Described by some wag as Las Vegas without the gambling, Branson boasts of some thirty theaters with live shows, many with a down home, family quality. That good ‘ol boy Andy Williams has his theater there, as does Yakov Smirnoff. But I was most interested in visiting the Roy Rogers and Dale Evens Theater, where I saw Dusty Rogers and his band do their cowboy music show. Not too musically ambitious, but the audience – mostly blue-hairs bussed in from all over the region – seemed to enjoy it immensely, so that’s okay with me. Not a bad gig, I should think: two shows a day (10am and 2pm, six days a week) with armadas of busses delivering audiences primed and ready to pay the $31 to see the show, tour the museum (recently transplanted from Apple Valley in the desert above San Bernadino), then hit the souvenir shop. Dadgummed if I didn't pay my $31 and buy a pricey silk scarf emblazoned with Roy and Trigger. So there you go.
In Branson, I stayed with my aunt and uncle, Joyce and Halbert Dewell. Joyce is my mother’s sister and it was good to see her and Hal again. After living for years in a small, sleepy Kansas farm town, they revel in the hustle and bustle of Branson, where there is always something going on. I’m happy for them.
Interesting that so many theaters in Branson wind up being turned into Baptist churches. Mickey Gilley, Donnie Osmond and John the Baptist are all big names in Branson. I was often reminded of the prominence of organized religion in this part of the country. "When in doubt, get devout."
This awareness heightened as, a couple of days later, I found myself driving down through the Ozarks on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning. Though I was on some fairly remote back roads, I could depend on passing a Baptist church every half-mile or so, its parking lot filled with pickup trucks and American-made sedans.
I also passed, tucked in between the many mom-and-pop antique shops and craft stores, Rex’s Artificial Limb Shop. Now this, I chuckled to myself, is Flannery O’Conner country.
East, young man…
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