I just returned from a 3-day trip to Branson Missouri. I know what some of you are thinking. Alan is moving quickly into full up, ride the bus to Branson, see the oldies show, and eat at the buffet level of retirement. Well, that is only partially true. You see, the primary purpose of this trip was to give my mother a vacation. This was my first trip to Branson and I did have a good time. I was apprehensive about this trip based on my preconceived idea of a Branson vacation. My vision of Branson was a continuous run of country music shows attended mostly by senior citizens. This concept was somewhat correct in that there are many country music shows and I was very much on the lower end of the age spectrum which made me happy.
This blog entry will be mostly a travel review but there is a business concept I will amplify towards the end.
There is more to Branson than just country music. We saw 7 shows in 2.5 days and only 2 of them were typical country music fares. Branson is organized around a highway that is effectively a Las Vegas type strip full of restaurants, hotels, and theaters. We drove to Branson from Houston which is about a 10-hour drive. Branson does have an airport with connections to many major cities. You will need a car in Branson. I did notice that Uber was available, but I didn’t take a ride. Uber might be a good way to get around to the different shows. Especially if you are traveling with a person of limited mobility. There are many busses in Branson. Senior citizens traveled to Branson via bus from all over the country. The buses were only a problem one time when it seems every bus in town decided to go to the same show.
We stayed at the Grand Victorian Hotel. The hotel is in a great location on the strip just minutes from most attractions and restaurants. The hotel appears a bit dated but is very clean and nicely decorated. The staff was helpful in accommodating my mother and our request to be closer to the elevator. The complimentary breakfast was very good consisting of hot food and many options. I recommend this hotel as a great location to base your Branson experience.
We spent most of our time attending the 7 shows we selected. We picked shows that we thought my mother would enjoy. We saw the following shows.
Clay Cooper and his wife are talented country music artists. The show was a bit overproduced with too many dancers and special effects. The Cooper’s pushed their two sons into performing several songs. This was a particularly sad display of nepotism as neither child could consistently sing on key.
A collection of very talented country musicians. They mostly played old school country music. There was a comedian as part of the show, he was very funny. This show was simple with a minimum of special effects. Their theme was, we play country music and we play it well. This was one of my favorite shows.
This show was a throwback to the music of the 1940’s. The singers and dancers were very talented and seemed to be more Broadway like than Branson. The production was a bit strange, but the music and dancing were good.
The idea behind this show was seven very talented folks putting on a variety show. The show was focused on various musical styles spanning several decades. Of the seven folks, three of them were from the same family and were clearly the leaders of the group. This show also had a child performing but unlike the Clay Cooper show, this 12-year-old girl was very talented. I was disappointed that their treatment of the 1960s didn’t include a single Beatles song. How is that possible?
This show was a Broadway type offering focused on music and dance from the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the songs were from famous musicals. It is hard to go wrong performing songs from George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. If you like this type of music and the associated dancing, then this show is for you.
The cast is made up of six brothers who have been performing together since childhood. They are very talented singers. Their version of “Mary Did You Know” was truly awesome. This was a great show, I would see these folks again if I ever venture to back to Branson.
I saw the Oak Ridge Boys many years ago when I was in college. The boys are getting up there in age and this fact is demonstrated in their voices. Mostly they stayed on key with their voices simply sounding a bit tired. The one exception was William Lee Golden. He attempted to sing “Mary Did You Know.” It was awful, clearly William Lee needs to retire or be moved to the background. It is amazing to me that groups like this will allow such an abysmal performance to take place in front of a paying audience. Despite this performance, the loyal Oak Ridge Boys fans loved the show.
In summary, of the shows I saw, I recommend Down Home Country and Six.
Purchasing tickets for shows in Branson is an interesting experience. There are many ticket sellers both online and in Branson. Apparently, some will sell you discounted tickets if you listen to a 90-minute timeshare pitch. Selling timeshares is a widespread activity in Branson. I even saw a place that helped you get rid of a timeshare. As a side note, from a financial perspective, never buy a timeshare. I will go into more details in a future blog entry. With all the confusion surrounding ticket purchases, I decided to buy directly from the theaters. I believe you can save some money shopping different sights and perhaps waiting to buy in Branson. With my mother in tow on this trip, I decided to not to cut any corners. I bought most of our tickets ahead of time. In most cases, I was sent a voucher or confirmation number to show at the box office. Parking at the shows was never a problem. I was even able to drop my mother off at the front door of every show.
The food in Branson is mostly comfortable southern American fare. Apparently, Branson is known for their buffets and we ate at the Grand Country Buffet. The food was predictable but good. The selection was huge and of course, I ate too much. Branson provides comfort food and is not a place to go if you want to push the boundaries of your exotic culinary pleasure.
Branson may be more inviting to families with children during the summer months. I saw plenty of outdoor entertainment venues such as waterparks, miniature golf, and amusement parks. These were all closed for the season during our visit.
In summary, Branson is a great place to visit if you are a senior citizen (65 plus), enjoy country music, and are inspired by consistent patriotism. Military veterans are treated especially well by the town of Branson. Veterans were asked to stand during every show and most of the time the musical theme from every military branch was played. I suspect Branson is also a great place for families, but I did not experience this perspective directly.
Now for a brief business analogy based on the shows I attended. There seems to be an attempt to raise the bar of Branson entertainment by adding dancers and special effects. While this effort is temporarily interesting, there is no substitute for talent. The shows I liked best had the most talented singers and musicians. Some of the singers were not even able to stay on key. If I pay money to see a musical entertainer, I expect them to sing on key at a minimum. Talented performers can easily overcome a lack of glamorous production and special effects. It is hard to hide a lack of talent, even with all the special effects and autotune in the world.
In my corporate career, I hired many people over the years. I was also involved in developing effective processes so we could deliver products on time and with the right level of quality. While developing a good process is important, hiring the best talent is more important. I have seen good processes fail due to the efforts of marginally talented people. I have seen marginal processes work fine when managed by top talent. Ideally the goal is both great talent and processes, however, talent always supersedes process. When hiring employees, always focus on getting the most talented person possible. A few times in my career I became lazy and filled a critical role with whoever was hanging around. I always regretted these moves. Push yourself hard to always hire and retain the best talent, you will never regret it.
Make the most of this day!
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