In DepthMonster cinnamon buns. A half-scale replica of the Titanic. Heartfelt displays of patriotic pride. Dale Evans, Lawrence Welk and Andy Williams. Sausage gravy and biscuits. Theme parks and showboats. Branson unashamedly revels in maximum Americana. It's the kind of place where a total stranger will greet you with a smile, a handshake and a heartfelt “Welcome to the heart of the Ozarks!” Anywhere else it would sound scripted or ring false, but friendliness Branson style feels neither forced nor fabricated.
Little more than 25 years after it was proclaimed “the live country music capital of the universe” in a feature profile on “60 Minutes,” this town's enormous popularity is still something of a shocker. A small southwestern Missouri burg with a population of more than 11,000 being visited by millions of people a year is unlikely enough. The fact that it's tucked deep into the hills and hollows of the Ozarks, relatively isolated from big cities and major interstates, makes this an even more impressive success story.
Country is no longer the only game in town. Not when you've got popular headliner Shoji Tabuchi—a Japanese-born, classically trained musician who learned how to play the violin at age 7 and performs fleet-fingered versions of standards like “Orange Blossom Special” on fiddle in a glitzy, gaudy theater that's straight outa Vegas.
Branson's Famous Baldknobbers show has been packin' 'em in for more than half a century, back when brothers Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob Mabe set up folding chairs in Branson's City Hall and played banjo, dobro and washtub bass. It's still a show where grown men dressed in suspenders, loud shirts and funny hats engage in bawdy comedy routines guaranteed to make you laugh. Oh, and there's plenty of music, too.
A key catalyst in Branson's beginnings was the 1907 publication of Harold Bell Wright's second novel “The Shepherd of the Hills.” Said to be the first American novel to sell a million copies, it told the inspirational story of an itinerant former pastor who chose to stay and live his life with the citizens of rural Mutton Hollow, offering a spiritual message based on simple values. The story's Ozark Mountains setting was what sparked an initial interest in Branson as a place to visit.
Tourism began on a small scale, with humble attractions like summer lakeside cottages on man-made Lake Taneycomo, an underground cave tour and lavish Christmastime lighting ceremonies. In 1959 the play “The Shepherd of the Hills” was first presented in the Old Mill Theater on the Shepherd of the Hills Farm, perched high on a ridge just west of Dewey Bald. The farm became a tourist attraction, as did Silver Dollar City, a replica of an Ozark frontier town that has morphed into a major theme park complete with thrill rides, but at the same time maintains a dedicated commitment to the preservation of Ozarks artistic heritage. The loyal Branson fans keep coming back for these wholesome, family-friendly pleasures and the natural beauty of the area.
In-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. All hotels must meet the same basic requirements for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality to be AAA Approved. A rating of one to five AAA Diamonds tells members what type of experience to expect, from no-frills to highly personalized.
The Branson/Lakes area levies general retail sales, tourism sales and food and beverage sales taxes based on three different jurisdictions: Branson Landing/downtown, citywide and Branson Hills. General retail sales taxes range from 8.6 to 9.6 percent; sales that include a tourism sales tax range from 11.6 to 12.6 percent; food and beverage sales taxes range from 8.975 to 9.975 percent.
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Skaggs Regional Medical Center, (417) 335-7000; CoxHealth Cox North (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-3000; CoxHealth Cox South (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-6000; Mercy Hospital (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 820-2000.
269 SR 248 Branson, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661
(BKG), 1 mile south of the Hollister exit off US 65, east on Branson Creek Boulevard, then following signs to 4000 Branson Airport Blvd., is served by Buzz Airways and Frontier and handles commercial and general aviation; phone (417) 334-7813.
Hertz, which only operates out of Springfield-Branson National Airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (417) 597-5313, (800) 654-3131 or (800) 654-3080. Rental cars are available at Branson Airport.
Gray Line Branson
Cab companies include Jerry’s Shuttle, (417) 348-1419; and Checker Cab, City Cabs and Yellow Cab, all of which can be reached at (417) 332-2227 (Branson Cab Service).
Unless you're part of a motor coach tour, getting around Branson is much easier if you have your own vehicle. One convenient alternative to driving is a free ride aboard the Downtown Trolley. The red-and-gold, hop-on and hop-off trolley makes 12 stops in the historic downtown area, including two stops at Branson Landing. It operates daily 9-6, Mar.-Dec.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trolley maps are available at downtown retail locations and at the Downtown Branson Betterment Association, 112 W. College St.; phone (417) 334-1548 or (866) 523-1190.