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Holy Hills of the Ozarks: Religion and Tourism in Branson, Missouri (Lived Religions)
Aaron K. Ketchell
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
344 pp., $35.00
On the road, shuttling between airports and motels, I sent my daughter an email: "I'm on my way to Branson, Missouri. They say it's like Las Vegas, but for Christians over fifty." She wrote back, "I can't even begin to imagine what that means."
I could; I imagined it would be laughable and hokey. (You could point out that I am a Christian over fifty and should get off my high horse, but I would only blink at you.) This little town of 6,000 in the southwest corner of Missouri is set in the broad, undulating hills of the Ozark Mountains, where the view is beguiling in every direction. But what draws visitors is "the strip," five miles of theaters that blaze the night with brilliance until around 11:00 pm, when everyone is snug in bed at the Red Roof Inn or the Best Western. Branson's biggest stars are primarily folks you don't hear much about any more, like Yakov Smirnoff—whose mid-'80s shtick was based on comparing America favorably with Russia: "What a country!"—or Andy Williams, who began his solo career in 1952. In 2007, Williams did a month of Branson performances with Glen Campbell, and nearly three months with Charo.
The names may have a hint of mothballs on the page, but it's high-energy on the stage. There is plenty of genuine talent in Branson, and performers work hard, many of them doing three shows a day. Visitors can do many more than that. Someone determined to sample as many as possible could start with the Dixieland Breakfast Show at 8:00 am, leave for Breakfast with Mark Twain at 9:00, drop by Yakov's act at 9:30, get to "Celebrate America" at 10:00, and slide into violinist Shoji Tabuchi's palatial theater at 10:30. When you stumble out two hours later there will still be time to visit the Veteran's Memorial Museum, the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, the World's Largest Toy Museum, God and Country Inspirational Gardens, the half-scale replica of the Titanic, and to take a whirl around the 60-acre theme ...