BRANSON, MO. — My granddaughter had her pick of the Branson venues, and she chose a second visit to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede.
Jordan is 15, and it was our third trip to Branson. This year she was introducing her cousin Ashleigh to the magical little town in the Missouri Ozarks, and she felt certain the 11-year-old horsewoman from Texas would go crazy over Dolly's trick riders.
We arrived well before show time, because Jordan didn't want to miss the warm-up act, remembering it as a big part of the fun at Dixie Stampede. Tuey Wilson's skills as a juggler and an acrobat are almost beyond belief, and his witty running commentary is only icing on the cake.
Perched high above the crowd on a footless ladder, about to execute a scary-looking stunt involving burning objects, Wilson paused to suggest a few nervous parents might be wishing for a “don't try this at home” disclaimer.
“But hey, that's where I learned it,” he pointed out. “You don't get this stuff at school.”
The Dixie Stampede offers two to three performances a day and is a model of efficiency. A few minutes into the show, the announcer begins to sing a catchy tune about dining country style, and the assembly-line food service begins. Generous servings of soup, bread, meat, veggies and dessert show up on one's plate in rapid succession, all designed to be eaten with no silverware, which just adds to the atmosphere.
Unity and patriotism are the themes of the show, which opens in the 35,000-square-foot arena with a history of the United States told through song, dance, special effects and the most gorgeous horseflesh around. Quarter horses, palominos, Appaloosas and paints are among the breeds that steal the show, and you can see them up close in their open-air stalls before and after the performance.
The second half is all about fun and games, with the audience divided down the middle for a “competition” between the “Union” and the “Confederacy.” The racing pigs are provided by Dolly, but audience members are recruited for stick horse relays and other such gags.
One is never quite sure whether the races are “fixed,” but no matter which side wins, all is forgiven during a spine-tingling finale with Dolly appearing on a giant screen to sing about the nation now being unified.
Ashleigh was transfixed. Jordan declared the show well worth a second viewing. My sister, who has seen plenty of sparkling entertainment during her years in Las Vegas, raved about the aerial American Indian eagle dancer.
We ranged in age from middle school to baby boomer, and everybody was happy. That's the kind of thing that keeps me going back to Branson.