Off The Interstate

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Waterwheel at Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri

The American Bus Association (ABA) and the National Tour Association (NTA) consistently vote Branson as a top motor coach destination. Bank Travel magazine and Leisure Group Travel choose Branson as one of the top U.S. destination for their clubs. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation's (RBFF) Take Me Fishing Campaign rate Table Rock State Park in the list of top 100 Family Friendly Places to Boat and Fish in the U.S.  Silver Dollar City was named one of the top 10 best theme parks in the world by Amusement Today.

Why all the accolades? One short visit to Branson told me why it consistently ranks so high for travelers of all kinds. It has it all.


Baldknobbers perform in Branson Missouri
Baldknobbers perform in Branson Missouri

You like shows? Branson has more seats than Broadway, over 57,000 throughout the dozens of theaters. You can attend 100 different live shows each season from pop, rock ‘n' roll,  country, classical, gospel, illusionist and Broadway-style musical productions. Shows offer performances morning, noon and night.  You want it: Branson has it.

We visited several and I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite. I loved them all for different reasons.  Many shows include a blend of several types of entertainment like music and comedy. One that combines the two perfectly is the Baldknobbers. The name comes from a group of vigilantes that roamed the area during reconstruction and met atop the mountain balds. They struck terror into the hearts of the lawless during the 1880s. Their story is told in the play Shepherd of the Hills which is yet one more production offered in Branson. However, the only thing the Baldknobbers might strike today is your funny bone. The comedy portion of the show is performed by  Tim Mabe, who portrays "Droopy Drawers, Jr," a toothy sloppily dressed character originally created by his father and one of the founding member of the Baldknobbers, Jim Mabe,  and  Jerl Adams who is a toothless, flaccid faced "Hargus Marcel" who portrays a dour character but is so hilarious he is often laughing at himself.  The jokes are corny and clean but the delivery will have you rolling in the aisles.

The music portion, which is the largest part of the show, will strike a few cords in your heart. Our show raised the curtain with a rousing rendition of "Orange Blossom Special." The main cast is onstage playing their hearts out while Mike Ito strides up the main aisle to the stage playing the fiddle portion. Mike is from Tokyo, Japan –last place I would expect a country musician to hail from. He just about makes his fiddle talk and is no slouch on vocals. His versions of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "El Paso" are so good you could close your eyes and envision Willie Nelson and Marty Robbins on stage.

The rest of the cast are equally good. Patty Mabe, wife of "Droopy Draws, Jr., does a soulful version of some of Patsy Clines favorites. Rob Blackwood, the band's drummer is the son of the famous gospel group, the Blackwoods. He has performed on stage with celebrities like Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dolly Parton, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys, Conway Twitty , Loretta Lynn, and other big name musicians. Dean Holman, playing steel guitar and dobro, has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and played at Carnegie Hall. In 2001, he was awarded the George D. Hay (founder of the Grand Ole Opry) Musician of the Year award. The rest of the band has equally great musical credentials and live up to your highest expectations.

Even while waiting for the performance and during intermission, you are entertained  by Bob Leftridge who plays guitar and sings with a bit of comedy tossed in.

The band was established in 1959 by Jim, Lyle, Bill and Bob Mabe, The Baldknobbers Show is Branson's longest running show. 

Showboat Branson Belle in Branson Missouri 
Showboat Branson Belle
On the opposite end of the spectrum you can be wowed by the special effects in Jonah, currently in its first season at Sight and Sound Theater.  Sight and Sound Theater is Branson's largest; surpassing even the 4,000-seat Grand Palace. The story is the well known Bible story of Jonah and his dilemma, comparable to things we all face in life just magnified.

The cast is not in the forefront. In fact we tried to find out the actor's name (or actors since it is preformed twice daily except Sunday and Monday) and could not get a name. The music and dance scenes rival Broadway productions. The scenes that call for animals use real live ones. It is fascinating to see horses, camels, donkeys and other animals prancing across the stage. However the production gets it s highest kudos from me for its special effects.

The first act ends with the scene where Jonah had just been tossed from the storm ridden ship. Second act begins. Lights go off. Curtain goes up. You find yourself in an underwater setting. The huge whale swims out over the audience in the lower level seats. Giant lighted jellyfish descend over the balcony. The entire theater is filled with swimming fish and other creatures that inhabit the deep. It is an indescribable scene. My words cannot do it justice. You just have to visit Branson and see for yourself.

Janice Martin and the Showmen on Showboat Branson Belle in Branson Missouri 
Janice Martin and the Showmen on Showboat Branson Belle
Speaking of water, you can get out on Table Rock Lake on the  Showboat Branson Belle and see a great variety show. You can choose from a lunch or dinner cruise at either noon, four or eight PM. We choose the dinner cruise and were mesmerized by host/comedian/magician Christopher James before and during our meal. He recruits audience members to help in his illusions. They leave you wondering, "How did he do that!"

The meal was superb. It's a full three courses and you have several choices. My prime rib was perfectly cooked and so tender. After you eat, you have some time to wander around the paddleboat and even visit the captain at the helm.

When you return to the theater be prepared to be blown away by the talent. There is Janice Martin, the world's only aerial violinist. She is equally good on her violin as she twirls and twists far above the stage as she is while standing center stage.

The Showmen are a group of five talented male singers and dancers who have all the moves perfected. Their song range is versatile ranging from Motown to Rock to patriotic. The singers are backed by Showboat's signature live band, the Rockin' Dockers. You just can't sit still.

Cast of Smoke on the Mountain in Branson Missouri
Scene from Smoke on the Mountain
For a more participatory type of theater, check out the Little Opry Theatre for a showing of Smoke on the Mountain. The show is set in North Carolina in 1938. The audience becomes the congregation as Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe interacts with the Sanders Family Singers at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church's Saturday Night Gospel Sing.

It is hilarious! The interaction between the "mother" and her "twins" is worth the admission by itself. The older sister "June", signs since she cannot sing. For the most part she uses standard sign language but the exaggerations and emphasis "signs" will have you laughing so hard you will need to rush to the restroom to check your undies. For me, she stole the show. The old-time gospel music is moving even if you are not a religious person.

There are so many shows and theaters that you will have to make some hard choices unless you decide to move to Branson. Shepherd of the Hills was the play that started it all so you will want to see that one. So many greats have theaters there and still perform.

Shows may be why many people visit but it not the only reason.

One of the many rides at Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri 
One of the many rides at Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City leads the list of parks. It's so huge and contains so many varied types of entertainment: shows, rides, dining, crafters, classes and the unbelievable Marvel Cave that began it all. It deserves an article of its own and will have one in the next issue.

Branson's White Water offers 13 acres of tropical adventure filled with nearly 7,000 feet of slides, lots of rides and attractions and two million gallons of water used in every conceivable fashion from thrill slides like  KaPau Plummet to a refreshing swim on a hot day.

The Track Family Fun Parks have four parks in Branson that offer anything from a nice tame game of miniature golf to a fun bumper car ride and, for the ultimate thrill seeker, the Skycoaster , a cross between skydiving and hang-gliding.

One of the Ducks in Table Rock Lake in Branson Missouri 
One of the Ducks in Table Rock Lake

There is so much outdoor fun in Branson it's hard to visualize it all. The Ride the Ducks Tour is one way to get a good overview of land and water attractions. Our driver was knowledgeable and witty. When he hurls full blast from land into Table Rock Lake it is an unforgettable experience. Our driver, Captain Trapp,  even let some of us drive in the water. One of the most moving parts of the route is the tour of former American military vehicles perched high on Baird Mountain. The tours go rain or shine but if, unlike real ducks, you prefer to stay dry they are covered.

Another scenic overview tour is the Branson Scenic Railroad. It takes you on a 40-mile roundtrip excursion thru Ozark foothills and tunnels. A narrator explains the history of the places you pass through. The raised cars give you an over the top view as you travel in luxury reminiscent of the golden age of the railroads.

For the more daring, there are numerous zip lines offering you a chance to swoop across the land like a bird in flight.

 The Scenic Railroad and historic depot in Branson Missouri
The Scenic Railroad and historic depot
Getting out on Table Rock Lake can be accomplished in many ways. Indian Point Marina has most options covered.  You can rent anything from a little Waverunner up to a 12 passenger pontoon boat. Want to see what is under the surface? The dive shop can rent you gear or even train and certify you.

When you get hungry, mosey over to the area's only Floating Cafe. The owner, Andy, will make sure you get your fill. We had breakfast there and would not have need a lunch for quite a while after.  It's so much fun to just watch the fish and turtles swimming past the dock. Table Lake's water is so clear you can see them perfectly.

There are dozens of other marinas as well. Fishing can be enjoyed as simply as tossing a line off the lake's banks or as elaborately as doing a day on any of Branson's three pristine lakes: Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals. All three lakes have camping and RV parks and public and private boat docks/launch areas. It's Fisherman Heaven

Titanic Musuem in Branson Missouri 
Titanic Museum is exact half size replica  
(This is the Gatlinburg model but both "ships"are identical)

Branson is overflowing with museums including two antique car museums, the largest toy museum in the world and many others.

One of my favorites is the Titanic Museum. It's a hands on interactive look at one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century. The exterior is )a half-sized replica but that is only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended.) It's when you step aboard that the real ship comes to life for you. You are issued a boarding pass in the name of one of the real persons that sailed on that fateful voyage. My pass said I was Helena Baxter, widow of the infamous Diamond Jim Baxter. Helena, traveling with her adult daughter and son, was one of the lucky survivors. She traveled first class in the second most expensive suite onboard.

There is much to marvel at in this museum. One of my favorites is the exact replica of the Grand Staircase. It makes you feel as if you were aboard on that fateful voyage.

The newest exhibit is a tribute to the eight musicians who perished that night. There were two bands aboard, the Salon Orchestra composed of five men and the Deck Band consisting of three. The exhibit with a picture of each man and a little about him. A "crew member" played a moving tribute to the musicians when we visited.

The museum spent over four million dollars on the artifacts. The care and thought that went into the creation of the /titanic Museum make it a must see for anyone visiting Branson.

Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead introduces you to the life and work of Rose O'Neil, creator of the Kewpie Doll, artist extraordinaire and activist.

Ripley's Believe it or Not is filled with the odd and unusual. There's the Hollywood Wax Musuem with all your favorite actors and the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure. There is no way to tell you about all of Branson's museums. There are museums for just about everything in Branson. It's another reason to go see for yourself.


Lodge at Ketter Center in Point Lookout, Missouri 
Lobby of the Lodge at Ketter Center  from the balcony
Anyone can find a place to stay that suits their style or budget. RV parks, camping, lodges, motels or hotels. High budget with all amenities or just a inexpensive place to lay a weary head after a day of fun, Branson has them all.

Keep checking American Roads for an Inn Roads article on the Villages at Indian Point where we stayed. It rates a full 10 on the Wow Scale.

Another unique place to stay is The Keeter Center. It's a rustic lodge with all amenities including fine dining located in Point Lookout about four miles form Branson. What makes it so unique is that it is part of the  College of the Ozarks, alternately known as "Hard Work U" because of its work instead of pay policy. Students work at the lodge, museum, mill or other places that are part of the campus to earn tuition and room and board. This is another place that will have its own story in an upcoming issue.

This just touches on a few of the many things to do in Branson but if I haven't given you a good reason to visit Branson, you have to be a "stay at home person." Branson is a place with something for everyone.

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