It’s been said that Branson is a place entertainers go to die. Others that it’s a place for second chances. Perhaps it’s a place for people to be born again – socially, financially and spiritually.
Politically, Branson is the Republican destination of choice. A look into Branson’s political donations reveals little room for another political perspective. A closer look reveals a deep Libertarian vain. Many of our residents believe that “alcohol, tobacco and firearms should be a convenience store”. Missouri law affirms this notion and is one of the few states that permit concealed weapons. Outside of Branson, the conservative press treats us well while and the liberal press with distaste.
People are friendly here, relatively laid back. This Chicago Tribune awarded Branson the title “The Way America Should Be”, and was echoed across the front pages of American’s newspapers.
Life is relatively simple here and there’s little reason for most folks to be in too big of a hurry. “I’m not in a hurry and neither are you”, is a good description of the mindset. This is especially true when the fishing is good.
As Jim Stafford put it Branson is “families entertaining families”, and this is very much the truth. Branson has over 100 live theatrical presentations boasting more seats then Broadway. Most of these shows are filled with patrons attending a performance named after the family putting on the show. The tradition of Family entertainment is deep rooted in the history of our city - a ruminant of the old American family -1980’s old, maybe even 1880’s old .
Though\our demographic profile from the US Census states not one Arab can be found in the area, Branson is actually quite diverse. Entertaining 7 million visitors each year requires a lot of manpower and though our official population is 5,000, thousands more come here to work during the tourist season. The demand for labor during this time is so high that special permits are issued to meet industry needs. It’s not uncommon to find Russian, Eastern European and Jamaican residents during the summer months. Many of our theaters showcase talent from across the globe.
Swing, Folk, Bluegrass, Americana and blues can be heard regularly through daily shows starting early in the morning until 10 in the evening. Life after 10 is more abundant then the average tourist might realize. The marketing energy from Theatrical productions and Attractions overshadow a nightlife scene which provides a channel for creative energy the general “theme” of Branson’ marketing efforts. Theater competitiveness is apparent as one drives down Highway 65 and views the dozens of billboards littered beside spacious rolling hills many miles from Branson city limits.
Audience demand for fresh entertainment has pulled a massive pool of instrumental and local talent. Late in the evening is a time many of them can let loose and play a wider diversity of music then the town is known for. Officially, our Mayor is against Rock and Roll and had some harsh statements after a few eighties hair bands headlined in one of our major theatres. Still, Rock and Roll thrives in Branson most prevalently in the bourgeoning midtown district and new development projects promise to reinforce its presence.
The main strip, Highway 76 looks eerily like a G- Rated Vegas with bold neon signs advertising. family friendly, patriotic and religious entertainment. The majority of shows retain all three themes – in fact it’s proven to be a necessity of longevity. To date, venues that have strayed from this formula have been rewarded with only moderate success.
Conflicts of church and state, God and Mammon, will continue to determine it’s evolution. I’m not sure how unusual this is from your part of the country but our city council meetings are opened with prayer. A common story line among the natives is that the Theatres and Resorts are wired and ready for gambling. A nearby town with high levels of poverty enlisted a major developer to create a casino, leading to a state vote that denied the right to open such establishments on the waterway formerly known as the White river.
The most visible opposition to the gambling bill was the Hershiend family. The entrepreneurial family owns the largest private Theme Park in the country. A million dollar campaign was initiated to thwart the efforts “contradicting” family values. It’s rumoured that major plays from competing casino’s and “inside” developers have a multi year rollout plan for gamling on on the Taneycomo waterfront. Churches lined the streets to demonstrate and educate the local public on the “evils of gambling”, before the measure was defeated. The eventual defeat of the bill is also credited to other urban areas in Missouri that use gambling as a pull for tourist traffic.
The town that initiated the Gambling proposal vocalized animosity towards the Herchined family begging the question “A million dollars against us – what have you done for us?”. Support from a religious group and the Herchieds have pledged to build a massive skate park in the city. The project has yet to prove how it will end the epidemic of poverty the once thriving town of Rockaway Beach endures.
Timeshare, known as “Branson’s New Religion”, is another hot topic on the geo-political landscape. In contrast to the “family values” the time share/travel club industry has experienced a high volume of consumer complaints charged with fraud, disingenuous marketing efforts and increasing scrutiny from the Attorney General.
Proponents of time-share boast job growth, rising real estate valuation and injection of capital during the shoulder months when tourist traffic is scarce, the acceptance and growth of the time-share industry and positive economic growth.
Opponents of time-share speak of pressure on theatres to unreasonably lower ticket prices, deceitful business practices and a permanent black eye to the cities citizen.
The missionaries of “Time Share/Travel Clubs” are found throughout the city preaching the gospel to encourage 90 minute sells presentations that often end in complaints to a variety of agencies and rarely end in 90 minutes.
This industry has proved to be an irresistible force as high margins prove too lucrative for a large percentage of local vendors to avoid. A shop owner who solicits tours acknowledges a small booth resembling anversized cardboard box produces more income then his 1,600 sq ft of retail space.
Though bankruptcies, criminal charges and litigation have plagued the industry it continues to grow. The recent trend is to diversify time-share company offerings into other sectors including publishing, restaurants, retail and even theaters. One manager of a wholly owned subsidiary stated “It’s a necessary evil”, others beg to differ.
The incestial relationship of the time-share industry and city organizations make honest assessments hard to come by. Intertwined public and private development projects blur the line even further leaving regulation to the sole hands of the state legislature; which has yet to rule on travel issues relating to the Internet.
In contrast to the young families often seen in the spring and summer, the fall is a Mecca for a much older crowd. Fall is a time when Tour busses from around the country invade the city. Performers such as Andy Williams provide entertainment many senior citizens haven’t seen since their youth. For the blue hairs, Branson provides a rare chance to view America’s yesteryear.
From New Years to late March the town is relatively empty. Attempts to extend the season year round have been met with minimal success. Creative approaches have paid off well. Of note is Grand Country. Several years ago they built a large indoor water park and have managed to capture swelling crowds in the darkest months of winter.
Branson’s growth has created an imbalance in the counties economy. Taney County, both verbally and contractually depend on Branson’s successful growth. Infrastructure is needed to lure business and create wealth. TIFF funds have been distributed by the city at record rates to boost utility access Broadening the bulge in the bubble is the reclassification of Taney as a Class 1 county., which raises the building requirements and inspection demand. Up until this year no permits were required to build on Taney County land. New regulations promise to be an enforcement challenge. The surrounding counties have the lowest average incomes in Missouri. .
Three lakes surround Branson, world class fishing for a wide variety of species. A dam and fishery dividing Lake Taneycomo and Tablerock produce both electricity and record sized trophy trout. Wave running, Jet skiing and wakeboarding are the extreme sports of choice, though killer mountain biking trails are a lure to many outsiders.
A fascinating feature of the landscape are the unusual water tables that make way for many of Missouri’s 5,000 known caves. The highest grossing attraction, Silver Dollar City, was established to occupy crowds waiting to enter Marvel Cave. The caves entry room is large enough to fit the statue of liberty inside. Other commercial caves and endless miles of wild caving provide endless adventure for the explorer.
Branson is a community, performing well without the organization of the neighborhood watch. Crime is minimal and the educational system is second to none. It’s a great place to raise a family.
Branson’s rapid evolution will give birth to a new city, and the decisions made now as to what kind of community we want to live in will determine how the city is born again.