Soaking in the Arts in Branson

A local musician in Branson
A local musician in Branson

On a winding mountain road amongst majestic limestone cliffs, serene wooded pastures and clear mountain lakes, lies a small, American town unlike any other. Nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, the city of Branson invites its visitors with a bustling thoroughfare of commerce, show offerings from bluegrass to Broadway, local arts and crafts and a myriad of shopping opportunities.

Mix in a healthy dose of patriotism, warm friendly people and beautiful surroundings, and you truly have a city with something for everyone.

The Ozark Mountains, a dissected highland plateau about 50,000 square miles (or 129,500 km²); lie in the American Midwest between southern Missouri, northern Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma. Located in southern Missouri, Branson is just a short drive from the Arkansas border. Being one of the major mountain ranges east of the Rockies, the views from the mountaintops are breathtaking, and the endless landscape of trees and rocks provides an awe-inspiring sense of seclusion.

Caves abound in the area and intriguing tours are available for the adventurous. Fishing enthusiasts flock to the pristine lakes. This blend of magnificent rustic scenery and big city entertainment places Branson among the most diverse vacation destinations in America.

Branson is quickly becoming the entertainment capital of Middle America. The area currently offers more than 100 shows of every kind of entertainment imaginable. There are nostalgic reviews, comedy and magic shows, music offerings of every genre, lavish spectacles and even Broadway musicals.

Well-known entertainers have been drawn to Branson as a place to establish permanent performing venues, as well, such as popular country artists like Mickey Gilley, Roy Clark and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, in keeping with the musical heritage of the area. But performers in other entertainment areas have seen the promise of Branson: quintessential crooner Andy Williams and the Osmond family, violin virtuoso Shoji Tabuchi, and Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff.

In addition, The Grand Palace Theatre hosts a rotation of top-name artists throughout the year. One of the newest productions in Branson is Neil Goldberg’s Cirque, an imaginative European cirque-style show.

Mansion America Theater brings big budget Broadway style shows right to the heart of the Ozarks. There is something for every taste in entertainment, and the ease of availability allows you to step outside your comfort zone and try something new.

You could spend your entire time in Branson doing nothing but seeing shows, if that is your thing. However, if you are traveling with children, they may grow weary of sitting in a seat and need a little physical exercise. There are themed miniature golf courses, go-cart tracks and arcades, all within walking distance from hotels located on Branson’s main drive.

Branson boasts not one but three major theme parks: Silver Dollar City, an 1890s-themed park; Celebration City, a nighttime theme park with a laser-light, multi-media show as it’s capstone each night, and White Water, an outdoor water park.

Silver Dollar City was one of Branson’s first attractions, built around tours of Marvel Cave, an impressive array of underground caverns, waterfalls and passageways. That Good Ole Day’s atmosphere is retained today.

Even though thrill rides on a par with any other top-tier amusement park are now a part of Silver Dollar City, they are situated between original Ozark crafts shops and show venues that still exude mountain charm.

The local craftspeople are happy to talk to guests while they work, and the musicians performing in the park’s shows are some of the finest to be found in the area. There is a wilderness homestead that takes children and adults alike back in time, and the landscaping, while beautifully cared for, feels as if the park owners found it that way and situated their attractions among it.

A visitor walks down the paths under canopies of trees, surrounded by greens and brilliantly colored wildflowers overflowing their planting beds. Silver Dollar City has enough to keep everyone in the family happy for a day.

Not to be missed on a visit to Branson is the opportunity to connect with the distinctive culture of the Ozarks. This was what first attracted people to the area, piqued by the 1907 publication of Harold Bell Wright’s novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, a fictionalization of the people and life he had encountered in his time in the Ozarks.

The unique mountain culture of the Ozarks stretches across several states, setting the region apart with its customs, folklore and artistic tradition. Perhaps one of the more peculiar attributes is that the inhabitants have self-named the local areas.

The earthy, hardworking people who settled this area were famous for their handmade furniture and crafts and passed their skills down through generations—making the region an excellent stop for art collectors.

Numerous outlets offer the opportunity to view the artists in action. Woodcarvings, art glass and beautiful furniture materialize right before you as you watch these master craftsmen work. Sit down and talk to one of the artists, and you’ll hear the stories of the people who brought Branson to life.

Sitting in front of his wood shop in the outdoor mall of Grand Village, Pete Engler’s skillful hands turn a plain and unimpressive piece of wood into a striking Santa carving, all while regaling his listener with stories of his life and the people he has met while living in the Ozarks.

Engler has been carving most of his life, and his work has gained an international reputation. But most impressive is his dedication to preserving the charming past of Branson and fostering young artists in these rural art forms. These passions led to the founding of the Engler Block Artists, a collection of shops featuring local arts and crafts.

Near the front of the Engler Block an inviting window showcases the stained glass art of Kay O’Neil. You can watch her pencil sketches that become beautiful windows and hear about the various techniques used as she narrates her work for you.

Down the hall from the O’Neil studio, you hear the sound of a skillfully played hammer dulcimer as the artist puts the finishing touches on his latest creation. A crowd of people in front of a large glass window tells you that you have made it to one of the most popular artists in Branson.

Glowing hot glass emerges from a fire and is shaped into an assortment of mesmerizing pieces. Wren Helwig, another long-time area resident, is hard at work creating his pieces of art. He learned his glass blowing trade as an apprentice at Silver Dollar City.

Master glass blowers came to exhibit their goods in the stores at the park. And Helwig absorbed all of their various ideas and skills and added his own experimentation to grow a thriving art glass business. His gallery includes inexpensive pieces like ornaments and paperweights up to large ornate works of art.

Though musicians from all over the world perform in Branson, the local musicians are second to none. Sit down and listen to the Horsecreek Band at Silver Dollar City, a group that has been together for 30 years, and you will quickly learn why the heart of bluegrass beats in Branson. Complete with banjo, fiddle, guitars and bass, these musicians play the local folk music with astounding speed and agility.

Numerous music festivals are held in the area to bring the best of the world artists together with the locals. A visit to Branson just might have you mingling amongst some of the finest musicians America has to offer.

This town of 6,000 people capably hosts more than 7 million tourists each year. With such diverse and interesting offerings, you should be able to find things that interest you. Take the time to enjoy the things you love, as well as tasting something new. Talk to the local artists, and you will discover the love that keeps them living and working in this area. You might just fall in love with it, too.

Best Bets in Branson

There is so much to choose from in Branson that it can be overwhelming. While you should spend some time exploring your options, here are some of our tips:

Best Show

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Broadway hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, performed at the Mansion America Theatre. This well-executed production offers all the talent and spectacle theatres on the Great White Way do, but is more accessible to many in the United States than New York City. The material is fun, and the producers have kept the show family-friendly.

Best Way to Spend a Day

Silver Dollar City. A visitor can mix thrilling rides with entertainment shows of high quality and relaxing strolls through the themed streets. Tours of Marvel Cave are included in the price of the ticket, offering an opportunity to explore this awe-inspiring creation of nature. Taking a few minutes at the beginning of the day to plan helped us have a full, enjoyable, stress-free day.

Best Educational Experience

Learning about Ozark culture. The Ozarks comprise a relatively small area of the United States, but their history is rich with character and a culture that is uniquely its own. This rural history is one that many who live outside the area know very little about, and yet it is fascinating and sparks the imagination. Branson offers the opportunity to mix big city entertainment with experiencing a new culture.

There are many venues in the area where one can learn about Ozark history; look for them, and include at least one on your itinerary. Several suggestions in this area are the Engler Block Artists, College of the Ozarks and the shops of the Grand Village.

Because Branson offers so much, some planning can be helpful. We recommend researching your options of the various activities available to you. There are no uniform curtain times or dark days for shows, so knowing the days and times can prevent you missing something you really want to see. Other entertainment options have different schedules, depending on the season.

Branson has year-round, season specific activities, so research for the time of year in which you are going to travel. The accommodations range from economic to luxurious; from hotels right on Highway 76 or The Strip, which allow easy access to many entertainment options, to country Bed & Breakfasts that allow you to feel miles away from civilization.

Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & Convention & Visitors Bureau