Branson weekend full of memories

6 Jun

I have something a little different for you this week: No booze, no bars, just Branson.

Along with following Joplin nightlife, I keep up with Branson entertainment in my Best Read Blog Branson at joplinglobe.com.  When I started covering Branson entertainment for The Joplin Globe more than three years ago, I didn’t know my backside from a Baldknobber. I hadn’t gone that deep into the Ozarks since I was kid. I’m talking 1974.

We —  me and my brothers, my grandparents, a cooler full of bologna sandwiches, a couple gallons of Kool-Aid and enough potato chips to feed a small army — packed into my Pop’s car and off we went to Branson.  By Branson, I mean Silver Dollar City. That, to us, was Branson. To many it still is.

There was much less traffic back then and I don’t remember standing in long lines. I remember the rush of plunging into the darkness riding my first roller coaster:  “Fiiirrrreeee in the hooooole!”  I’m sure the annual pilgrimage was a pain for my grandparents, but for us kids, it was a big-damn deal. It was the only summer vacation we would get that didn’t involve a camping trip or a night at Grand Lake.

Times have changed. My vacation accommodations have improved, bologna sandwiches have been replaced by dinner on the Landing, but Fire in the Hole still makes me scream.  Now, I also get to work in Branson. I’ve had a great time covering Branson food, entertainment and nightlife, and that’s no joke. The city offers a good nightlife for adults, great restaurants and plenty of fun family entertainment.

With more than 50 years of entertainment under its belt, Branson is getting a second wind. A world-class convention center dominates the old downtown, shopping and entertainment abound, and a new airport welcomes Branson virgins to town every day.  There’s a lot going on, and I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want you to miss it, either. So, from time to time I’ll use this space to keep you abreast of what’s shaking on the shores of Lakes Taneycomo and Table Rock.

 Happy birthday, SDC

I spent last weekend in the Midwest’s Music City and celebrated Silver Dollar City’s 50th birthday with a few thousand of my closest friends.  After all, Silver Dollar City and me grew up together. I have fond childhood memories of being measured for a casket by the city’s mortician, of watching the rainmaker’s show on the square and dreaming of performing in the saloon show. Maybe one day my saloon show dream will come true.

I spent much of last weekend with a longtime Branson celeb. Janet Ellis is a local radio host, Vacation Channel regular and fan of The Globe’s entertainment magazine, The Best Read Guide Branson. She’s lived in Branson for almost two decades and knows why Silver Dollar City has such a rich past and bright future: It’s the people.  “Branson is a small town most of the year and has all of the attributes of a small community, but all of the spectacular entertainers we have here makes us special,” she said. “We’re so lucky. It’s the people of the Ozarks who make Branson and Silver Dollar City so special. They are so helpful and friendly.”

Providing family entertainment at a family price is one reason Janet thinks Branson is a proven success. “It’s so affordable for a family to come here and enjoy all of our entertainment,” she said. “It’s a great vacation destination for so many people from all over the country. When families go on vacation they are looking for a good time together, full of fun and family. Branson and Silver Dollar City have always provided that.”  When I heard Silver Dollar City had a birthday party planned, I knew it would be big. I had no idea just how big it would be.

The party started on Saturday with a blowout in the Echo Hollow amphitheater. Saturday morning was cloudy and rain threatened to dampen the park, but not the spirit of those filling the 4,000-seat theater.  It was a star-studded event. Gov. Jay Nixon was there, Rep. Roy Blunt shared a couple of SDC stories from his youth and Branson entertainers filled the audience.

The Haygoods, a musical family who started their careers singing and fiddling at Silver Dollar City, welcomed the crowd with a couple of high energy numbers. Joy Bilyeu and a couple of the Mabe boys from The Baldknobbers chimed in with a country number. No birthday party would be complete with out a birthday cake. This party was no different. When they said there would be cake for everybody, they didn’t lie.

As my 50th birthday approaches, I can only hope to have the same kind of energy at my party. Maybe even a Haygood and a Baldknobber, or two.

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