Unless you have lived in a cave for the past hundred years or so, you have no doubt heard of Branson Missouri. Branson fancies itself as the entertainment capitol of the Midwest, a place for "family fun". For several decades, it has been just that. No casinos, strip clubs, or slot machines, just good old fashioned fun. Over the years, it has grown like a weed, with aging performers settling here and building theaters so they can perform from home. The city's coffers filled, as thousands made the trek to "The Music City" to see their favorite performers from their youth, perform once again. As time passed, not only the performers have died off and retired, but their fans as well. There are theaters standing empty, and up for sale.
A Springfield Mo. Television station did a story on Branson recently, interviewing some of the people who shape and guide what happens in the city. While it was interesting to hear the opposing views, I fear the handwriting is on the wall..."adapt or
Die!" The entertainment menu is split into two distinct categories. First and foremost, the old time variety shows, such as "The Baldknobbers", or "Presley's Country Jubilee" and the various comedy, acrobatic, and animal acts, which have been a staple since the beginning. Then there's the "Oldies" shows featuring performers from the 50's and 60's appearing each night. As the population begins to age, and tastes begin to change, these two categories become less relevant. Times are changing, but Branson isn't.
Branson has no interest in what the young people enjoy. Expensive zip-lines and go carts will not get young people to pop for plane tickets to fly out here. There is nothing aimed at a more adult audience, a more worldly audience, a younger audience. As baby boomers begin to die off, their children are left, with no idea of who the "oldies performers" are, and have no desire to pay to see them. What 30-something is going to forgo a trip to Las Vegas to fly to Branson and ride the go-carts??
A short drive south to "Dogpatch USA" offers a glimpse of what happens when an attraction doesn't change with the times. Dogpatch was modeled after Al Capp's "Little Abner" comic strip, popular from the 1930's to 1979, when Capp died. Capp licensed the name "Dogpatch" to the $35 million, 800 acre park, which opened in 1967. Once again, it was the "family fun" aspect that was marketed to the public. It was modeled after an imaginary Appalachian settlement, with old cabins brought in from around the area to give it authenticity. There were rides, and actors dressed as characters from the strip wandering the grounds. Ticket sales were great, and the park made a great profit for a little while, but fewer and fewer people read the comic strip, and bigger and better amusement parks sprung up. Disney World, and the Six Flags theme parks were far grander, and offered better rides and entertainment. Undaunted, Dogpatch ordered snow making machines, and opened a ski slope inside the park. As times and tastes changed, ticket sales declined, and by the mid 90's, the park closed for good. Resistance to change spelled the death knell for this once popular attraction.
Branson is heading down this same highway. There is no effort to embrace new genres of music, or new sources of revenue. Leaders simply turn a blind eye to the changing demographic, and press on as if things are just fine. Soon, more entertainers will take their final bow, and more aging baby boomers will die.
New sources of revenue need to be explored. A proposed NASCAR track was met with outrage due to noise and traffic concerns. A casino as well was proposed in a nearby town, and the population was nearly unanimous in their opposition. New blood is needed to revive life into the town, but just who, what kind, and how much?
The Ozarks have long been a place firmly entrenched in the Civil War. Old attitudes, fears, and hatred still smoulder here. The "God and Guns" culture is the driving force. Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing idea was born right here in the Ozarks. To this day, people are hoarding guns, and ammunition for fear of the unknown. The KKK still thrives here, and gays and Jews are still hated openly. Only change on a grand scale will destroy this mindset. Black entertainers in Branson? Absolutely not! Casinos? No way, gambling leads to all sorts of other behavior that's not acceptable!
It's time Branson took it's collective head out of the sand and entered the new century (finally) with a new vision for the future. Embrace the idea of more adult entertainment. That doesn't mean strip clubs, but something at least that's geared to more current and adult tastes. Bring in a racetrack, not a NASCAR track, but a real International F-1 track, and bring in people from all over the world, ready to spend! Make the city into a true vacation spot for people of all kinds....and colors!
The ball is in your court, Branson. The clock is ticking.............
© 2013 Ornery Arkie Productions