Flu bug part of Branson tour package

Flu bug part of Branson tour package by Bob Karolevitz Believe it or not, we were snow-bound in Branson, MO.

A freezing rain came during the day, and then four or five inches of the white stuff blanketed the area that night.

Our tour bus was frozen in and couldn�t move. We South Dakotans took it in stride, however (we�ve seen a lot more snow than that); nobody got shook up; and, thanks to our unflappable driver from Norfolk, NE, we were soon moving again.

Those of you who have been to Branson know how hilly it is, and that added to the problem, of course. But after cancelling a show or two, we got back on schedule, and the rest of the visit went smoothly � except for the flu bug.

I marveled at how calmly our tour director, Jane Pugh, handled each glitch in the busful of senior citizens. I�d have been a screaming idiot before it was over, but she was all smiles as she took charge of the unplanned hitches in our otherwise well organized program.

(I�ll bet deep down she was churning, but it never showed!)

Phyllis and I had been to Branson a couple of times before, and it has never failed to impress me how a small community (it�s listed with a population of under 4,000 in our atlas) could suddenly become the entertainment capital of the land � without liquor, gambling, nudity or blue scripts.

Apparently it all started way back in 1907 with the publication of Harold Bell Wright�s book, The Shepherd of the Hills. That attracted tourists to the Ozark Mountains, but it was more than a half century � 1960 � before the widow of a Chicago vacuum cleaner salesman established Silver Dollar City there, the genesis of today�s Branson.

Seven years later Lloyd Presley opened his 363-seat theatre nearby; he has gone big-time since then. Meanwhile, the Mabe Brothers had begun Branson�s first music show � The Baldknobbers � which attracted such nationally known stars as Dolly Parton (despite its gosh-awful name) to participate in the Baldknobbers� Jamboree. That started the ball rolling.

Roy Clark established his theatre there, and so did the late Boxcar Willie. In 1983 a Japanese violinist named Shoji Tabuchi arrived to present his famed show in what was then the Ozarks Auto Show pavilion. After him came Mel Tillis, Jim Stafford and a host of lesser names.

Andy Williams completed his Moon River Theatre in 1992, and that year once tiny Branson could boast 12,000 motel rooms. People from all over came to see and hear Glen Campbell, Yakov Smirnoff, Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton, Dino Kartsonakis, the Osmond family, Lawrence Welk�s Lennon Sisters, Bobby Vinton, the revived Sons of the Pioneers and more.

By 1995 Branson had 16,000 motel rooms, and there were another 4,000 within six miles of the city limits.

The Christmas season is especially big in this southern Missouri town. You couldn�t go anywhere without hearing carols. It was infectious � like the flu bug � and we were soon singing them on the bus.

Seasonal lights were everywhere. They made my feeble granary stars look sick by comparison, but I think we put them up with more feeling than all the commercial ones we saw.

Our trip included the brightly lit Century Club Plaza in Kansas City, the refurbished Union Station there, the Negro Jazz and Baseball Museum (don�t miss it if you�re ever in the area), the $50 million Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield, MO, and a stop at the Oceola Cheese Factory. Oh yes, we also sipped a sampling of the products at Stone Hill Winery.

We may go back to Branson again, as long as Andy Williams keeps singing and Jim Stafford does his zany bit. The next time, though, we�ll leave the snow at home.

� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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