Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hillbillies, Has-Beens and Fudge...Oh My!

If you grew up in Oklahoma and spent most of your family vacations in Branson, Missouri, then you definitely know the difference between a jubilee and a jamboree. Branson is part Nashville and part Las Vegas. Perched atop the Ozark mountains, Branson is all about country and bluegrass music, old-timey attractions and hillbilly haute couture.

Like Vegas, Branson exists primarily on a single strip, littered with theaters and hotels. Each of the theaters boasts a different country music review show. When I was a kid, some of the acts included the Presley family, the Baldknobbers, the Bobolinks, Ozark Country Jubilee and Hee-Haw. We saw all the shows, but they were all basically the same. An extended family of talented singers and musicians put together a variety show of country music hits and standards, then broke it up along the way with antics by a rodeo-style clown, usually a stereotypical hillbilly character. Still with me? Think of Cirque du Soleil, but with banjos.

Driving through Branson today, it was almost unrecognizable from the hokey little Ozark resort town from my youth. Extending way beyond the main strip, Branson now has a convention center, Hilton hotels, outlet malls and Dick Clark's American Bandstand theater. I was kind of happy to see that the Presleys and the Baldknobbers had still managed to hang in there all these years. Other than those, all the theaters feature new acts, old has-beens and, inexplicably, Yakov Smirnoff. Luckily, we also found the shop selling the same fudge I used to always get when I was a kid.

Still, it was a beautiful drive, and it was bizarre sharing something so silly and specific from my childhood with Michael. I keep expecting him to make fun of it all, or at least grab me and say, "Thank God you got out of this crazy place!" But you know Michael. He just smiles and goes with the flow, making friends along the way, doing his best to put out the fires from all my burning bridges.

P.S. The difference between a jubilee and a jamboree? Seven.

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