On Saturday, 9/21m we arrived at Branson, Missouri and the Armed Forces Vacation Club did us good again. (AFVClub.com). I highly recommend them even though their prices have been going up over the years (probably because Wyndham bought them out). We paid $299 for this unit and got another seven day stay at another resort in town for FREE, but those $299 specials are a lot less than they use to be.
NOTE: Since Wyndham has taken over AFVClub, I expect to see less customer service, less choices and much, much higher prices in the years to come. Keep an eye out……….
Attached are some photos of the unit we’ll be staying in for the next seven days. We are very satisfied even without the usual washer and dryer being provided because the whirlpool bathtub made up for it.
Here is a good place to tell you about Branson, which has already replaced Las Vegas as my “go to” place for good entertainment.
Branson is in the Ozark Mountains. The community was named after Reuben Branson, postmaster and operator of a general store in the area in the 1880s.The population is around 10,520. Branson has long been a popular destination for vacationers from Missouri and around the country. The collection of entertainment theaters along 76 Country Boulevard (and to a lesser extent along Shepherd of the Hills Expressway), including Dolly Parton's Stampede, has increased Branson's popularity as a tourist destination. The Presley family became the first to move their show (Presleys' Country Jubilee) to Highway 76 in 1967, followed a year later by the Baldknobbers. Eventually Branson would have more than 50 theaters, most of them located on Highway 76. In the early 1980s, Chisai Child's Starlite Theater was one of the first to introduce stage sets, horn section, elaborate costume changes, and music outside of the traditional country music normally played. It helped to launch the careers of Shoji Tabuchi and many others.
In 1983, Branson began its transformation into a major tourist attraction when the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre opened and began to bring famous country music stars to Branson. Many of the performers who have had their own theaters in Branson first discovered Branson when they performed at this venue. The Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre at the Lodge of the Ozarks has been called the "birthplace of Branson celebrity theatres". Also in 1983, the 7,500-seat Swiss Villa Amphitheatre opened in Lampe, southwest of Branson. The outdoor amphitheater brought in acts like Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Steppenwolf, and Ozzy Osbourne. Closing in the early 2000s, it reopened in 2010 as the Black Oak Mountain Amphitheatre.
In 1987, Boxcar Willie became the first internationally known entertainer to purchase a theater in Branson and have a permanent performance schedule there. In 1989, Shoji Tabuchi opened his first theater in Branson. He then built a new theater on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway in 1990, while Mel Tillis moved into Shoji's old theater. In 1990-1991 several nationally known stars such as Jim Stafford, Ray Stevens, Mickey Gilley, and Moe Bandy opened their own theaters. Along with these national stars, many home-grown shows also had theaters. The Lowe Family featured their show and hosted nationally known stars like Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, Waylon Jennings, and others. 76 Music Hall (now known as the Grand Country Music Hall) became the first theater to have three different shows a day performing in different time slots. In 1991, local producer and entertainer Bob Nichols opened the first morning show and the following year, Buck Trent became the first nationally known star to star in a morning show.
The increasing number of theaters and other attractions opening in Branson drew the attention of 60 Minutes, which aired an episode about Branson on December 8, 1991, and called it the "live music capital of the entire universe". Andy Williams built his theater in Branson, opening on May 1, 1992, calling it the Moon River Theatre. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Theatre opened in 1994, starring Glen along with his "Goodtime Band", daughter Debbie Campbell, the Matthew Dickens Dancers, and comedian ventriloquist Jim Barber. Also headlining their own theaters were Tony Orlando (Yellow Ribbon Theater) and Bobby Vinton (Blue Velvet Theater). In 1998, the Acrobats of China arrived in Branson, making them one of the first international shows to call Branson home. They opened their theatre, the New Shanghai Theatre, in 2005. In 2006, Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theatre opened and is the most recent new theater to be built on Route 76. Branson has continued to add theaters (the most recent being the Sight & Sound Theatres) and shows; it refers to itself as "the live music show capital of the world".
There are approximately 150 fantastic shows going on at any one time, split between morning, afternoon and evening performances. We’ve barely scratched the surface, so we’ll need to come back. Oh yeah, don’t plan to come here during the Fourth of July week and Veterans’ Week because most lodging will be totally full unless you call way ahead of time. Also, this is the most patriotic town we have ever visited.
We have a very busy two weeks planned for our stay here. I may have mentioned that Branson is a great “show” town; a lot like Las Vegas without the gambling and hookers. Very clean, conservative, family-suitable shows and a lot of them. I believe the last count was something like 150 shows. How do they fit them all in, you ask? Morning, noon and night – just about every major show is shown three times a day. So, we have tickets for twelve shows in our fourteen day stay and we’re looking forward to them. Our plan is to post our reaction to each show daily on FaceBook for your viewing pleasure ;-)
Today we scored TEN FREE show tickets, a dinner for two, two tickets to Miniature Golf and a free “oldies” photo. I won’t bore you all with the details, but if you plan to visit Branson PM me and I’ll pass on the info.
We also attended “Conway Remembered” staring Mike Walker as Conway Twitty. Besides the “Tribute Artists” obvious talent, they also (usually) give some background information about the artist they are paying tribute to. Example, Conway was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins. When he began his singing career he realized that a normal name like “Harold” wouldn’t stand out much so he took the name Conway from a town in Arkansas and Twitty from a town in Texas. Didn’t know that…..
The show was pretty good. I’m not a great follower of Country Western music, but Conway had a few #1 hits in the 50’s and 60’s that crossed into the main stream of music. My favorite of his has always been “It’s Only Make Believe” and Mike did an excellent job performing. The only downside to the show (for me) was spending over two hours listening to one performer. I’d like to have a little diversity, but that’s just me. Mike was voted Branson’s Best Tribute Artist for 2018 and IMHO he deserves it.
Again, (legal) photos were not allowed, but YouTube comes through again.
Another Branson show tip I’ll share – if you preview the acts before you come here and decide which you want to see, any show that is performed at the same theater you attend a different show, the tickets will be up to 50% off...and I haven’t seen it any cheaper anywhere in this town. We’re attending four different shows in the same theater where the average cost of a ticket is $40 each. We attended the first show and were offered tickets to the remaining shows for $15 each. I was happy with only paying $40, but $15 would have really been nice. Oh well, just another lesson learned.
Today’s show was The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai. The standard show I'm sure you've seen in some form or another of folks who don’t have a bone in their entire bodies. At least, that’s how it looks to me when they seem to tie themselves into knots and can check themselves for hemorrhoids up close and personal. The current 25 performers ranged in age from 14 to 24. The owners of the show rotate "new" performers from China. It was a very entertaining show, well worth the price of the ticket. Here’s the YouTube connection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5abRp67RJw
Continuing our daily report from Branson, Missouri, today’s show was Thank You For The Music, A Tribute to ABBA. If you are an ABBA fan (like me), you’ll love this show. All their hits and a couple I hadn’t heard before. They did an excellent job and we totally enjoyed ourselves. YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEO02CIaQ7U
We had a morning show at 10AM this morning at the God and Country Theatre; The Best of Neil Sedaka, Captain & Tenille, & The Carpenters. This was a local group of four male musicians and two female singers. Two of the males did some of Neil Sedaka, the Captain and Richard Carpenter songs while the girls did the female parts of Tenille and Karen. Nothing really special about the show. It was “fair”, but don’t expect anyone to really sound like the original. I tried to find a video to show you, but the latest one was in 2015 and it looks like it was an entirely different group.
Doubling up (or down), we also had an 8 PM show of The Legends In Concert. I tried to find a video of what we saw, but couldn’t this time. The video I am attaching to this post is generic as you usually don’t know who the “stars” will be on any given night, but the video will give those who haven’t been to one of these shows an idea of what they’ll see. First off, this was the very best show we have seen so far this trip. The last Legends show we saw was a couple of years ago in Las Vegas. I gave that show a very bad review. They didn’t even have an Elvis in that show !!!! Tonight’s show gave us The Temptations (outstanding), the Blues Brothers (excellent), Marilyn Monroe (excellent) and Elvis (outstanding). The sound and lighting folks get a big “attaboy/girl” --- what they did made the performers look and sound much better than they would without the help. The Legend Dancers and singers (all females) were also outstanding. The only thing that would have made the show better was if our friend, Garry Moore, had been in the show. He does an outstanding Little Richard and it is well worth the time to see him.
We started today with a visit to Old Time Photos to get our “free” 8x10 photo. Two hours and more money than “free” later we ended up with copy rights to about 35 photos that I downloaded to my computer. That’s what happens when you can’t make up your mind WHICH photo you want. Oh well, we liked them and that takes care of the kids Christmas presents for this year.
From there we had lunch at a Steak N Shake. I know, you “mainlanders” are saying “What??”, but we don’t have one in Hawaii, we like their burgers and LOVE their Happy Hour hand-dipped ice cream milk shakes (like the kine I grew up/out on).
We got a hour’s rest before we headed out to another show. The title of this one was California Dreaming, The Beach Boys. Well, kinda the Beach Boys. It was actually two “boys” and two “girls”, who were actually the folks we saw paying tribute to ABBA earlier. Even with the odd mix (for me), they pulled it off. Good sounds and even threw in some Connie Francis, Mamas and Papas and a couple of others. We liked it and recommend the show.
Here the YouTube link to the promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9D5do44_rk
Saturday, 28 September --- busy, busy day. We had to check out of our one bedroom apartment by 10AM and just barely made it (it’s amazing how much “stuff” we have to travel with that needs to be packed, unpacked, packed, etc.). We couldn’t check into the next stop until 4PM so we decided to use our “free” mini-golf certificate. We played one game “straight” and then, being bored, we started cheating on the second game. We finished playing around 11:30 AM and thought this would be a good time to cash in the Restaurant voucher we had. Took Julieann to an “All U Can Eat” Seafood restaurant where she could enjoy the stuff that I can’t and I ordered a rack of ribs. The blueberry cobbler was great, but the bill of only $15.00 (after the voucher discount) was even better.
Finished lunch in time to hit our 2 PM show. This was downtown “old” Branson in a very small theater where the performers could take two steps and be off the stage to mingle with the audience. We were there to attend “The Doo Wop and More” show. Four guys performed songs from the Drifters and other groups from the 50’s and 60’s. A female singer came out twice to do solos on female songs. They all took turns coming into the audience to “woo” and dance with the women or men. I think the reference to “and More” was describing the lead singer who was shaped very much like Jackie Gleason (you youngsters can google him or watch the “Bandit” movie). He positioned himself almost directly in front of me and I feared that one of his buttons may get loose and take me out.
We really enjoy listening to the “older” groups as they all seem to know how to please their fans and don’t take any shortcuts like the modern stars seem to go with all their costume changes, letting someone else take the stage for them while they take a break somewhere, etc. This oldies group was no exception and we had a great time.
We then went to the new place to check in. Unfortunately, when I made the reservations only the Studios were available. IF we weren’t carrying so much baggage and didn’t have so much food left over from the first week, the Studio may have sufficed. BUT ---- not to be. We’re going to have to make do with this room for the next seven days.
After moving in and getting a half hour’s rest, it was time to head out for the next show. We remember seeing this family three years ago, but they change their show every six months. This family is called “Haygood”. Quick Facts: 5 brothers, 1 sister (current show line-up). 27 years playing music together in Branson. 7,000 concerts for over 6,000,000 people worldwide. Longest running, most successful first generation show in the history of Branson, Missouri. Set the SOLD OUT record in Branson with 80 SOLD OUT shows last season.
The Haygoods grew up in humble beginnings in the backwoods of Boerne, Texas. In 1983, at the age of 5, the oldest brother Timothy was watching “Sesame Street” on PBS and world famous violinist, Itzhak Perlman, was performing on the show. Afterwards, Timothy was inspired and begged his mom to get him into lessons, so Mom Haygood enrolled him into classical violin lessons. Timothy’s brothers grew up watching him play the violin and they wanted to be just like him, so they began learning the instrument as well, except for Patrick who chose the marimbas as his instrument. In 1987, Timothy began taking country fiddle lessons from famous Texas fiddler Frenchie Burke. Pretty soon the Haygood kids were singing in harmony, playing fiddle tunes, and dancing as part of the act. As children, they played music and sang at festivals and fairs across the Southern United States.
In 1993, the family moved to Branson, Missouri and began performing daily shows at Silver Dollar City. For eight years, the family grew up at the theme park, performing six shows a day, six days a week while taking music and dance lessons as well as completing schoolwork. The drive and persistence of oldest brother Timothy resulted in the family show becoming the most successful, highest rated show in the history of Silver Dollar City. The Haygoods completed over 6,000 shows during their time at Silver Dollar City.
With a generous loan from Grandma and Grandpa Haygood, The Haygood brothers took a giant risk and opened their own show on the Branson Strip in 2001. The move from a theme park to town was more than a location change, the three oldest Haygoods also took creative and financial control of the show and began to make their mark on the show and music scene. The Haygoods became the youngest performing family in the history of Branson to ever open their own show on the 76 Strip.
In 2018 The Haygoods launched a new show experience and performed a full roster of 135 shows in Branson, Missouri selling out an incredible 80 shows! The Haygoods also took the Christmas show on the road selling out in Bartlesville OK, St. Louis MO and St. Joseph MO. The Haygoods spent an entire year in the studio as well recording their 3rd album of original music set to be released in Spring 2019.
This was the first show we have attended while here where we didn’t have a seat in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd row center. This time we had seats in the “right side” section, row 14. Still, pretty good seats especially when you consider that the entire theater, including the balcony, was sold out. Our first clue was when we arrived and were directed two properties down the street to park and then wait for a shuttle to take us to the theater. The show began with one of the Haygood boys zip-lining from the balcony to the stage while hanging upside down, playing his guitar. The show went UP from there. This is definitely an extremely talented family. Each played at least three different instruments each from a harmonica, to a harp, to horns to various string instruments. They all sang and they all danced. We haven’t seen ALL the shows yet (last count is around 150), but this one must be ranked at the top of the “MUST SEE” list.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scfmBS9JLME
“Only” one show to see today (Julieann says that she needs a vacation from our vacation). Tonight is the Million Dollar Quartet which is based on the Tony Award winning musical, and inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session where Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ’n’ Roll” brought together icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for one unforgettable night. On December 4, 1956, a twist of fate brought together the four, future rock and roll legends. The four legends-to-be united for the only time in their careers for an impromptu recording that has come to be known as one of the greatest rock jam sessions of all time. Featuring a treasure trove of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits from these music legends, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Ghost Riders,” and “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On.” The whole show told a depressing story of three of the four who left Sun after the owner was the only one to give them a chance at fame. We liked the music, but the story line, even if it was true, was very depressing so we had mixed feelings. Another note: We have attended 15 shows during this visit and this was the ONLY show that did not recognize the veterans. This is probably the most patriotic town we have visited where the locals go out of their way to recognize or even reward veterans (discounts, free stuff, etc.) so it was surprising that this show skipped the custom.
Another terrific show – 15 years ago, the Welk Group presented its producers with a unique challenge - how do you capture the essence of an entire decade in just two hours? The result of that challenge became #1 Hits of the 60's, the ultimate decade show in Branson, MO. #1 Hits of the 60's (and 50's Too!) touches over 100 songs from the great artists of the 60's and 50's - Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Paul Anka, Buddy Holly, Petula Clark, The Beatles... the list goes on and on. Add over 100 costume changes, fun video and a talented cast of seven and you've got the recipe for an exciting time. Being an “oldies” fan, I have to rate this show at a 9.5 out of 10.
YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHL6vf2Z25M
Today’s show is Shoji Tabuchi, a Japanese American country music fiddler and singer who currently performs the Clay Cooper Theater. Shoji Tabuchi was born April 16, 1944 in Daishōji, Ishikawa, Japan (now Kaga, Ishikawa, Japan). When Tabuchi turned 7, his mother encouraged him to learn how to play the violin under the Suzuki Method. Tabuchi always loved American country music and vowed that one day he would make it to America. When Tabuchi was in college, he formed a band called The Bluegrass Ramblers, which led them to win a national contest in Japan. He decided to travel to the United States with his violin and only $500. Tabuchi had lived in San Francisco, Kansas City, and Louisiana. Then he eventually moved to Nashville, to meet Acuff. Acuff was true to his word and arranged an appearance for the young Japanese fiddler on the Grand Ole Opry. Tabuchi later made numerous appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Tabuchi arrived in Branson, Missouri around 1980, after performing successfully for a few years. He took a gamble and built one of Branson's most elaborate theaters, which was finished in 1990, and began his show, now going on 28 years. Besides country music, the Shoji Tabuchi Show also has incorporated polka, gospel, Cajun, Hawaiian, rap, rock, and patriotic music. .
Although this was the second time the theater was almost full we thought the show was only “ok”. The show included his daughter and two other female singers/dancers. Shoji also seemed to change his jacket almost after every song – really didn’t see the need.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMuTWfmFB1M
Today was another “only one thing to do today” event to attend. This was the Showboat Branson Belle. You know, big paddle boat, good dinner, good sightseeing around the lake and a pretty good show. This YouTube link is almost the whole show, but y’all can fast-forward if you want:
(2Oct) Today we are back on schedule with two shows: A 10AM show with Doug Gabriel, a show recommended by a ticket sales guy. Didn’t know what to expect, but everyone we talked to had nothing but praise; we agree – it was a very good show.
Doug started singing at the age of two, and began using his God-given talent professionally at the age of twelve. He toured and opened for many other stars like Marie Osmond, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando, Tanya Tucker, Bobby Vinton, Mel Tillis, The Gatlins, Moe Bandy, Ronnie Mc Dowell… As a long-time favorite in Branson, it wasn’t a stretch that in 1994 his own show was created, “The Branson Morning Show, starring Doug Gabriel.” His talent has made him Branson’s Most Awarded Performer, and soon he began performing at night to the same ovations he got during the day. Doug is the 8th longest running act in the Branson area. This is due to his seemingly effortless talent, the quality of his show, and the altering of his show each year to keep things fresh. His talent and personal appeal will keep you coming back every time you are in Branson. This is an example of a man who never lost sight of making his professional dreams come true. Doug’s talent, consistency, and his persistence made a diamond in the rough, a shining star.
And the second show: This was a Jimmy Buffet Tribute show. It was O.K. I couldn’t find a decent (current) video of the show, but y’all can check out YouTube. Might give you a chuckle to watch a review by someone who (I think) may have had one-too-many Margaritas. Oh yeah, this is the first show we’ve attended where they had a bar IN the theater, not in the lobby ;-)
Tonight’s (final) show for us is Jim Stafford.
You've probably heard Jim's hits of great classic country that include Cow Patti, Spiders & Snakes, and My Girl Bill. The show will be something you have never seen before. This show isn't filled with just comedy, Jim also plays musicals instruments such as the classical guitar. A great combination of comedy, music, and connection with the audience made for a good performance. Jim also shared stories of his life that could bring a great big smile to your face and sometimes a chuckle with his humor. He knew all the words and music to all the songs he performed, but seemed to forget where he was in the program and at times, he had to ask his band. Pretty good show, though.
O.K., now about those “free” tickets we scored. Time Share Presentations. I know, I know – pain in the butt, but the “secret” to scoring the prizes without spending a dime is to say “No, thank you”. You may have to repeat it a few times, but just keep at it. One very quick presentation from a small (only 75 locations) company got us $209.00 against our resort fee. That almost paid for the entire first week in Branson (and the second week was already free thanks to AFVClub). Another quick presentation from another small company got us tickets to five different shows plus a dinner for two. These two presentations took about two hours out of our stay in Branson. The one Time Share to avoid at all cost is anything to do with Wyndham --- cheats, crooks, liars, outrageously expensive, etc. (add your own adjective or expletive).
Next stop Barksdale AFB, Louisiana