The Idle American: Sights and sounds of Branson

Brownwood Bulletin
Don Newbury

For youngsters, the wheels of time turn slowly, no matter how many “hurry ups” they desire. Indeed, dream fulfillment is painfully slow.

The same is often true for grown-ups, too. For Branson, MO, the entertainment mecca was hit hard by COVID-19. There was no magic to “grease the wheels,” but as the pandemic weakens, wheels are turning faster for this tourist destination which has come of age in just four decades.

Thankfully, forerunners dreamed large about what Branson might become. With unimaginable commitment, hard work, and eventually tons of cash, it is now the live music capital of the world. Like much else, though, Branson was staggered by COVID-19 for some 15 months. It has been down, but not out….

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   Though flames flickered, the fires of hope and promise in Branson never smothered. Many venues remained open, albeit with limited schedules and sparse crowds.

Several of the most popular shows have been in the same family for generations. Thankfully, early day pioneers had both vision and faith 150 years ago, entertaining in barns, tin structures, and even caves. They had fiddles to play and songs to sing, persevering with both dogged determination and unflagging endurance.

As stage lights return at more than 100 venues after a dismal 2020, courageous entertainers are taking deep breaths of relief, ready to welcome back five million visitors annually, many of whom are repeat guests. Yes, Branson is back….

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God did His part in providing the grandeur of mountains, rivers, and streams, and mere mortals have added three large fishing lakes, a dozen golf courses, and other ambitious projects to provide multiple attractions for all ages.

Long before American communities placed “kindness matters” signs in their front yards, this bedrock community of faith, goodwill, and generous spirits already was fostering a Christian culture of brotherly and sisterly love.

During our first of several visits to Branson a quarter-century ago, we were deeply impressed by simple courtesies, including motorists known for allowing strangers to “cut in line,” no matter the density of bumper-to-bumper traffic at times. Drivers will “let you in,” if not on the first try, certainly the second one. It’s still that way….

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Many thousands of us simply can’t get enough of Branson.

We’ve attended dozens of the shows, appreciating not only the immensely talented entertainers but also the politeness common to all of them. All theater personnel are genuinely friendly. One fan said they are “like Chick-fil-A workers on steroids.”

They are absolutely “family oriented.” An example is Clay Cooper, a longtime Branson star. He proudly includes his high school “quarterback son” as a vocalist. Clay also serves as a city alderman, and his theater – like several others – becomes a worship center on Sunday mornings….

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On a recent trip, we attended shows by New South, The Haygoods, Clay Cooper, and the centerpiece–“Jesus,” which is featured at the Sight and Sound Theater.

This massive facility–an offshoot of the original in Lancaster, PA–has become a hot ticket for Christian visitors. The theatre’s 2,000 seats almost invariably sell out well in advance. It is a “see to believe” venue, built a dozen years ago at a cost of $60 million.

“Seeing is believing” is an over-arching description of the entirety of Branson….

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God and country are honored. Military personnel currently serving–or retirees–are honored at all shows, as are first responders and health care personnel.

Shoji Tabuchi, a major attraction for decades, is known as the “King of Branson.” His theater was severely damaged by fire in 2017, so the show was moved to the Clay Cooper Theater. It was discontinued during most of 2020, however, but will resume at the restored Tabuchi Theater in 2022. Shoji, a master violinist for more than 60 years, is THE BEST.

If “the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise,” we’ll return this fall, our eyes beholding the foliage and our ears treated to the music of the Ozarks….

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Don Newbury, longtime university president, continues to write weekly and speak regularly. Inquiries to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: Don Newbury.