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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6th Annual Branson Gospel Sing Off sparkles with talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Branson Up Close and Personal With Mickey Gilley

Mickey Gilley during interview.

Mickey Gilley during interview.

Mickey Gilley, one of the last nationally known stars that came to Branson in the early 90s still regularly performing, is celebrating his 25th year in Branson in 2014. 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 staring 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.

Limited time left to Cruise With Branson Stars

The Duttons performing their finale, "Boil Them Cabbage Down."

The Duttons performing their finale, “Boil Them Cabbage Down.”

“We have loved the chance to offer our clients the unique opportunity to cruise with Branson stars on an exclusive luncheon cruise aboard the 100 foot luxury yacht, Landing Princess,” said Tammy Johnson, the General Manager for the Branson Tourism Center, “but, like many good things, the time do so is coming to an end and Cruise With the Stars will no longer be available after Sep. 30.” Johnson goes on to point out that the remaining cruises includes an all-star lineup with The Duttons on Sep.12, Grand Jubilee onSep.13 and The Texas Tenors on Sep. 18.

Cruise With the Stars has actually been called a “Showtraction” because it combines two different activities, an exclusive luncheon and sightseeing cruise on Lake Taneycomo with the stars and actually attending the “show” of the star(s) with whom you will be cruising. With the package you get choice seats to see the star(s) perform at their Branson theatres and then meet and interact with them in a more informal setting as you enjoy lunch and a sightseeing cruise together. The Cruise provides a rare and unique opportunity to meet and interact with the stars outside of the typical formal theatre environment and offers an unparalleled opportunity for photos, autographs and an “up close and personal” experience as you interact with them while on the cruise.

The Texas Tenors,

The Texas Tenors,

The Cruise With the Stars experience is exclusive for Branson Tourism Center customers. As Branson’s biggest seller of attraction and show tickets with over 4,000,000 tickets sold they work very closely with Branson’s shows and attractions and have developed a wonderful relationship with them. It is that relationship, on a day to day basis, that gets Branson Tourism Center’s customers the best seats and accommodations available, but in combination with the special relationship it has with “Main Street Lake Cruises,” enables them to provide this exclusive opportunity.

Suggesting advance reservations, Branson Tourism Center’s Johnson points out that each separate cruise is a onetime event; there is limited seating available on the “Landing Princess” and that once the seats are gone for a particular cruise so is the opportunity to cruise with the star(s) featured on that cruise. For additional information or tickets for Cruise With the Stars or any of Branson’s other shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services by calling 1-800-785-1550 or through its website, www.BransonTourismCenter.com .

Super Summer/Midnight Cruise weekend in Branson

Ready for "Vehicle Show and Shine."

Ready for “Vehicle Show and Shine.”

“The ‘Midnight Summer Cruise’ down Shepherd of the Hills Expressway is one of the most popular events of the summer,” said Annette Wood, Director of Sales and Marketing, Branson Tourism Center. “It is the final event in the three day “Shepherd of the Hills Super Summer Cruise” being held at the “Shepherd of the Hill Homestead” from Aug. 7 through Aug. 9, 2014,”she added.

During the event, hundreds of beautifully maintained and presented “Modified and “Stock” trucks and cars will be on display at the Homestead for the daily “Vehicle Show & Shine” from 8:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. each day. Simultaneously, they will also be judged for awards in over 19 “Classes” such as “1900 – 1934 Stock & Street Rod Autos,” “1963 – 1968 Modified Muscle Cars,” “Corvettes All Years,” “Stock Trucks All Years,” and others; “Special Awards” including “Most Unusual Paint Job,” “Best Use of Color,” “Most Radical Engine,” to name a few, and of course, the awards for “Best of Show,” “First Runner Up” and “Second Runner Up.” The Best of Show Awards will take place starting at 4:00 p.m. on Aug. 9 along with the “Drivers Briefing for the Cruise.”

There is a maximum of 105 points available, 20 points for each of the five categories Exterior, Drive Train, Interior, Engine, and Customization plus an extra 5 Bonus Points for Safety, Hazard and emergency supplies. The “Best of Show Awards” are scheduled to be presented at the Shepherd of Hills’ Pavilion Theatre starting at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday August 9.

The “Midnight Cruise” on Aug. 9 is a major highlight of the event and its concluding activity. Vehicles will enter the “Cruise Route” at the western end of Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and proceed down the expressway, past the Shoji Tabuchi and Pierce Arrow Theatres to its conclusion at Roark Valley Road. Branson Tourism Center’s Wood points out that the event is so popular that it is not unusual to see chairs lined up along the parade route hours before it begins.

She also reminds those planning on attending the “Super Summer Cruise” at the Homestead or going to Silver Dollar City during Aug. 7 through Aug. 9 to allow a little extra time because of the increased traffic that is anticipated on Highway 76 near the Shepherd of the Hills. She also suggests that those planning on riding The Vigilante Ziprider stay on Highway 76 past the Homestead’s main entrance and turn in and park at Inspiration Tower.

For additional information on “Super Summer Cruise” or any of Branson’s shows and attractions or for lodging arrangements please feel free to contact the Branson Tourism Center by either calling their toll free number 1-800-785-1550 or through their website www.BransonTourismCenter.com.



The three most popular things that kids like to do in Branson?

Innovations like its new world breaking "Outlaw Run" wooden coaster help keep the park Branson's number one attraction.

Innovations like its new world breaking “Outlaw Run” wooden coaster help keep the Silver Dollar City as  Branson’s number one attraction.

“Many of the over 20,000 people who have ‘Liked’ our Facebook page have kids or grandkids and are obviously either interested in Branson or have visited Branson, many with their children or grandchildren,” said, Annette Wood, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center. “With all of the shows, attractions, lakes, and other activities Branson offers, we thought it would be interesting and also beneficial to those who have never been to Branson before, to ask them, and others who saw the post, ‘What’s the one thing your kids or grand-kids want to see or do when they come to Branson?’”

The answers, although certainly not scientific, sure did hit most of the top Branson attractions and might be helpful to those planning a trip to Branson with their children or grandchildren. It’s no surprise that the number one thing they wanted to see was Branson’s oldest and most popular paid attraction, the award winning 1880s styled theme park, Silver Dollar City. With dozens of rides for children of every age, six world class festivals each year, shows, practicing craftsmen and so much more it’s easy to understand its popularity, not only with the kids, but with their parents and grandparents as well.

Whether you call it an attraction or a show kids as well as adults have made it one of Branson's most popular things to do in Branson.

Whether you call it an attraction or a show kids as well as adults have made it one of Branson’s most popular things to do in Branson.

Second was the Dixie Stampede. Dolly Parton calls it, “Branson’s most fun place to eat” and it’s easy to see why that is especially so for children. Where else can you get a scrumptious four course meal and the fun that comes from eating it without “utensils” amid the excitement and action of “racing ostriches, 32 magnificent horses featuring some amazing equestrian feats, a stampede of buffalo, the rumble in the treetops lumberjack relay, and some friendly competition?”

Go Kart riding was the third on the list. The Track Family Fun Parks is a go-kart paradise featuring 1,200 feet and four stories of steel and concrete on the “Heavy Metal High Rise,” a four-story spiral climb on the “Wild Woody” or the spirals and a blind peak of the “Lumber Jack” along with traditional go kart tracks at their four Branson parks. And if that’s not enough The Extreme Racing Center features high speed kart reaching speeds of up to 40 mph.

The Titanic Museum Attraction, Ride the Ducks and mini golf were also high on the list, but, “What important,” said Branson Tourism Center’s Wood, “is that kids are going to have fun while they are in Branson and will want to come back.” She said these two comments sum it up beautifully; Sherri D Adkisson Smith when she said, “My grandkids loved everything we did! They were amazed at Branson itself!” and Judy Johnson Smith who listed the favorite things they saw and did in while they were in Branson and hit the proverbial nail right on the head when she closed by saying, “But most importantly they want to go back next summer.”

Well I sure know who Billy Dean is now!


Bill Dean during opening set.

Bill Dean during opening set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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