The hills are alive with the sounds of music.

Shoji Tabuchi, the fiddling man of Branson's musical tradition.
Shoji Tabuchi, the fiddling man of Branson’s musical tradition.

IT IS A TWO-SYLLIBLE TOWN—Branson, MO—but worthy of way too many multi-syllabic adjectives to utter in one breath–maybe not even during an extended visit to this mid-America wonderland.

Nestled in the colorful Ozark Mountains, the community of some 10,000 residents is a vacation destination with a reputation for wholesome family entertainment that now blankets the nation and beyond.

For the 100+ shows offered year-round, Branson’s guest numbers greatly exceed its population by many thousands on any given day. Perhaps most audible “oohs and ahhs” begin about this time annually–when the beauty and wonder of the upcoming holiday season are ushered in by the mountain foliage ablaze in bold fall colors.

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Don Newbury
Don Newbury

“Teddy bear” kindness, manners well-minded and “after you” comments where doors are held open for others make one wish the rest of the world could catch on. (Alas, it shows little sign of doing so.) There’s even a “you go first” spirit at highway intersections in this “all smiles” community!

Buses of senior citizens dominate when students’ school commitments rule out vacations, but visitors are free to act like kids if they choose—again, if manners are minded.

Grandparents—and even “greats”—are not uncommon on the numerous zip lines. In fact, there are unsubstantiated claims that a few riders–once out of harness–poke around below to find their false teeth—and other personal items.

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   Perhaps the grandest attraction—exceeding Broadway in many respects—is the “Jonah” production at the Sight and Sound Theatre. Based largely on the story of the biblical figure, the production dazzles with special effects.

Little wonder the theater’s 2,500 seats are filled for almost all performances.

Of note, too, is a short announcement at the end. Trained counselors near the stage welcome guests who want to know more about Jesus.

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   Continuing to “pack’em in” is Shoji Tabuchi, a versatile, energetic Japanese violinist who just turned 70. He doesn’t look it or act it, and for me, his show–now in its 26th year–is a “must see” on every visit.

Guests are always “agog” at the fast-paced show in the theatre that bears his name.

And the theatre’s restrooms reek of regality. They regularly win “best of the best” restroom awards, and folks jam them–if only to gawk at the grand facilities.

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   I was “taken aback” by the show’s Japanese segment that includes an “Odaiko” instrument—translation: “big fat drum.” Oh, it’s nowhere near being the biggest bass drum around—the University of Texas and Purdue University have bigger ones—but other stats greatly favor the one in Branson.

Made by a Tokyo drum manufacturer that has been in business for 400 years, the Odaiko was made from the base of a 600-year-old Bubinga tree from Camaroon. Once cut, it was allowed to dry for almost 10 years. Then it was hollowed out and dried for several more years before construction was completed with giant animal skins stretched over the sides.

Periodic tunings are required for the 2,500-pound instrument, so several technicians are flown to Branson from Japan for the several-day process.

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   Numerous other venues offer grand programs, many of them tributes to artists and musical memories from specific decades.

One show features a couple of Texas guys, The Rankin Brothers, headliners at the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre. They’re both talented musicians—Matt and Mark—and voted “entertainers of the year” in Branson for 2013.

Mark is at the top of his game playing Elvis, the guy who is said to have left buildings large and small throughout the nation. He’s settled in at several venues in Branson, and there’s no talk of his leaving.

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   My wife wants to return to Branson immediately.

One handsome Elvis asked for a show of hands of breast cancer survivors. Only Brenda’s hand went up. He bounded from the stage, wiped brow sweat with a pink scarf, wrapped it around her neck and pecked her on the cheek. I don’t look for her to wash her face before Christmas.

I was at the condo napping, but waked by an animated wife who allowed me to see—but not touch—her “Elvis scarf.” I’m thinking she’s determined to visit Branson at least annually—probably in October–breast cancer awareness month.

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   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/emails to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

Please click the book cover image to read more about the humorous and inspirational stories of Don Newbury in When the Porch Light’s On.

WhenThePorchLightsOn-3dLeft

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Don: I was going to Branson when all the little town had was a hillbilly show, where the Sons of the Pioneers sometimes came to sing, and an outdoor drama: Shepherd of the Hills. Now there’s music around ever street corner, and Branson has a lot of street corners.

  • Don Newbury

    Thanks, Caleb! Sorry to be late responding, but have been IMMERSED in homecoming at Howard Payne (except for football game, when we were immersed!) This is always an emotional time for Brenda and me, and an occasion we’ll never miss until we are unable to do so!

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