I had read about Branson before I came. It is a small town that has sold its soul for shows. Family shows - good, wholesome entertainment.. In truth this actually means 'Cheese'.
The Americans are the world leaders in this and it is something for which we should be truly thankful. The huge competition means that everything has to be as good as it can be. So even the smallest venue has pretty high production values.
I went to see a Red Skelton tribute act by Tom Mullica. OK, you have probably seen him in a few old films but I didn't realise that he had a national tv show for over 20 years. A lot of it was fairly baffling to me as I wasn't au fait with many of the characters he portrayed. However, the audience loved it. There was also the moment where the patriotism kicked in and also the plug for the DVD on sale at the back of the theatre, which was interwoven as part of the act.
Branson is aware that much of its audience is elderly so it tailors not only the turns but also the times. This show was at 10.00am!
At 2pm I went to witness "14 Karat Country" a polished 6 piece who did country music and "shtick". They were a covers band and a very good one too. It was all in bite sized pieces of mainly 60's and early 70s tunes, complete with meet and greet the during the interval. Both shows I saw had an interval for elderly bladders and DVD/CD sales opportunities.
The patriotism went one further with this lot when they stopped the show and asked for war veterans and/or their widows to stand up and be counted/saluted and applauded. Frankly, for this old cynic it was quite moving when a few people rose to their feet, some with difficulty and were duly honoured.
Therein lies the problem with Branson - simply one of numbers, and a subject that Radio 2 addressed some years ago: If you are catering for the over 60's your audience, alas, isn't going to grow. They are beginning to realise that the market is dying and unless they reposition themselves they are sunk.
One thing that did ram home the whole "elderly" thing was that many places shut at about 9pm. A woman in a bar told me "We roll up the streets at 9.30".
Its wholesome fun for all the family and nearly impossible to cross the road. The elderly drive from one venue to another seeing 3 or even 4 shows a day before being tucked up at 10pm. There is an endless stream of very slow moving traffic as a result.
I enjoyed the break from the driving and the low key humour: "Algy saw the bear, the bear saw Algy. The bear had a bulge, the bulge was Algy". The U.S has a fixation with the $3 gallon of petrol which to us seems like a bargain. "Taco Bell, the only place you can get gas for less then $3" Hey, fart gags are universal!
After a day here though, I am looking forward to hitting the road. However it is not that easy......!