Branson………………….#251 (the 90’s)


Gary and his mother Betty having arrived in Branson,  the three hundred mile journey coming to a conclusion,  their first precept was to check in at the Quality Inn,  the hosting accommodations for their three nights lodging in this community of 6000.   Achieving their ambition,  the late afternoon still prevailing for an introspection drive to discover the compilation of this small bastion of American Music.



The first theatre was built in 1967 by the Presley family, featuring country stars  like Red Foley, Slim Whitman and the Sons of the Pioneers,  performing with the Presley Family Jubilee at their Mountain Music Theatre.  The celebrated Roy Clark abiding as the first of many national renown entertainers to discover Branson,  initiating his country venue in 1983 with the opening of the Roy Clark Theatre.



The Willson’s concluding an entreaty evening meal,  the two outbound for their first showcase presentation,  a 7:00  performance by Andy Williams at his acclaimed Moon River theatre.   The advent of the Theatre was inaugurated May 1st, 1992,  with Andy Williams being the first non-country entertainer to build a platform for performance in Branson.  The Moon River Theatre was more than an auditorium,  a citadel encompassing three lobbies,  the indoor plants décor in keeping with the magnificent grounds.   The Landscapers employing the outcropping of rocks to enfold waterfalls,  Koi filled ponds,  ferns and trees,  all native to the Ozarks and accessible to the public.


The Willson’s seated in the impressive 2000 capacity accommodation waiting with  Anticipation, Gary very much impressed as the curtain Opened.  Andy Williams welcoming the bristling attendance, and as was the custom in all Branson Show Arenas,  giving recognition to different sections of the tour-bus audience, mentioning their State and cities of Embarkation.   Gary estimating that two-thirds of the tourist amassing in Branson arrived by bus as patrons of a Tour.


The wonder of Andy William was everything expected,  Gary finding the only surprising feature was his physical stature, 5’6’’ wearing platform shoes.   Williams singing many of his 18 gold recorded  vocal expressions,  including two of Gary’s favorites from the 50’s, Canadian Sunset, and Lonely Street.   Gary and his Mother  impressed by the astounding performance,  making a note to return during the delight hours and apprehend the scenic grounds of this prodigious theatre.


Saturday afternoon,  the couple awaiting the 2:00 PM Remington Theaters production of Branson City Lights to Commence,  the two having returned from exploring Andy Williams Moon River argillaceous Location.  The Branson City Lights program at the Remington was unconventional,  a ceremonious ice extravaganza musical presentation.  the use of ice a preview of a new forum for Branson.  With the conclusion of the program,  the visitors prospecting the downtown memorabilia shops,  Gary purchasing a keepsake shirt embossed with the name Branson.




Dino Kartsonakis and a Capacity Audience

Dino Kartsonakis and a Capacity Audience

The evening endeavor at the Grand Palace approaching,  the structure built in 1992 at cost of 13 million dollars,  the Largest and most Luxurious Theatre in Branson,  seating over 4000.,    Gary was totally inculcated with the grandiose of the Grand Palace,  but had no knowledge of the skill of pianist Dino Kartsonakis except that some said he was a poor man’s Yonni and others asserting he was a Christian Liberace because of his apparel,  jewelry and Scintillating Piano.    A brief biography  discovering the virtuoso began playing at the age of three and was a student of the Julliard School of Music.   Gary and his Mother seated,  Dino coming on stage asking for a volunteer to join him at the piano.   A name was given him,  Camille,  the pianist trying to coax her to come on stage,  but to no avail.  Gary’s mother,  her elbow jabbing him,  beseeching him to volunteer, Gary rising,  Dino recognizing him,  asking him to come forward.


Gary on stage with Dino

Gary on stage with Dino








Dino joining Gary in aisle,  microphone in hand,  the two mounting the stage.   Dino interviewing the captive visitor about his musical background, then asking if he was familiar with these three songs,  “Put Another Nickel In“,  “The 12th Street Rag“ and “When The Saints Go Marching In”.   Gary answering affirmative,  the two addressing the nine foot light studded concert grand piano poised on an embellished lit, three-tier platform center stage.   A duet was initiated with “Put Another Nickle In”,  Gary on the left,  but soon found Dino exiting,  leaving him solo,  to play both upper and lower keyboard parts.


Gary left to play solo at the Grand Palace

Gary left to play solo at the Grand Palace

Dino returning to initiate upper octaves of the 12th Street Rag,  then seating himself to Gary’s left to address the lower keys,  allowing Gary to play the higher octaves of  “When The Saints Go Marching In”.  The music complete,  Gary receiving a standing ovation from the attendance,  Dino asking Gary if they had ever meant before,  because there were always some in the audience that might think he was a plant.




Before leaving the stage, Dino presenting Gary with a gift certificate and a video tape of their performance together.   On their short return journey to their place of abode, discovering a nearby  Ruby Tuesday bar and grill less than two blocks from the Quality Inn.   Gary’s Mother desiring to stop for a snack and a nightcap of her favorite beverage,  the bartender familiar with the Kahlua configuration called a separator, and it wasn’t long before the eldest Willson enthralled the customers with her conversation.


The Willson’s morning appetite being secured, the Quality Inn having room Coffee Makers, and provided pastries conveniently displayed on a table outside each building complex.  The two deciding to return to the Majestic Grand Palace to peregrinate the areas open to the public and experience its captivating aura.    The Branson Belle Showboat awaited, with a 11:00 cast off time for the Luncheon Dinner Cruise.



Boarding the Paddle-Wheeled Queen of Table Lake,  the Showboat was under way commencing their two-hour dinner cruise.   The reservation slips denoting the Willson’s seating,  a balcony dining provision looking down upon the prestigious stage,  the view enabling one to experience the ambiance of a By-Gone Era.  The sound of music filled the exposition dining room,  show tunes from Broadway,  music of past generations,  a compliment to the three coarse meal being served.   A final quest , Gary and his Mother Betty traversing to the upper deck atop the boat,  adjoining the Wheel House,  the two introducing themselves to the Captain.  Gary finding the lake expedition,  music and the meal gratifying,  especially in the company of his mother,  whom was like-minded in sharing the aura of the experience.



A 3:00 afternoon calling,  the two arriving at Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet Theatre,  appropriately named.   entering the lobby one could not help but notice the décor.  the ceiling was flourished with clouds and cherubs, the carpet, the walls all in blue, one realizing that Bobby  savored the color that brought him to Stardom.   The stage hosting a seating area for the Glenn Miller-arrangement orchestra, and as always an introduction and a recognition given to the tour-bus groups, .

Bobby was extraordinary showman, his enthusiasm bursting forth, Gary Admiring his dedication for an afternoon performance.  The vocalizing of the song Blue Velvet bringing back memories, the last time Gary performed the song was in 1963 with a group from Chicago called Bobby And The Runaways.   The playing of the polish air,  Melody of Love,  brought the rhythmic hand clapping, the audience coming alive with their participation.  Bobby was no stranger to those in attendance, microphone in hand,  progressing up the aisles,  stopping beside Gary’s Mothers aisle seat,  kneeling beside her and singing.  The matriarch of the Willson’s enjoying every minute of it.




The concluding entertainment presentation for Gary and his Mothers Branson adventure was an 8:00 p.m. participation assembling at the Jim Stafford Theatre.   Jim an icon comedian,  singer,  musician,  a regular performer on the 60’s Smothers Brother Hit television program,  as well as the Smothers Brothers head writer and producer.   Gary’s recollection producing only one song that he could recall by Jim Stafford,  recorded in 1966,   “Spider and Snakes”   topping Billboard as the number 3 song in the nation.



Jim’s Theatre Production of the song was something out of the Twilight Zone,  a hologram machine,  transported images of spiders and snakes out into the audience,  Gary never having experience an event with such visual reality.   Spiders and Snakes floated right before one’s eyes,  finding most members of the audience reaching out,  trying to grasp the visionary perception.   The country venue of music was a welcome sound,  giving evidence that country music still reigned king in the realm of Branson.   The evening event concluding,  Gary traversing the Buick towards Ruby Tuesday for a farewell toast to Branson.


The morning found Gary and his mother bidding a forlorn adieu to Branson,  Gary directing the Skylark northwest to intercept interstate 44 and the Will Rogers Turnpike,  continuing a southwesterly journey to Tulsa,  a lunch stop, then apprehending the Turner Turnpike to Oklahoma City.   Gary and his mother arriving at the home of his daughter and son in-law Chris and Marlo Denton.  Grandma Willson to return to California on a flight from Oklahoma City.  Gary returning to Kiowa,  bidding his love to his mother and the time the spent together,  a Memory to be Never Forgotten.

(To see the video of Gary and Dino Kartsonakis at the Grand Palace, go to .)


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