Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's like Vegas

If you are a Simpsons fan (cowabunga, dude!), you may remember when Bart described Branson, Missouri, as being "like Vegas - if it were run by Ned Flanders". It's more commonly known as "The Live Entertainment Capital of the World," and if you have never heard of it, you should really check it out.

Established as a town in the Ozark region in 1882, it is named in honor of the first postmaster and local shopkeeper, Reuben Branson. Almost from the get-go, Branson was a tourist attraction for both Missourians and those from neighboring states. The first bona fide attraction was Marble Cave (now called Marvel Cave), which was purchased in 1894 by William Henry Lynch from the Marble Cave Mining Company. The previous owners discovered - after four years of unsuccessful mining - that there was in fact, no marble in the cave at all. But it was (and is) a really massive cave, a fact not lost on Hugo and Mary Herschend. They leased the cave from Lynch and immediately began charging visitors admission to explore it. To give you an idea how big this place is, the entrance way (a.k.a. "Cathedral Room"), is large enough to fly not one, but five hot air balloon simultaneously. Are you kidding me!? In 1912 the Powersite Dam on the White River was completed, which formed Lake Taneycomo, alongside which modern-day Branson sits. The rest, as they say, is history.

A common thread in that history is, of course, live entertainment. The Baldknobbers Jamboree Show is generally credited with being Branson's first country music and comedy show, started by the Mabe brothers: Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob. They took the name from a local (and violent) Civil-war era vigilante group, and delighted audiences with a washtub bass, banjo, dobro, and a washboard played with the jawbone of a mule for rhythm. Seems like some thimbles would have been just fine, but I am a city-slicker after all, and I guess if I had a spare mule jawbone lying about, why not? Anyway, at nearly the same time, the Herschend family opened Silver Dollar City, featuring a recreated frontier town, shops, a church, and a log cabin with actors playing out the famous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. By 1967, the Baldknobbers, and many other newly created acts, took their shows to the more centrally located Route 76, a.k.a. "The Strip". Today millions of visitors visit the strip annually, and on any given night can seen performers as varied as Ann Margret, Robert Goulet, Shoji Tabuchi, Barbara Mandrell, Yakov Smirnoff, Charo (cuchi-cuchi), and more. Hey did you know Charo's real name is María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Gutiérrez de los Perales Santa Ana Romanguera y de la Hinojosa Rasten? That's a whole lotta name, but she's a lotta woman.

Anywho, timeshare rentals abound in Branson, and I am staying at Marriott's Willow Ridge Lodge. Located right on "the strip", it is also minutes from great fishing, hiking, outlet shopping, and other regional activities. Onsite there is a health club, indoor/outdoor pool, clubhouse, game room, and more. My unit is a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom that can sleep up to 8, featuring a full kitchen, laundry, deck with BBQ, and more. RedWeek members rate it 5-stars and have written some wonderful reviews.

Well, I am off to see the world's largest rooster located at the Great American Steak and Chicken House. Now this is not an actual rooster. That record is purported to belong to His Majesty Rex Goliath, and said to have belonged to a Texas circus at the turn of the 20th century. He weighed in at 47 pounds, and is now the namesake of a California wine. No, this is a 42-foot tall fiberglass monstrosity wearing a star-spangled vest and bow tie and an American flag lapel pin... seriously. I wouldn't normally waste any of my vacation time visiting a giant plastic chicken, but by some strange coincidence, I have already seen the previous record holder (a 37-foot chicken in France), and feel strangely obligated. Besides, the Charo show doesn't start until 8:00, and I gotta kill some time.

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