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Branson, Missouri

Branson's Bandbox
Story by Richard Carroll
Photographs by Halina Kubalski

centennial celebration poster in Branson, Missouri
Historic Branson, Missouri tucked away in the Ozarks was named by Ruben S. Branson, Postmaster.

n 1882, innovative Ruben S. Branson and his wife Mary opened a small general store and post office in a village near the White River, tucked away in the middle of the impressive Missouri Ozark Mountains. Quite possibly, an important page of Ozark history was begun while the couple was sitting near a warm cook stove enjoying hot corn bread prepared in a sizzling iron skillet, seasoned with bacon grease and topped with a slab of butter, and it might have taken them no more than two sips of steaming coffee to settle on the name of their new home.

Astutely, Postmaster Ruben Branson named the community for himself as "Branson." Later, in 1912, the community was incorporated as a town with a grand total of 1,200 Bransonians. Today, Ruben and Mary would be astounded to grasp that the family name, and once small settlement of homesteaders, loggers, farmers, and those searching for a better life, is recognized far and wide, and within the spirited world of performers, Branson is an icon.

street scene in Branson, Missouri
Branson Missouri located in the Ozark Mountains.

Notably, the city is not in the Deep South and is a tad removed from the Midwest, so Branson carefully carved its own path, the moral fiber of the city being down-home Ozark. Within city limits are the 130-acre Lakeside Wilderness Area, 16 parks, and the splendid Lake Taneycomo, while it's just a 30-minute drive southwest to the impressive 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, laced with trails and raw Ozark mountain splendor.

The Branson setting is a glorious location for country music, gifted fiddlers, and performers from throughout the world who book in to showcase their talents in one of the largest live-music playgrounds anywhere. Appropriately tagged the "World's Music Capital," the city offers an incredible 100 live music venues ranging from pop and rock, gospel, blues, and soul, to foot-stomping Louisiana Cajun, Broadway-style shows, big bands, country, and the celebrity headliners of today and yesterday.

a popular music venue in Branson
A popular Branson venue.

Music is simply a lifestyle in this part of Missouri. Even the café servers will sing a chart or two while dishing up a plate of okra and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, and if it's Sunday a little hand-clapping country gospel will set the mood.

A faded red convertible, top down, license plate reading "Singin'" with a flat-back German bass taking up the passenger seat cruises into town, the driver whistling the 12-bar blues, his mutt dog scrutinizing the territory with a busy nose. It's that kind of place.

With more guitar players than wild flowers, Branson is a revered gig for musicians, a relaxing city to work, family-oriented, safe, and Ozark welcoming. Not unlike Switzerland, the city is sparkling clean. Graffiti and flies have been barred at the border.

two musicians performing at Branson's Starlite Theater
Two singers performing at the Starlite Theater in the heart of Branson.

With a little imagination one can picture Ruben and Mary strolling along Hwy. 76, known as The Strip, hand-in-hand, enjoying some Bluegrass, the Texas Tenors, Loretta Lynn, or an unknown performer with a three-octave country voice, perfect pitch, and blissful blue eyes, eagerly signing autographs, while looking forward to the short bus ride to Nashville and stardom.

The Branson musicians and headliners are first rate, as are the show-room venues. In place of jangling casinos and long-legged show ladies with fluttering eyelashes, Ozark hospitality features Old Glory proudly flapping in the breeze, and a special tribute to veterans, current and past, before every performance.

singers performing at a Branson venue
Singers performing at a Branson venue.

Branson's show business tourism took hold in 1907, drawing thousands of visitors to the area to experience the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theater made popular by the block-buster novel of the same name. Today it's the longest-running outdoor drama in the world. The family-owned Silver Dollar City theme park, adjacent to Marvel Cave, first opened in 1960 when it was designed after an old-time Ozark village complete with a 1880s steam train ride. Over the years it has expanded to a mammoth award-winning amusement park while still keeping the flavor of its historical Ozark roots.

Ozarkian lady fiddler at the Silver Dollar City theme park
The award-winning Silver Dollar City theme park is designed after an old-time Ozark village. Opened in 1960 mammoth Silver Dollar City has an 1880s steam train ride and hundreds of other attractions. This Ozarkian lady is a splendid fiddler.

In 1967, the Presley family, no relation to Elvis, built Branson's first music theater in the heart of the city on Hwy.76, designed as an elaborate showcase for their entertaining Presley's Country Jubilee. The Baldnobbers, as the Mabe brothers called themselves, followed suite by building a performance theater on Hwy.76 in 1969. Their show, infused with comedy, dating to 1959, is noted as Branson's longest continuously running show.

Presley's Country Jubilee
Branson, tagged as the "World's Music Capital," in 1967 the Presley family built Branson's first music theater in the heart of the city on Hwy. 76.

But most Bransonians agree that the day the prestigious 60 Minutes television program arrived in 1991 and declared Branson "The Live Music Capital of the Entire Universe," was the defining moment that lifted Branson to national prominence, with big name entertainers quick to leap on the Branson bandwagon with one-way tickets.

Beyond entertainment, the stylish Grand Village is infused with one-of-a kind shops, singing servers at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, and a well-earned reputation for celebrating Christmas and the holiday season year-round. Train buffs can board the Ozark Zephyr at the historic 1906 depot and ride the rails on a 40-mile round-trip tour through the Ozark foothills while enjoying narrated anecdotes on vintage equipment including a dome coach.

the historic Branson train station
The historic Branson train station dates to 1906.

Branson's stylish Grand Village
Stylish Grand Village celebrates Christmas and the holiday season year-round

The 1906 train depot isn't Branson's only opportunity to be immersed in the world of turn-of-the-century travel. There is also a 1912 Trans-Atlantic cruise to explore. In landlocked Branson, the huge 221-foot partial replica of the Titanic seems like a fantastical optical illusion looming skyward on the Strip in the heart of town, but the top-rated museum is in fact an implicit passage of discovery with precise historical details. Visitors receive their boarding passes, feel the chill of the fateful night, walk the elegant Grand Staircase, see 400 rare historical artifacts, and speak with crew members who relate touching stories of the doomed voyage.

the 5-star Titantic Museum
The 5-star Titantic Museum is ranked among the best in the United States.

Any "Must See" list should include the Branson Centennial History Museum, early dinner and a show aboard the spacious showboat Branson Belle, and a browse through Dick's Old-Time 5 & 10 store, dating to 1929, where kids would love to spend the day lost in an incredible maze of objects that just have to be touched. For culinary aficionados, take time for lunch at the Keeter Center on the lovely College of the Ozarks campus, where cuisine is a work of art.

musical venue aboard the showboat Branson Belle
Another musical venue aboard the spacious showboat Branson Belle.

Dick's Old-Time 5 and 10 store dates back to 1929
Dick's Old Time 5 & 10 store, 1929, is a step into the past.

An executive of the impressive Starlite Theater remarked, "Bring your friends, we'll treat them right, and if they can tap dance, smile and sing, we'll put them to work."

the Starlite Theatre
The Starlite Theater is one of Branson's 100 live music venues.

When You Go
Branson-Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau,
1-800-296-0463; www.explorebranson.com.

Related Articles:
A Tale of Two Cities: St. Louis & Kansas City; Elko's 31st Celebration of The Old West; Three Things We Didn't Know About St. Louis; St. Louis and the Ball Park Hotel; Lake Charles’ Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras


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Let Richard know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Paris

In Paris would love a tour of Hemingway’s haunts.

--- Roy Curnow, New Jersey

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A very well written and empathetic article about literary Paris. I am visiting again with my husband in early November and having re-read 'Moveable Feast' in my 60's following reading all Hemingway during my 20's and subsequently again ever since, and – honeymooned for a weekend in Paris in 2004 – cannot wait to retrace Hemingway's steps from the book (as we walk) this time. Also heard great Radio 4 cover of Shakespeareand Company so will be making a visit there without fail.

--- Caroline Timmis, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, UK

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Enjoy getting your Traveling Boy newsletter. Just read the article about Paris. Brought back many fond memories of my year there. I frequented all the haunts mentioned esp. on the Left Bank.

--- P. Sammer, Hawai'i

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We loved your story...we love Woody's new movie and we love all the spots in Paris you outlined. Next time I go there I'm taking your story with us so we can prowl around Hemingway's hot spots. Thanks for letting us know about the story. Merci beaucoup! mon ami...

--- Joseph Rosendo, Topanga, CA

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I just finished reading your piece. Traveling with you must be like enjoying the past, present, and sometimes the future. You bring a place to life. Thanks for sharing. The photos were also excellent.

--- Maxine, Salt Lake City, UT

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A fantastic story, Richard. It's so evocative and seductive that after reading it, one could easily be tempted to buy that one-way ticket to Paris. I read Paris Wife, but after reading your story, Paris and the Paris Walks are definitely in our future.

--- Maris Somerville, Los Angeles, CA

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Richard, thanks for sharing the link to this wonderful article. Helina's pictures are a great complement to your writing. Best regards,

--- Mitchell Lane, Shadow Hills, Los Angeles, CA

Feedback for Las Alamandas

Dear Amigo Richard,

What a beautiful and well written article ...as well your photos and illustrations are amazing!!! Thanks for been such a good friend and promoter of Mexico.

--- Jorge Gamboa, Los Angeles, CA

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Richard's beautifully written and illustrated story brought back many magic memories of my visits to lovely Las Alamandas! I can't wait to return.

--- Marian Gerlich, Los Angeles, CA

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I thank you, it looks like a great place to relax. Maybe... someday who knows?

--- Mel Carroll, Bountiful City, UT

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Nice piece. I missed the rates.

--- Harry Basch, Los Angeles, CA

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This is my favorite of all your pieces I've read. The pictures are lovely. Halina looks like she's in heaven. I would love to visit there.

--- Maxine, Salt Lake City, UT

Feedback for Playa del Carmen

Great photos!! Can't wait to see these sites myself - these pics alone got me even more excited! Any other places you'd recommend in the Yucatan!?

--- Kyle Goes Global

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Man, you draw the tough assignments. You must have been a good boy when you were young (perhaps an earlier incarnation?)!

--- Mel Caroll, Bountiful



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