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Branson Is Booming: How It’s Become the Classic Country Capital

Mickey Gilley Larry Gatlin Lee Greenwood
Frank Micelotta / Frazer Harrison / Mike Moore, Getty Images

In the ‘90s, several country music legends packed their bags and headed to Branson, Mo., helping the little town of just over 7,000 residents become known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Now, with more and more country singers playing in the heart of the Ozarks, Branson is becoming the capital of classic country.

In 1959, the Baldknobbers and the Presleys — two family groups with a longtime rivalry — launched the musical foundation that would grow slowly over the next few decades. Now in 2011, Branson is booming with over 50 theaters offering 105 shows, day and night, with many concerts featuring country music legends or tribute shows. Taste of Country recently visited some of the popular country concerts that are still helping to attract over eight million visitors per year.

Country music’s honky-tonk piano man Mickey Gilley is still wowing audiences at the age of 75 with his ‘Urban Cowboy’ era hits. Even after an accident that left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down, he is slowly recovering by performing in a rolling chair with a voice and enthusiasm that is not only inspirational, but is still much alive and appreciated. Gilley was one of the first regular country performers to open his own theater, alongside Mel Tillis, Glen Campbell, Moe Bandy, Ray Stevens and Roy Clark — who still perform in Branson, but no longer own venues.

The Gatlin Brothers are playing a fall engagement at the Oak Ridge Boys Theater, with Larry Gatlin, at age 63, offering top-notch vocals on hits like ‘All the Gold in California’ and ‘Broken Lady.’ Brotherly comedy and audience interaction make this one of the most talked about shows on the 76 strip.

The Oak Ridge Boys are also playing several dates at their own theater. Member Duane Allen, 68, told Taste Of Country why the ‘Elvira’ singers were excited to take up residency in Branson: “The people who promote us approached us about purchasing the theater and naming it after the Oak Ridge Boys. We thought that was a huge honor.” Duane continued, confessing, “The main reason we like to play [our own theater] is because the lights and sound and seating for the audience is spectacular. Everything in there is first class!”

‘God Bless The USA’ singer Lee Greenwood, 68, has put together a great show with Louise Mandrell, 57, at the Welk Resort Theater. As Greenwood says, “We’re bringing our complete arsenal of hits and I get to sing with her as well.” Greenwood, known for his duets with Barbara Mandrell, adds, “I’m thrilled to get to sing with another Mandrell sister.” The middle child of the Mandrell family, Louise, is a consummate performer, mixing comedy, music and fantastic showmanship, like dancing onstage while playing the fiddle and not missing a note.

In addition to RFD-TV Theater’s ’Country Family Reunion’ tapings hosted by Bill Anderson, other Branson highlights include Roy Rogers Jr., who honors his father and classic western music every day. This is a delightful show that will instantly make you feel like you are sitting in front of a black and white television.

Andy Williams, at 83, is still the Show-Me State’s king of the crooners, with daily shows featuring Emmy winning actress Ann Margaret. At age 70, Margaret belts out her favorite standards while reminding the audience that she not only was a diva, but she still is a diva amongst her senior peers.

Next time you’re ready to be entertained, get on the next bus to Branson. From the Osmond Brothers to the Lennon Sisters, from Yakov Smirnoff to Jim Stafford, and from tributes to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to guest appearances from Neal McCoy and Daniel O’Donnell, Branson is booming.

See a Preview of Mickey Gilley’s Branson Show

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