CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: JULY 21
One ad shows Satan — with horns, bulging muscles and a devilish grin. The other touts the Osmonds — sequined jumpsuits, broad smiles and perfect teeth.
When it comes to live entertainment, Las Vegas and Branson, Mo., both want your business, but they go about getting it in different ways. Think of Branson as Vegas without the sin.
On any given day, more than 100 live shows play this Midwestern mecca where billboards line the “strip” trumpeting everyone from Andy Williams to the Liverpool Legends. Branson’s focus is on family entertainment with plenty of sizzle but none of the sex.
“Some people call us the buckle of the Bible Belt,” said a gal from the chamber of commerce as she showed me around last month.
“You can bring the kids here and not have to worry about them seeing something inappropriate.
Indeed, it’s a bit like dying and going to heaven. On my first day, alone, I caught a 10 a.m. show of the Twelve Irish Tenors (a world-renowned song and dance troop); lunched at Moon River Cafe with a pop-in by the crooner himself, Andy Williams; rode go-carts at The Track and duck boats through town (splashing down in an Ozark Mountain lake) and then topped it off at Level 2 Steakhouse, where the beef is grilled on 10,000-year-old Himalayan salt blocks in a 1600-degree infrared oven and served with your choice of steak knives.
It’s a far cry from the vittles that Jed, Jethro, Ellie May and Granny ate in “The BeverlyHillbillies.” The ’60s sitcom featured several episodes shot in Branson, at Silver Dollar City. I spent most of Day 2 in this popular theme park and came out with a deep appreciation for Ozark history, as well as the revelation that my aging body no longer likes extreme roller coasters.
Silver Dollar City has several, but luckily they’ve also got shows like the The Fabulous Wallendas! Famous Family Circus, an 1880s craft village with working Ozark artisans and a cave with the largest entrance room in the country.
Marvel Cave was the first attraction on the site, open to visitors back in 1894.
The third day of my visit was perhaps the most impressive. I toured College of the Ozarks, known respectfully as “Hard Work U”. It’s a school that should be the model for higher education today. Every one of the 1,400 students earns their tuition, room and board with an on-campus job and they even built their own luxury hotel and restaurant on the site — which they run to get hospitality experience. An on-campus farm provides hogs and fresh vegetables for the school, which has hosted some of the world’s most powerful leaders, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President George W. Bush.
Throughout my tour of Branson, I picked up on a recurring theme — God and country.
One of several retired preachers living here called it “the last place of refuge.” It was evident in the way most shows opened with a salute to our soldiers and a reference to prayer.
This wholesome Missouri town may seem a bit out of place in this rapidly changing world, but it certainly got me thinking. If the sky opens up and it looks like the world is coming to an end — I’m booking the next flight to Branson.