Five answers to questions about viewing Branson’s Fall Foliage

Late October shot of foliage on campus of College of the Ozarks.

Late October shot of foliage on campus of College of the Ozarks.

“For about four to six weeks in the fall of every year, ‘Mother Nature’ provides the greatest show in Branson as the foliage covering its surrounding, hills, valleys and lakeshores turns into a kaleidoscope of beautiful colors,” said Tammy Johnson, the General Manager for the Branson Tourism Center. Johnson points out that precisely when the leaves turn, how fast and how long the season lasts is based on the weather, but, based on the average year, here are five answers to common questions our customers commonly ask about viewing Branson’s Fall foliage:

1. When does the Fall foliage season start and end? In southwestern Missouri it generally starts around the third week of September and runs for four to six weeks depending on the weather.

2. What are the first and last trees to start changing color? According to the Missouri Department of Conservation “sassafras, sumac, and Virginia Creeper” are the first to start changing color followed by “black gum, bittersweet, and dogwood” and “maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories” later in the season.

3. What is the “peak” time to view the most colorful foliage in Branson? That is difficult to predict, but typically the peak for Fall color, again depending on the weather, is around mid-October when maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories are displaying their most vivid colors.

4. What is the best way to view the Fall foliage in Branson? Just get outdoors and enjoy all that Branson has to offer. From Silver Dollar City to the Lake Taneycomo bluffs that are readily visible from Branson Landing and just about anywhere else you would travel in and about Branson you will be surrounded by the beauty of the Ozark Mountains dressed in their Fall colors.

5. Do you have any recommendations on the best spots to view the Fall colors? Yes, here are a few of our favorites:

Shepherd of the Hills Inspiration Tower – The 230 foot tall tower located at The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead on top of Inspiration Point, one of the highest points in southwest Missouri, provides an unparalleled panoramic view of the Ozark’s foliage. Glass elevators transport guests up to the enclosed Observation Deck from which, on a clear day, they can see over 90 miles and hundreds of square miles of foliage presenting a spectacular panoramic view of the Branson’s Fall foliage that is not available anywhere else.

Scenic Lookouts – A number of “Scenic Lookouts” provide a superb panoramic view of the Ozark’s Fall foliage. These include the Lookouts on State Route 165, about a mile south of its intersection with State Route 265; the Table Rock Dam Overlook, located on the south end of Table Rock Dam across the road from the Visitors Center and the Henning Conservation Area Lookout located about a mile west of the junction of State Route 76 and State Route 376 on the north side of the road.

“Point Lookout – ” Located on the Campus of the College of the Ozarks on top of a bluff overlooking Lake Taneycomo “Point Lookout provides a breath taking and unique view of Branson’s Fall foliage not available anywhere else with Lake Taneycomo winding through it. While at the college you might want to plan to eat at the Keeter Center and visit the “Edwards Grist Mill” and the “Ralph Foster Museum,” called the “Smithsonian of the Ozarks.”

Branson Tourism Center’s Johnson also points out that a cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle, on Table Rock Lake, or a ride on the Branson Scenic Railway also provide unique views of Branson’s Fall foliage. She says that the Fall foliage season, coupled with Silver Dollar City’s National Craft Festival, is a busy time and recommends that advanced reservations be made for shows, attractions and lodging. For more information on the Fall foliage in Branson or assistance with 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,


The Adventures of Marco Polo – an epic Branson entertainment adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Against All Odds” the Copper Coin serves Branson Shoppers

Susan Abar, author, artisan, entrepreneur and a living example of why "In God We Trust."

Susan Abar, author, artisan, entrepreneur and a living example of why “In God We Trust.”

That might seem like an odd headline, but along with “two pennies” and a trust in God, “Against All Odds” is not only the name of a book that Susan Abar wrote telling her remarkable story of courage, endurance and faith, but an accurate summary of what her chances were of living; let alone ever opening and operating a gift shop in historic downtown Branson or, for that matter, anywhere else. “The Copper Coin,” operated with her husband Ron, sells many gifts, but its spirit is based on our National Motto, “In God We Trust,” and the shop features a line of custom jewelry and other gift items incorporating a single copper penny into their design, delivering that message in an exclusive and beautiful way.

Perhaps the way I came across this story tells the message of why the Copper Coin is so special and helps make Branson the unique wonderful place it is, to not only live, but visit. I was talking with Annette Wood, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center, and she slid a key ring with a beautiful charm on it across her desk. The charm had a shiny cooper penny inlaid inside a rectangular case with an American Flag. She told me that two of her Group Mangers, Randi McCormick and Melissa McGowan, had received it from the owners of the “Copper Coin” while they were discussing the “2015 Branson.Com Honors Purple Heart Recipients” which will be held in Branson on April 23-25, 2015.

Wood pointed out that McCormick and McGowan were amazed to hear that the “Copper Coin,” which sells the key ring in their store, gives them away free to any Veteran who comes in and asks for one. As they talked with the owner and she shared her story of how the penny and “In God We Trust” became the focal point for her calling to design and market her exclusive jewelry line and gifts, they became even more amazed. When Wood told me the story, I decided that I just had to meet with this extraordinary woman, write a piece about what she and her husband were doing for Veterans and thank them.

The first day I went into the Copper Coin Susan and Ron were off, but when asked the lady that was there if it was true, that every Veteran who came into the store could get the patriotic “In God We Trust” key ring for free she said, “Yes, are you a Veteran?” I replied, “Yes” and with that she reached up on the wall, where the key rings were selling , took one down, handed it to me and, with a big smile on her face, said, “Thank you for your service.”

Two day later, when I went back into the shop to meet Susan and Ron, she was waiting on a customer. As I waited I saw that the book, “Against All Odds,” the story of “Two pennies, A Rainbow and a Woman Called Mercy” by Susan Abar was for sale in the shop. Initially I did not know that its author was the woman I was waiting to meet, but as I waited for her to finish chatting with the customer and ring up their order, I saw her autographing the book and kind of put two and two together.

When I got to meet her, she was kind enough to go with me to get a cup of coffee and chat. Although, I went to do the story about their gift to Veterans I would be remiss, it I did not point out that the gift started with a woman who, within about a six month period, lost her job, found out she had breast cancer, had a Mastectomy and then found out she also had Pancreatic Cancer. “Against All Odds,” she persevered  and, because of a surrender, two pennies, a rainbow and a woman named Mercy, became part of what most of us would call a miracle.

When I asked her about her gift to the Veterans she said, “We give them to our Veterans and Active Duty military personnel to show our appreciation for the sacrifices that they make for our country.” She pointed out, that from a personal perspective it honors the service of her father, husband and her son and daughter in law, both of whom are on active duty in the Army.

The “focal point” of the key ring, part of her exclusive line of jewelry, is the “charm” involving the penny, and the motto “In God We Trust,” which was designed by Susan. From the prepping of the penny and assembly to the application of the resin and its setup time, each piece, is processed by hand by Susan and her husband and takes about three hours to complete.

The Copper Coin is yet another example of unique variety that makes shopping in Branson such a wonderful experience. Open 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, it is located in Historic Downtown Branson at 109 N. Commercial St.

Clay Cooper show is a nonstop entertainment “express”


140824  Clay Cooper Clay Tina Duet Squeeze Me

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

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

Clay performing "Crying."

Clay during his beautiful rendition of “Crying.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Material Connection

Balloon Festival just one of Branson’s surprises

Three of about 20 balloons during their lift off from the Branson Balloon Festival.

Three of about 20 balloons during their lift off from the Branson Balloon Festival.

“Branson’s reputation as one of the premier vacation and entertainment destinations in America is well known and growing,” said Tammy Johnson, the General Manager for the Branson Tourism Center. “To the millions who have discovered Branson and all that it has to offer, it’s no surprise that it was listed in the top 25 List of U.S. Destinations in ‘TripAdvisors® 6th Annual Traveler’s Choice Destination Awards’ along with cities such as Orlando, New Orleans, San Diego and others.”

Although known primarily for its natural beauty, pristine lakes, live shows, attractions and shopping, which in themselves are remarkable, Branson has many special events throughout the year that give its visitors even more choices for fun and excitement. The Branson Balloon Festival, currently being held, is just one of these surprises.

The Festival is being held at the Branson RecPlex in Branson Hills and includes tethered rides, tandem skydiving, sky diving displays, helicopter rides, powered parachutes, food and vendors along with Hot Air Balloon Flights. Almost 20 of the giant Hot Air Balloons, with names such as, “Champagne Cowboy,” “Freedom,” “Odd Duck” and more, start the process of getting ready for the daily flights at about 6:30 a.m. as their crews, from as far away as Crestview, FL, spread the balloons out, attach their baskets and start to blow them up for flight.

Getting them ready to soar.

Getting them ready to soar.

As I watched with other Festival attendees, it was amazing to see the launching process unfold right before our eyes as the balloons took shape, displaying a dazzling display of design and color, filled up, rose gracefully into the air and gently floated away taking their passengers on an unforgettable experience. It’s truly a unique experience to see that many beautiful balloons going into the air in that short of a time.

Rodney Williams, a balloon pilot, operates “Branson Balloon” and, weather permitting, takes people on Hot Air Balloon flights over the Branson area on a daily basis. He explained that the reason for the early morning launch is because that is generally the time when there is the least chance of wind and the best flying conditions.

Some might ask, “Why even publish this piece because the event will be over Sunday?” The answer is simple, “The piece is about one of the many ‘surprises’ that Branson offers its visitors throughout the year, in addition to everything it offers on a daily basis.” Hopefully, it will encourage those coming to Branson to seek out and attend the events that might be of interest them and make their Branson visit more enjoyable.” One easy way to do that is by checking the Branson Tourism Center’s Upcoming Events Calendar which is sorted by month and day.

It only takes a few seconds and might prevent you from missing a golden opportunity to share a special moment with your family. I’d imagine that, like myself, the families watching those balloons take off this morning, or who will see them take off tomorrow morning, will have a special memory of Branson that will last for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6th Annual Branson Gospel Sing Off sparkles with talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Branson Up Close and Personal With Mickey Gilley

Mickey Gilley during interview.

Mickey Gilley during in depth interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireman’s Landing blazes into Silver Dollar City in 2015

Artist's rendition of Fireman's Landing.

                 Artist’s rendition of Fireman’s Landing.

“Sounds like the new $8 million ‘Fireman’s Landing’ will add new meaning to ‘blazing’ fun, excitement and adventure at Silver Dollar City starting in 2015,” said Tammy Johnson, the General Manager for the Branson Tourism Center. The new area, which will have six new family rides and four interactive play zones, all themed around “the spirit and training of community volunteer firefighters,” was announced at a press conference at the park on Aug. 13.

In introducing the expansion, Brad Thomas, the General Manager of the 1890’s theme park, said the story line for “Fireman’s Landing” will be loosely based on the fire that destroyed the town, [Marmaros] where Silver Dollar City is currently located and the desires of the citizens to train a volunteer fire brigade so that it never happens again. It will be themed to “recognize the contributions of the community heroes who serve as firefighters” and as “an 1880’s volunteer recruitment fair with rides and attractions for ages 3 to 93.”

Thomas could scarce contain his excitement as he said, “We love our visitors and our visitors continue to support us when we do fun and exciting things for them.” He pointed out that one of the most exciting things for him about “Fireman’s Landing” is that “families will be able to have fun together and we love it when we can bring families together and allow them to have fun as a family unit.”

He illustrated the “fun together” aspect by using two of the new “tower drop” rides, “Fireman’s Firefall” and “Up the Ladder.” “Fireman’s Fall” takes bigger kids and adults 80 feet into the air for a beautiful view of the Ozark Mountains; “But,” says Thomas, “you’ve got to keep your eyes open because in a second you go from 80 feet in the air all the way to the ground.” “Up the Ladder,” is a smaller version of the tower drop ride designed to let some of the smaller members of the family have a similar experience.

He also pointed out the “Roundabout,” where some of the smallest children will be able to sit in “Dalmatians” and go around a fire hydrant. A smile spread over his face as he said, “I think it’s going to be one of the most popular rides at Silver Dollar City.” Other rides and attractions, including a soaring balloon ride called “Fire Spotter” and the “Firehouse Splash Yard,” with squirting water jets and pump hoses; are located near  “Fire Station #3” which has a number of attractions including “‘Firefighter’s Fire Drill,’ with buckets, pumpers, foam ball cannons and targets for showering mock fires; ‘Firefighter’s Fire Escape,’ an obstacle course of tubes, mazes, climbing structures and slides and ‘Firefighter’s Junior Fire Escape,’ a soft play area for toddlers.”

The completion and opening of “Fireman’s Landing,” will bring the total number of Silver Dollar City’s rides and attractions to over 40 and increase the parks “ride capacity” to 21,000 per hour. With the addition of “Fireman’s Landing” and its family orientation to everything else the park offers, it’s easy to understand why Silver Dollar City believes that 2015 will be the park’s “biggest family year ever.”


Five Interesting facts about how Branson got its name

The gravestone of Ruben Bransonis readily visible driving by the NW corner of Oklahoma and Commercial Steets in historic downtown Branson.

The gravestone of Ruben S. Branson is readily visible driving by the NW corner of Oklahoma and Commercial Streets in historic downtown Branson.

“Branson” is known, and justly so, as a top tourist destination because of all it has to offer in terms of beautiful scenery, pristine lakes, exciting shows, attractions, shopping and so much more. In fact, so much so that it made the top 25 List of U.S. Destinations in “TripAdvisors® 6th Annual Traveler’s Choice Destination Awards: along with cities such as New York, Orlando, and New Orleans.”

With “Branson” being as popular as it is, we thought it would be interesting to share some information about the history of how it got its name and the difference between the “city of Branson” and “Branson:”

1. Ruben S. Branson was not the founder of “Branson:” In about 1882, Ruben S. Branson opened a general store near the mouth of Roark Creek and the White River to service those in the area that were already here. He had a post office in the store. Anyone want to take a guess at the official name of that post office?

2. Branson is named after its first “Post Office:” Not surprisingly Ruben S. Branson named the post office in his store, “Branson” and even though he moved away, the name stuck, well, kind of.

3. “Branson” almost became “Lucia:” In the early 1900s, as the railroad came into the “Branson area,” there were competing interests trying to get land and plat towns. The first town platted was “Lucia” on October 2, 1903 with the town of “Branson” platted soon after on October 26, 1903. Charles Fulbright and his “Branson Town Company” acquired both town sites by the end of 1903, but the official records of the U.S. Post Office indicate that the name of the “Branson” Post Office was changed from “Branson” to “Lucia” in 1902. It was changed back to “Branson” in 1904.

4. Branson was incorporated as a city on April 1: No April Fool’s joke, Branson was incorporated April 1, 1912.

5. “Branson” and “the city of Branson” are two different entities: Many people have been coming to “Branson” for decades to go to Silver Dollar City, Table Rock Lake and other areas. To this day, Silver Dollar City and the vast majority of Table Rock Lake are outside of the city limits of Branson. In fact, when the Presleys built the first theatre on what is now known as the “Branson Strip” and started performing their iconic show, Presleys’ Country Jubilee in 1967, it was outside of the city limits of Branson. As tourism expanded, along with the need for services, the city of Branson annexed the surrounding areas which now includes the entire theatre district, the famed “Branson Strip” and the majority of Branson’s attractions.