as one toll free phone call to 1-800-785-1550 to talk with one of one of BTC’s Travel Planning Specialists who are available from 8:00 AM to 9:30 PM seven days a week. The Travel Planning Specialists are all Branson based, will be delighted to answer any questions you might have about Branson and assist with show and attraction tickets and reservations as well as lodging arrangements, either as part of a package or individually.

With anticipated lower gas prices, all the fun, adventure and excitement that Branson offers and its great value, isn’t this a great time to begin planning a unique and unforgettable vacation for your family in Branson, Missouri this summer?

*Picture courtesy of Silver Dollar City

5 reasons to share Branson with Mom on “her day”

A relaxing and entertaining cruise aboard the Showboat Branson Belle is just one of the many ways Branson has to show Mom how special she is.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10. Many Moms share Branson with their families and children every day simply because it is a great place their families to relax, have fun, be entertained and establish memories that can last a lifetime. Some of the same reasons Moms pick Branson for their families, with more of emphasis on the “Mom” aspects, makes it a wonderful place to bring Mom on “her day.”

There is just something extra special about honoring Mom in Branson and being surrounded by its “America’s hometown” spirit. Here’s five reasons why Mom might love to spend Mother’s Day in Branson:

1.  Special Mother’s Day Brunch – Although many Branson restaurants and buffets will be having special Mother’s Day offerings, the Mother’s Day Brunches offered at Chateau on the Lake and the College of the Ozark’s Keeter Center have become a special Mother’s day tradition that is truly a special way to make her the center of attention and say “Thanks” for all she does for the family every day.

2.  Showboat Branson Belle – Give Mom the gift of food, fun, entertainment and the scenic beauty of the Ozarks with a cruise on Table Rock Lake aboard the Showboat Branson Belle. In addition to its dinner, all prepared aboard the boat, Mom will be treated to the “Celebrate Blue,” show featuring “Rhythm,” a new four-man dance troupe with the fastest feet west of the Mississippi, one of Branson’s favorite lovely ladies of song, Cassandré Faimon-Haygood, the ShowMen and a live band all hosted by Christopher James, a gifted magician with an unbeatable sense of humor.

3.  Mother’s Day Jazz Concert at Branson Landing Fountains – The Blue Springs High School Jazz Band will present a jazz concert at the Branson Landing Fountains in conjunction with the noon performance of the $7.5 million Fountain Show featuring “the first-ever merging of water, fire, light and music” with its dazzling interplay of Water Fountains shooting 120-foot geysers and fire cannons blasting, all choreographed to light and music.”

4. Shopping – From the nostalgic and unique shopping offered by “Dicks 5 & 10” in historic downtown Branson to the great shopping offered at Branson Landing, Tanger Outlets, The Shoppes at Branson Meadows and dozens of other retail and specialty stores, Mom will be able to “shop until she drops.” OK, we know it, she can have a great shopping experience in Branson anytime, but it’s kind of “extra special” on Mother’s Day.

5. Branson Shows – From the Acrobats of China, to Clay Cooper’s Country Express, Shoji Tabuchi, Mickey Gilley, Legends in Concert, Puttin’ on the Ritz, New Jersey Nights and many more of Branson’s most popular shows will be open to help celebrate Mother’s Day.

“The majority of Branson’s attractions, including the Titanic Museum Attraction and Silver Dollar City, which will be in the midst of celebrating its Bluegrass & BBQ Festival will be open not only on Mother’s Day, but the entire Mother’s Day Weekend,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. She also points out that there are special saving available by bundling shows, attractions and lodging together in packages like the Mother’s Day Package with lodging at the Welk Resort, choice of shows, dining and more..

For additional information on what’s going on in Branson on Mother’s Day or any of Branson’s shows, attractions or lodging please feel free to contact the Branson Tourism Center by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, .

How to absolutely save money on your Branson family vacation this year

Silver Dollar City's news $8 million" Fireman's Landing" has ten rides and attractions for the younger kids to enjoy.

Silver Dollar City’s news $8 million” Fireman’s Landing” has ten rides and attractions for the younger kids to enjoy.

The Facebook post for the Branson Tourism Center on April 9, 2015 asked two questions, “What’s one of your biggest vacation expenses?” and followed it up with another that gave a clue to the answer of the first, “Did you know that according to Trivago Branson is one of the top two Value cities in America for lodging?” “Think about it,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. “One of the biggest vacation expenses for most families is for lodging and that is especially so in Branson where the family ‘car’ is the primary means of transportation that people use to get here.”

Some might say, “Well OK so lodging in Branson is a great value, but what about saving money in other areas?” Here’s a list of four tips that can not only save you money, but increase the enjoyment of a wonderful Branson vacation:

1. Purchase A Preset Package: Purchasing a “preset” package from a company like the Branson Tourism Center can not only save money, but is the ultimate in convenience. Depending on the package selected, it will combine lodging with a choice of shows, attractions and other options appropriate for the package, as well as a “Branson Fun Book” providing discounts that will save you even more on dining, shopping and other activities. These packages represent an excellent value because their pricing is based on the special relationship that BTC has developed with Branson shows, attractions and lodging establishments, by selling over 4 million Branson show and attraction tickets along with tens of thousands of room nights, and the fact that they are coordinated and setup in advance. For more information on preset packages call the Branson Tourism Center or click here to explore some of the preset BTC packages.

2. Customized Packages or Bundles: Just call the Branson Tourism Center 1-800-785-1550 and talk with one of its Branson based Travel Planning Specialists who will be delighted to assist you in customizing a package, including shows, attractions and lodging, tailored to the specific needs and budget of your family. Not only will you get a package that is specifically designed for you, but because of the special relationship mentioned above, discounts you cannot get anywhere else. There is absolutely no charge for this service and BTC’s Travel Planning Specialists are available from 8:00 AM to 9:30 PM seven days a week.

3. Family Show Passes: Branson’s shows are known for their outstanding quality entertainment and value, but in addition, many of Branson’s top shows have enhanced that value even more by offering “Family Passes” which can result in major savings. The typical Family Pass includes two adults and up to a certain number of children for a substantially reduced rate as compared to buying individual tickets. As an example, The Duttons is a great show that the entire family will absolutely love and is one of Branson’s most popular shows. By using its Family Pass, a family of two adults, three children through ages 16 can save about 41%!

4. Saving Time and Convenience: Saving time is not an obvious “money saving tactic,” but there is a lot of wisdom in remembering Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice, “Time is money.” To maximize the value of your time, both in planning your Branson trip and while in Branson, and not miss doing something that you wish you had seen or done, please feel free to use the free planning services of the Branson Tourism Center. Whether it’s to customize a package or to simply get advice, just one toll free call to 1-800-785-1550 is all it takes to get the assistance of a Branson based BTC Travel Planning Specialist who will be delighted to answer questions, help you plan your Branson vacation  and make all the reservations. All you and your family have to do is travel to Branson and have the vacation of a lifetime!

How do the Hughes’ kids do “it?”

The beautiful and touching  conclusion performance of the whole family performance of  “So Happy Together.”

The beautiful and touching conclusion of the whole family performance of  “So Happy Together.”

Simply put, “it’s a miracle,” but more on that later. Earlier this year, right after seeing it starring the Hughes Brothers and their families, I wrote a review of the show for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) in which I said, “The Hughes Family is billed as the largest family performing together on stage. The Hughes Brothers, Marty, Jason, Adam, Ryan and Andy are the stars of the show which also prominently features their very talented wives Cindy, Vikki, Carina, Mara and Becky along with about 32* of their children…”

The ages of the children range from toddler to age 21 and I was absolutely amazed by their performance in the show. So much so that I wrote, “Every element of this show is a polished entertainment gem. It’s not just a matter of putting kids in a show. These kids are good!” In fact they were so good that I decided to see if I could get the answer to the question, “How do the Hughes’ kids do “it?”

Recently, two of the Hughes Brothers and their wives, Marty and Cindy along with Jason and Mara, were kind enough to sit down with me to explain the kids’ involvement in the show. In talking about the kids in the show, Jason, the show’s producer, said that from the brothers, our wives down to the youngest child, people coming to our show are not going to see a family trying to put on a show; they are going to see a real top notch professional show with children that are as good as any child in the business and the miracle of it is that they are all in one family.

We used a question and answer format for the interview with this writer asking the questions for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) and one or more of the Hughes Family (HF) members answering. Except for the last question, the answer are not specifically identified as to a specific person, but to the group as a whole and are designated by the HF:

BTC: How do you get them to do it?
HF: The kids just want to do it. They just naturally want to be like daddy and mommy and then there is the “peer pressure” of seeing their brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles all performing.

BTC: At what age do you start them?
HF: Some have started in the womb as their mothers performed, and many if not all, have performed in the Nativity scene from their Christmas show which features a live baby Jesus each year.

BTC: How do you prepare the younger children so that there is a consistent level of performance in the show?
HF: Particularly, with the younger children, whether or not they perform on any given day is up to them. That’s why we double or triple cast their parts.

BTC: How do they progress to the amazing performance levels that the audience sees in the show?
HF: From an early age they feel at home on stage. By the time they are 4 or 5 they are ready to go and as they grow older we try to up the ante as to the difficulty of what they are doing. It’s interesting the way the progression works. We have younger kids coming into numbers while older kids are graduating out.

BTC: Is there flexibility for the kids to do the things other kids get to do?
HF: Absolutely. We are extremely flexible and modify schedules etc. so that the kids can take time off to go to camps, do things they want to do and participate in other activities with their friends.

BTC: What kind of commitment do the kids make to the show?
HF: They just want to do it and be up on the stage with the rest of the family. Especially with the older ones, they know we are counting on each other. Obviously, particularly with the younger children, there are some challenges occasionally and that’s why we multiple cast some of the parts and have some scheduling flexibility.

BTC: What is one of the biggest challenges of involving the kids in the show?
HF: Coordinating schedules and consistency. With 34 kids in the show sometimes it just seems like there’s something different every day from someone having to go potty to changing a diaper to needing different kids at rehearsal for different parts at different times. Jason said, “With all that, there’s just not quite anything like finally getting the kids in the car, getting to the theater and picking up your four year old only to realize they are not wearing any shoes.”

BTC: Do the kids rehearse a lot?
HF: We are so proud of the effort our kids put into not only preparing, but performing. The amount of time spent depends on what they are doing in the show. Even just having the kids walk out on stage requires rehearsals for blocking and where they are going to stand etc. As their involvement in the show increases so does the rehearsal time.

BTC: There are 34 kids in the show now. How many children do each of you have in the show?

Marty and Cindy – 13
Jason and Mara – 7
Adam and Vikki – 3
Ryan and Carina – 7
Andy and Becky – 4

BTC: How are the kids schooled?
HF: They are home schooled with tutors used on a supplemental basis.

BTC: In about a sentence, what one thing would you want people to know about the kids appearing in the show?

Marty: They are better for it because they are learning a work ethic.
Cindy:  The kids really love what they are doing!
Myra:  They love each other and working together with their aunts and uncles and being able to run up to Grandma’s office.
Jason: They are really good and the miracle of it is that they are all in one family.

How good is this show? Well my opinion is in the review that I wrote, but yesterday, April 7, 2015, I was having breakfast with my good friend Arlan who, along with his wife Linda, has seen many Branson shows over the years. As we were eating breakfast he asked if I had seen “it’ with the Hughes Brothers?” It was a rhetorical question because he continued on by telling me that he and Linda had seen it for the first time recently and really liked it. He said the show was one of the best he has ever seen in Branson, he is going to recommend it to others and commented on how amazing the kids were. We had a chuckle when I told him I had seen it, felt the same way and was actual in the midst of doing a piece on the kids.

“it” starring the Hughes Brothers is a rare Branson entertainment gem, “hidden in plain sight” that simultaneously holds the interest and entertains both children and adults at a constant level throughout the show with some of the finest entertainment on any Branson stage. It is an absolutely wonderful unique Branson entertainment experience that should not be missed.

 * The actual number could fluctuate by a couple performance to performance.

Material Connection

The amazing answer to the question, “Is Virgin Airways coming to Branson soon?”

Is Virgin Airways coming to Branson soon?

Is Virgin Airways coming to Branson soon?

The answer is, “Positively, absolutely No unless…!” The internet has been all atwitter today regarding Sir Richard S. Branson’s post to the Virgin website today in which, among other things he said, “With more of our Virgin brands expanding Stateside, it made sense to open our US headquarters in the hometown that bears my family name.” His Branson post indicates that he not only will be moving his headquarters to Branson, but that Virgin Air will also be starting direct air service to Branson from San Francisco and, perhaps most indicative of just how serious this whole Branson thing is, that “Branson Active” is “introducing a new Branson-themed workout that will have gym-goers tossing hay bales and rolling wagon wheels across the gym.”

Although the Branson Tourism Center is one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services and is not inclined to second guess Sir Richard we must note that he is noted for his early April Fools’ Day pranks. With that in mind we are inclined to agree with the conclusion as stated in USA Today’s story entitled Is Virgin America really going to fly to Branson, Mo.? It is apparently a prank.

In the spirit of the occasion, we would amend and renew our answer to the question, “Is Virgin Airways coming to Branson soon?” by saying, “Positively, absolutely No unless, April Fools’ Day aside, Sir Richard decides to.” We have heard that he is going to build his next Virgin Hotel on the new Disney Theme park that is currently being built in the middle of the Branson Strip and will open on April 1, 2015, but that’s probably an April Fools’ joke too!


Spirit of the Dance is a beautiful breathtaking high energy entertainment experience for the whole family

Lead Female Irish Dancer  Courtney Collins

Lead Irish Dancer Courtney Collins performing a traditional soft shoe Irish Stepdance number.

Spirit of the Dance Encore Performance brings the Spirit of the Dance back to the Branson stage with two hours of unique breathtaking non-stop high energy entertainment that the whole family will enjoy. As I watched the performance on March 17, I was totally immersed in the precision of their Irish dancing. It was joy to see and hear that was made even more so because of the beautiful vocals, colorful costuming and other styles of dance that are delicately woven into this unique exciting entertainment experience.

From beginning to end the “Spirit” of the show is in the hearts, professional passion and talents of its dancers and vocalists and, what a great job they do! The Lead Irish Dancers, Courtnay Collins and Oliver Barrows head an exceptional cast of dancers including Jacqui Bell, Rebecca Jennings, Ellen Tress, Devan Jay Kellett, Beth Leanne, Peri Walsham, Joe Farmer, Davide Leo, Blair Muir, Rowan Lewis and Mitchell Jare. Dasha Toropkina, who plays the part of the “Spirit,” does vocals and dances.

The very first number, “Irish Love,” demonstrates that this show is not just a reproduction of “Riverdance,” but that it has a direction and excitement of its own. Its haze, lilting mystical Celtic music with a subtle blending of Danny Boy introduces the “Spirit,” performed by Dasha Toropkina, who performed beautifully here and throughout the show. It is a breathtaking experience as they transition from the “gentleness” of the opening introduction into Irish performance dancing with an explosion of sound as their feet hit the stage in a mind boggling demonstration of speed and precision. It’s a magnificent thing to experience.

“Irish performance dancing” or “Stepdancing” as it is commonly called, was made popular by “Riverdance,” over two decades ago and is a style of dance incorporating precise quick movements of the feet with a stiff upper body and the arms held fairly close to the sides. The wonderful thing about Spirit of the Dance is that it takes Stepdancing and weaves it in with other styles of dance such as the Spanish Flamingo, Waltz, American Western, Scottish Fling, Rock and Roll and more into a beautiful and exciting entertainment experience.

The "Stomp" is just one of the many styles of dance in the show.

The “Stomp” is just one of the many styles of dance in the show.

And it’s not just what they do, but how they do it. The performers are outstanding and their costuming is amazing, not only as to its color and variety, but in how often it is changed. The choreography of each number and the way each flows seamlessly from one to the other are other factors that make this show a must see.

Some might have a question about whether or not kids would like this show. During the intermission I picked a couple with two young boys, the Mike Neff family visiting from Oklahoma. When asked if he would recommend the show to others he said, “Absolutely, it’s a good family show, high energy, lots of costume changes and great lighting. Neff said his boys, who are seven and six years old were having a great time and particularly liked the “quick feet” and colorful costumes.

There’s not a lot of vocals in the show, but they are all original and strategically placed to enhance a special moment of the show. Most are performed by Dasha Toropkina, as “The Spirit” and one by Lead Irish Dancer Courtnay Collins.

Typically, when I write about a show, and while fully realizing that my “highlights”  might not be the same as others, I mention a few of my favorites. The “Two Tribes” number with its blending of soft toe Irish dance into an explosion of powerful precision hard shoe Stepdancing amid its costume changes and everything else in between was a beautiful and powerful way to end the first half of the show.

Another personal highlight was the opening of the second half of the show right after intermission. The “Spirit,” Dasha Toropkina, wows the audience as she sings “Coming Home,” as part of a full cast performance including a powerful Stepdance number. It was an amazing way to start the second half. Another favorite number for me was the full cast performance of the number “The Spirit of the Dance,” featuring Courtnay Collins who did a a superb job of dancing and performing the vocal.

Spirit of the Dance is a unique one of a kind show. It is filled with excitement, high energy, color, action, Irish dance and vocals performed superbly by a cast that has a passion for what they are doing. It is a show that the whole family can share and enjoy together.

For additional information or tickets for Spirit of the Dance Encore Performance, or for any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please feel free to 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,


A List of three amazing things your family can do for “free” in Branson

The Branson Landing Boardwalk provides a convenient way to experience Lake Taneycomo.

The Branson Landing Boardwalk provides a convenient way for families to experience Lake Taneycomo.

“Branson has been recognized as one of the top two value destinations in America for 2015,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. “That value becomes even more so when families combine those activities costing money with those that are free,” she added.

Here’s a list of three unique free things that families can have fun and enjoy sharing together:

1. Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery – The “Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery,” is located about ten minutes from the famed Branson Strip at the foot of Table Rock Dam just off of State Highway 165. Operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation, it is part of a complex occupying 211 acres along with a “Conservation Center” consisting of trails, a wild life refuge, and a “Visitor Center.”

The Visitor Center has a small nature display and a short video on how the hatchery produces the hundreds of thousands of Rainbow and Brown Trout that makes Lake Taneycomo one of the premier trout fisheries in the nation. Its huge aquarium features some of the “lunker” Brown and Rainbow Trout that any Lake Taneycomo fisherman would love to catch. It is open every day from 9 AM through 5 PM from, through the end of May and from 9 AM through 6 PM from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

After visiting the welcome center, it is exciting to walk outside and tour the “race ways,” containing thousands of trout in the various stages of development from the smallest of trout to the large “brood stock” used to produce them. In addition to these “self-guided” tours, guided tours depart from the Visitors Center from Memorial Day to Labor Day on weekdays at 10 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM and 2 PM.

2. The Dewey Short Regional Visitors Center at Table Rock Dam – The $7.9 million, 15,000 square foot U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visitor center has been called “the crown jewel of Table Rock Lake” and for good reason. It is one of only 11 Class A visitor centers in the U.S. and offers an unparalleled view of two of Branson’s lakes, Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo, that can be seen from the floor to ceiling glass windows on the Table Rock Lake side of the building. Among other things, the Center features interactive activities, displays on area history, nature and the inner workings of Table Rock Dam, movies, a gift shop with unique merchandise and an interesting film on the construction of Table Rock Dam. The center is open from 10 AM until 5 PM every day from March through December and Tuesdays through Saturday in January and February.

3. Branson Landing Boardwalk – The 1.5 mile long paved level boardwalk runs the entire length of Branson Landing along the shoreline of Lake Taneycomo. It provides a convenient, easy and safe way to view some of the lakes wildlife and birds, the natural beauty of its constantly changing shoreline as well activity both on, off and over including a chance to see Main Street Lake Cruises river boat replica, the Lake Queen as she takes her passengers out for a scenic tour on the lake; the Landing’s $7.5 million spectacular fountains featuring the first-ever merging of water, fire, light and music with water fountains shooting 120-foot geysers into the air and “fire cannons,” all choreographed to lights and music and “Parakeet Pete’s Zip Line which goes over the lake to the top of Mount Branson before releasing its riders for an exciting “zip” back across the lake to their starting point at Branson Landing.

From grist mills, to scenic overlooks, a giant Bass kids can stand in, “Dicks 5 & 10,” nature and hiking trails, parks, “Moonshine Beach and much more, Branson has a broad  choice ofactivities that families can enjoy together for free. For more information on these and other Branson activities, both free and not, as well as  Branson shows, attractions and lodging please feel free to call the Branson Tourism Center toll free at 1-800-785-1550.

Petersen Family epitomizes Branson family Bluegrass entertainment

Petersen Family Bluegrass Band on stage, Matthew right, Karen, Ellen, Katie and Jon. *

Petersen Family Bluegrass Band Matthew right, Karen, Ellen, Katie and Jon. *

Just about everyone is familiar with  the term “Bluegrass music” and has heard a “splash” of bluegrass here and there, but comparatively few have had the pleasure of experiencing the variety and quality of Bluegrass music as presented in Branson by The Petersen Family Bluegrass Band Show. No glitz and glitter here, just some of the best Bluegrass instrumental and vocals you will hear in Branson combined with their special familial spirit, warmth and humor that makes it a wonderful 90 minutes of entertainment for the whole family.

Some might say, “Bluegrass, what do I care about Bluegrass and I have kids in my family, why would I like it?” That’s a fair question. In terms of the Bluegrass music there’s just something in its unique combination of the fiddle, mandolin, banjo, acoustical guitar and string bass that just seems to resonate with the musical instincts of most people. Kids relate to the show because they not only see the Petersen family, siblings Ellen, Katie, Julianne, and Matthew performing together with their Mom, Karen and Dad, Jon, but readily relate to their peers performing on stage.

From their very first number to the last, the Petersen family blends their considerable musical talents with a mixture of antidotes and humor, all personably “choreographed” by the shows MC, Katie, into a fast paced highly enjoyable entertainment experience. They waste no time getting the show off to a great start with the whole family, except for Juliann, who works the lights and sound during most of the show, performing “If Wishes Were Horses” which speaks volumes about the instrumental and vocal talents of the Petersens and sets the bar for what is to come.

Lead vocalist of  Petersen's Family Bluegrass Band and top 48 contestant on American Idol ,Ellen Petersen .

Lead vocalist and top 48 contestant on American Idol ,Ellen Petersen .

The featured vocalist is Ellen who also plays the banjo, yodels and was a “Top 48 Contestant on the 2015 season of the “American Idol.” In fact, during the show she performs “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the same yodeling and banjo number she used to launch her “American Idol” journey. In addition to being the MC, Katie, plays the fiddle and is also an excellent vocalist, as demonstrated by her beautiful performance of “Living Prayer,” the “2006 Gospel Music Association Dove Award For Bluegrass Song of the Year.” Julianne, who is running lights and sound during most of the show, also plays the fiddle as she joins them on stage occasionally. Really enjoyed her fiddle performance of the “Tennessee Waltz.”

Matthew does vocals and plays the acoustical guitar. His performance of “The East VA Blues” both vocally and on the guitar with an instrumental feature from his sisters was exceptional.

“Momma,” Karen, on the mandolin is just fabulous. It is a sound that is an inherent part of Bluegrass music, but to just see and hear the variety of ways she blends in to and adds to performance of her children during the show not only adds to the total enjoyment of the show, but is a blessing to experience. After watching her perform you too will not only understand where the refrain, “Get it momma” comes from, but will be yelling it yourself.

Jon, the dad, plays the string bass. Although not featured as a vocalist you will not soon forget his participation in the performance of “My Daddy’s Got A Gun,” an original song written by Ellen and Katie.

As I write about each show that I go to I usually mention a couple of my favorite performances. Ellen’s performance of “Carolina in the Pines” featuring her mom on the mandolin and Katie on the fiddle was one. The other was the family’s a cappella performance of the Hank Williams classic “Lovesick Blues;” what a beautiful job.

It’s also interesting to note that the majority of the show is performed using one microphone and is commonly used by groups when performing in Bluegrass music contests, including the “Silver Dollar City / KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Band Contest” to be held on May 23 as part of Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ event. It’s neat watching them “work the mic” during their performance.

The Petersens only perform one show a week and that’s on Saturday evening. What a wonderful way for families visiting Branson to share something unique and special together.

For more information on the The Petersen Family Bluegrass Band Show please feel free to 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,

* Picture courtesy .