BRANSON, MISSOURI @ If you ask anyone in Branson, Missouri why that city begins to celebrate Christmas on November 1, the reply you will get is because Andy Williams said so!€
From November 1 until December 31, this city of more than 10,000 residents that’s situated in the heart of the Ozark Mountains is totally immersed in Christmas, from the endless miles of lights, Christmas displays, and the nearly 100 shows that inhabit the 50 theatres across the area. In short, Branson becomes a vivid, living example of what the joys and spirit of the Christmas holiday season is all about; and if you want to experience with your family a down-home, old fashioned type of Christmas, then Branson is the place to be.
Although he wasn’t chiefly responsible for making Branson such an attractive Christmas destination for tourists, it was the late Andy Williams (who had a string of hit records, such as Moon River€, and hosted a highly-rated TV variety series on NBC during the 60s and 70s) and his love of Christmas (especially his Christmas specials, and songs like It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year€) that helped make Branson attractive to non-country music entertainers when he opened his own theatre 25 years ago (now called the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center), and heightened Branson as a major attraction to celebrate Christmas, when he staged live Christmas shows in his theatre that featured a variety of big name and local performers.
Andy Williams’ Christmas legacy is captured every year in Branson, especially with two major events. First, there’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Parade, which the fourth edition was held last month, which coincided with a press tour of the city that I participated in, along Branson Landing. Broadcast live on local television and emceed by Billie Yates (who stars in the Raiding the Country Vaultsshow in Branson) and Kelly Smith (who hosts a daily lifestyles TV magazine show called Ozarks Live€), the parade featured several of Branson’s top entertainers, such as the Baldknobbers (who began performing in Branson in 1960), the Hughes Brothers, Six, and the Lennon Sisters (who served as this year’s parade grand marshals), along with a stream of classic cars and floats that were provided by many of the city’s shows and local sponsors; it was followed by an hour-long Christmas concert, which showcased many of the entertainers that were on the parade route, and took place in front of the fountains of the main square at Branson Landing.
As well, there is the Andy Williams Christmas Extravaganzaat the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center. This is a lively, colourful holiday spectacular that keeps in the spirit of the Christmas TV specials that Williams hosted over 40 years ago. It stars two acts that made frequent appearances on Williams’ TV show: the Lennon Sisters (Cathy, Janet and Mimi) and the Osmond Brothers (Merrill, Jay and Jimmy), who sang a repertoire of not only popular