To some folks, admitting that they spent a recent Saturday night watching a performance in Branson, Mo., might be like revealing that they watched one of those makeover reality shows on TV. They feel a need to offer some explanation. My being in Branson cannot be blamed on an accidental click of the television remote but on my attending a magazine publishing conference at a resort near Branson. My being in a Branson theater that Saturday night was, I admit, a premeditated act. We were offered tickets, and I wanted to see the scene.
      

When I told people I was going to Branson, I realized that, in some quarters at least, the town has an image problem. It is seen as a place that caters to a tour bus-bound elderly crowd with hair as silver as Andy Williams’ (who has a theater there). 
     

Located in the hills of the Ozarks, some people see it as another tacky mountain entertainment strip like Gatlinburg in the Smokies. It is a place where men can be seen wearing T-shirts that are a tribute to NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt and where it is not necessary to say “NASCAR racing legend” when mentioning Earnhardt’s name and where baseball caps extolling Jim Beam are appropriate attire.
      

It is indeed a place that attracts veterans’ groups and retirement organizations that arrive in tour buses, especially after the summer, when the marketing focus shifts from families with school-age kids to the more flexible markets.
      

In fairness though, image aside, it is also a place that offers excellent entertainment. The show I saw, Presley’s Country Jubilee, put on by the family of that name (no relation to Elvis), which was the first family to operate a theater in Branson, was excellent. Usually in a theater, I get restless rather quickly. Here I was totally entertained for two hours.
      

Most of my conference colleagues, many of whom were cynical journalists, went to a Beatles revival show produced by the late Beatle George Harrison’s sister, who is a resident of Branson. They expected the worst but came back with reviews as glowing as when the Fab Four first stood before the cameras at the Ed Sullivan Show. 
    

Branson’s boosters describe its entertainment district as the largest live music theater scene in the nation. They might be right. Shows also incorporate lots of visuals. What’s on stage is high-tech and creative.
      

There are some touristy stops along the highway, including many places where people can pose for photographs in old-timey getups. On the other hand, Silver Dollar City, an early mountain village recreation area with amusement park components, was as good as any theme park. (Unfortunately, it was while there that I received a text message about the end of the Saints game against Atlanta, so I will always associate the place with a kick shanked to the left.) Nothing had more potential for tastelessness and tackiness than a ship-shaped museum about the Titanic. Yet it was just the opposite; it featured artifacts, re-creations of the ship’s rooms and backgrounds of the passengers and crew. This museum could have made it on Broadway.
      

Branson is what it is partially because of what it is not. There are no casinos there, no strip joints, no saloons. It is a wilderness beacon for Middle Americans –– perhaps, if you will, the Bible Belt’s Las Vegas, though without the preaching.
      

If given the chance, I would go back to Branson. If given a few extra days, I would spend more time in the Ozarks, where I saw an actual mink scurrying for shelter along a stream and where the sunset contained elements of not only orange but also a striking green. As seen from the right theater, nature still provides the greatest show of all.
      
      
     

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