BRANSON, Mo -- The show must go on. For Branson, that means keeping alive a rich history even without the stars of its past.
Stephen Critchfield and Bob Huels have lived and worked in the Music City for more than 20 years and call this era the end of a life cycle event.
Since the 1990s, Roy Clark, Bobby Vinton, Mel Tillis, Moe Bandy, and Ray Stevens are among those who took final bows. Next year, Yakov Smirnoff, Tony Orlando and the Legends of Kung Fu will bid farewell.
"We're at the end of a life-cycle of phenomenon that worked," Critchfield said. "It just happened and sprung up here and nobody knew why, but it did."
The curtain calls don't even tell the whole story: several theaters in Branson are for sale and many are still open for business.
"If we were to advertise an existing operating showplace, then ticket sales would slow down," Huels said. "Employees would send out their resumes."
Huels wouldn't say which ones, but KSPR learned that theaters up for sale include God & Country, Mickey Gilley, Jim Stafford, and, of course, the long vacant Grand Palace. The Branson Tri-Lakes Center is in foreclosure, and Mercy Hospital has plans to knock down the Oak Ridge Boys Theater.
But the show must go on. And there's debate about exactly who should take the stage, and headline a city's reputation.
To really explore the sides in this debate, we reached out to two important people to Branson's success: Ross Summers, president of Branson's Chamber of Commerce <http://www.bransoncvb.com>, and Bob Canella, owner of Up Close Concerts <http://www.upcloseconcerts.com>. Cannella brings acts like Merle Haggard back to Branson.
"The entertainment in Branson will sustain itself," Summers said. "The fact that we won't sell alcohol at our shows and don't have casinos plays to our own advantage. There's nowhere else in the country you can get this entertainment under these conditions that you can bring your kids to."
Cannella says that's not enough.
"I spend a lot of time on the road in cities like Dallas and Chicago," he said. "I see commercials that run in those cities for Branson and I see golf courses, go karts and music. I ask myself, 'Why would someone in Chicago or Dallas go to Branson when they have this in their backyard?'"
Cannella says Branson's reputation within the music industry is not all positive.
"I could list a lot of names of artists that will not come to Branson. They think it will hurt their image," Cannella said. "I won't list those names because it will damage me and I won't work with these artists in other cities."
Summers refuted Cannella's claims.
"I think, if you ask our visitors, they will take exception to that," he said. "[Visitors] come here to be entertained, to relax, to have a good time with family. Branson will continue to reinvent itself on a continued basis."
Summers says Branson will continue to attract visitors who know what Branson offers -- and what it doesn't.
"They don't expect a show you may see in Las Vegas or even New York City. It's a Branson show and we've become known for good comedy, acrobats from China, good variety and wholesome family entertainment."
Summers says he expects Branson to welcome 8 million tourists in 2013.
"We have a sustainable market for what we have grown and gotten used to over the years, over the decades. We're not a Las Vegas and we don't want to be. We position ourselves as a market to come to and have different experiences, but you don't have to do it in front of a billboard of a naked woman," Summers said.
Cannella rejects that argument.
"I don't know of anyone who wants to bring in adult entertainment, meaning not suitable for the average family. All I want to do is be more welcoming to younger artists and different types of music."
Cannella says places like Nashville are family friendly but also have bars and clubs. He says a great venue meant for Branson is a place like the House of Blues (http://www.houseofblues.com/).
Some new attractions coming to Branson include another zip line across Lake Taneycome to Branson Landing, and a new Chinese acrobat show.
Ross also said youth sports will now play a major role in the city. The city hopes to get league, regional and national competitions with new baseball fields and a gymnastics center.