A middle-American mecca, mixing equal parts Las Vegas glitz and Myrtle Beach summer fun, Branson is a century-old Ozark resort town that hit the big time in the 1980s through clever promotion and cunning repackaging of country-and-Western music and God-fearing recreation. There are well over 50 major performance venues in Branson, and looking down the list of luminaries who have played here—the Osmond Brothers, Tony Orlando, and Jim “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes” Stafford—you’d think that anyone who had a hit record or a TV show, or can still sing and smile at the same time, can have their own showcase theater. To cater to the estimated 7 million annual visitors, the range of shows keeps expanding, at times including such exotic offerings as Acrobats of China or the Beatles-themed Liverpool Legends.
What originally put Branson on the tourist map was not music but a book: The Shepherd of the Hills, by Harold Bell Wright. Set in and around Branson and published in 1907, it was a huge bestseller, with a hugely complicated plot. Adapted in the 1930s into an outdoor stage play (800/653-6288, $37), featuring more than 80 actors if not quite a cast of thousands, Shepherd of the Hills has been drawing visitors to Branson ever since.
Entertainment aside, the Ozark Mountains area around Branson is still a lovely place to explore; just about any road south, east, or west will take you through beautifully scenic mountain landscapes. And if scenery is not enough, one of the most popular spots in Branson is Silver Dollar City (800/475-9370 or 417/336-7100, daily, $59 and up), nine miles west of Branson via Hwy-76, a turn-of-the-20th-century theme park devoted to Ozark arts, crafts, and music—and roller coasters.