Imagine working six long days a week alongside family members. Then try doing it for 50 years and you’ll have the formula that has turned Branson, Mo., into a powerhouse of live entertainment.
The Presleys’ Country Jubilee, a variety show that will celebrate its 50th anniversary June 30, remains a fixture of the once-sleepy Ozarks town that now boasts more than 50 theaters with a combined 57,000 seats. The local tourism office claims that’s more seats than there are on Broadway.
The Presley family’s theater was one of the first businesses to open along what’s now the Branson Strip. Prior to that, the kinfolk had been performing in a cave.
“Back in those days, in this area, there was not a lot of air conditioning. And the cave was 58 to 60 degrees all the time, so during the summertime that was a great place for people to come in, be entertained and be in the cool for a while,” said Gary Presley, who will turn 70 in early July.
The fact that their new theater was air conditioned was a big draw back in 1967. “Air Condt” was displayed on the marquee out along Hwy. 76, then a lonely stretch of road. It’s now dotted with scores of tourist attractions, including more than 50 theaters with live shows.
While Gary and his younger brother, Steve, still perform nightly, neither of them can read music.
“We bluff our way through,” Gary said with a chuckle. “Our sons and the different musicians, they do read music.”
The show incorporates not only country music but also patriotic and gospel tunes, all interspersed with comedy routines.
Tickets have climbed just a little from 1967, when grownups got in for a dollar and kids for 50 cents. Admission is now roughly $41 for adults and $21 for children.
The Missouri Presleys, by the way, are only distantly related to the far-more-famous Mississippi Presley named Elvis.
“We had a Presley reunion a few years ago,” Gary recalled. “They’d gone through the family tree and said we were 14th cousins or something like that.”
Branson visitor info: www.branson.com or (800) 785-1610.