Visiting Beautiful Branson, Missouri
A viva-Las-Vegas for good clean fun, Branson is a little bitty Ozarks town of 7,000 that attracts seven million people every year to 100 glitzy shows in 49 theatres on its own neon-studded ‘Strip’. But with headliner acts like Andy Williams and Ukrainian-born American comedian Yakov Smirnoff, the wildest Branson gets is when the buffalo come thundering onstage to open Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show.
That’s just fine with the families and senior citizens who have been coming to southwestern Missouri for multiple-generation entertainment since 1959. That’s when four brothers who called themselves The Baldknobbers started playing country tunes and messing about in a converted roller-skating rink on State Highway 76 or the Strip. The Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree is Branson’s longest-running show, but the entertainment options exploded in the 1980s and ’90s. Big-name country entertainers burned out from too many gruelling tours discovered that if they bought or built theatres in this beautiful setting, carved out of the ancient, wooded Ozark Mountains, their audiences would come to them.
These days you can hear just about every style of music—rock ’n’ roll, jazz, Cajun, gospel, big band, you name it. And when you get tired of music, there are comedians, magicians, dancers and ‘tribute artists’ who bring beloved American icons such as Red Skelton back to life. Even the theme park, Silver Dollar City, a re-creation of an 1880s mining town that once stood here, is as wholesome as it gets.
To explore the countryside, hop on the Branson Scenic Railway for a 40-mile ride through the cool and otherwise inaccessible Ozark foothills and river valley. The vintage train leaves from a 1905 station in Branson (head for the Vista-Dome panoramic cars for the best seats).