Baldknobbers Jamboree

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For those of you that plan on visiting Branson, I highly recommend that you find time to go see the Baldknobbers Jamboree show. For those of you that aren’t planning on visiting in the near future, I would suggest you change those plans because you don’t want to miss all the entertainment and talent that this little small mountain town has to offer. I was graciously invited to attend this original family show that started it all back in 1959.

Jim, Lyle, Bob and Bill Mabe were the four brothers that decided to bring a musical show to Branson. Along with Chick Allen who was a family friend, they started playing on Friday and Saturday night in the lower level of the Branson Community building. They were such a success that in very short order it was necessary to remodel the old skating rink in town in order to have seating for all the folks that were coming to see the show each night. In 1968 they built a theater on Hwy. 76 which is now commonly referred to as, “the strip”.

Fifty-six years later and the Mabe family is still carrying on that musical tradition. The Baldknobbers Jamboree is an old-fashioned variety show that features country music, lots of comedy by way of Hargus Marcel (played by Jerl Adams) and Droopy Drawers Jr. (played by Tim Mabe), a couple of gospel tunes and a patriotic medley that honors all the men and women who so courageously have served our country. Was it what I had expected? Yes and no.

From the outside, the theater is pretty and very nicely landscaped. You walk up a hill (of course you walk up a hill, this is the Ozarks!) and round the corner to stand under the covered portico. Through the set of glass doors is a lobby that opens up with high ceilings, lots of photos and memorabilia and a clean, classy look of black and white. There’s a small gift shop, a concessions area and a huge American flag under glass. I later learned that the Mabes have donated numerous items to the Smithsonian in order to preserve the history and culture that their family has been such a large part of.

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We were escorted to our front row seats by a lovely young woman and we didn’t have long to wait before the magic of the evening began. Unfortunately, we had just long enough for me to manage to spill an almost entire bucket of popcorn. I had started visiting with the lady seated next to me that was visiting Branson from Cincinnati and for those of you that know me personally, you know that I have to use my hands when I talk or I probably couldn’t talk! Sure enough, there goes my arm with a mind of it’s own and before I could stop it, I managed to end up with popcorn flying all over the polished floor. I was mortified and embarrassed and immediately ran to get some help to get all the kernels cleaned up before the show started. The first person I saw was the pretty usher that had showed us to our seats. I explained what happened and Arianna could not have been more understanding. She immediately grabbed broom and dustpan and then laughingly put me at ease by telling me her misadventure with a coffee pot that had happened earlier to her. She told me not to be embarrassed and took charge of the situation and had the popcorn cleaned up in just a few seconds. She handled the situation like someone much older and the fact that she went out of her way to put this clutzy, middle-aged woman at ease, told me a lot about the quality of this show, theater and family.

Thankfully, the show began shortly and for the two hours, I was simply enchanted. Brandon Mabe is a third generation Mabe performer and he’s the perfect front man and emcee for the show. It doesn’t hurt that he’s very gentle on the eyes. He’s not only incredibly handsome, but when he smiles (which is anytime that he isn’t singing or playing straight-man to Droopy and Hargus) there’s a crinkling of lines at his eyes, which tells me the smile is from the heart and wonderfully authentic. He has a southern drawl and when he croons a country classic I know the pacemakers of some of the female audience members go just a little bit haywire. Wonder if they’ve ever had to call an ambulance over an elderly star-struck patron getting a case of the pitter-patters because of this good-looking young man?

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Patty Mabe took the stage a couple of songs later and she blew me away! This is one of the classiest ladies that I’ve ever gotten to meet. The first thing that impresses you is her strong stage presence and her beauty. She’s the wife of Tim Mabe and the mother to Brandon and watching her perform was inspirational. She has a strong voice, and her performances are raised to the divine level because of her very persona and attitude. I know some of you have seen their television reality show called Branson Famous, and some of you might think Patty is a bit of the witch that they allude to on that show. But, I want to tell you that a lot of strong women throughout history have been called names that were undeserved and this is one of those times. First off, folks, you do know that television is not real, right? What is real is the confidence and self esteem that it takes to get on a stage six days a week and perform. This lady has it all. Talent, beauty and heart. I came away from the night with great respect for this woman and the young girls of the world could do a lot worse than looking up to this wife, mother, grandmother and Branson performer.

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As if there were not enough talent in this family already, another handsome Mabe also graces the stage each night. His name is Denton Mabe and I personally think he should be nicknamed, the Dreamy Cowboy. This young man is classically chiseled with deep set, gorgeous eyes and a gentle cowboy nature just emanates from him. He’s got a strong voice that’s made for hillbilly rock and crossover country and every song he sang was powerfully crafted. Yeah, I could hear a few more pacemakers sizzling in the audience as he took the stage. I also have to mention what a gentleman he was at the end of intermission when he personally took the time to seek me out and introduce himself. He not only knows how to entertain people in the best way possible, but he’s also aware of how to make other people feel. He made ME feel important when it was him and his family that were the stars. Outstanding young man who I have a feeling is going to do great things in this life.

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The most surprising performance of the night came from a gorgeous little creature named Megan McCombs. You’ve all seen her on t.v. She’s the pretty little filly that captured Brandon’s heart and is now engaged to marry him. I knew she was a pretty girl, but I had no idea how stunning she really is. She came out for a song in this eloquent, purple and white sequined number that reflected the lights and she took my breath away. That’s how beautiful she was. Then, she opened her mouth to sing. Wow! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone live and on stage that had as much emotion and feeling as Megan does when she sings. She’s not one of those wispy quiet singers that you have to strain to listen to. She looks like an angel and she sings like a winged creature in an enchanted forest. Sweet, strong, pure and from the heart. This young lady sings from her gut. I don’t know her story yet, but I can tell you, there is one. She puts so much feeling into every single note and as you watch her perform, you can literally see her pull it from somewhere deep inside. If this is what the future of Branson looks like, then I predict another boom.

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At this fairly early point in the show, you know I’m getting a little emotional. Not over the top yet, but I’m feeling the love and I’m allowing my heart to bask in all the music and the fun. Well, Megan comes out and does her sweet, sultry song and she softens me up. Then Brandon comes on stage and does this song about the past, replete with two large screens on either side of the stage showing a collage of Mabe family pictures. It was a look into the past and I knew I was starting to get mushy. Not a second goes by in which to get the misty eyes under control, before the entire ensemble launched into a patriotic medley honoring the veterans in the audience. Oh, yeah, you know by now, it’s a battle not to let my eyes fill with tears and you know it’s a battle  I’m probably gonna lose. The military anthems were sang in such perfect harmony and to accompany the sweet, sweet sound, Brandon invited the veterans present to stand when they sang the song from their branch of the military. They get to the Navy song, and the man seated next to us stands up. I am clapping like everyone else and I look at the Naval veteran and see tears streaming down his face. You could see the pride, the sadness, and the memories in those tears and the fact that this wonderful Branson family show pays this honor to our veterans in every single performance, just made me absolutely lose it. Full on, mascara running tears! Thanks, Baldknobbers!

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Thankfully, the curtain fell quickly after the crying episode and during intermission, I was able to escape to the ladies room to fix my face. I was impressed with the theater from the moment I first saw it, but on a little funny side note that probably only my women friends are going to want to know about, the ladies room was the nicest in Branson! There were lots of stalls and sinks and a nice decor and it even smelled nice. I know the guys don’t care much, but for us women, whenever you attend an event of any size and you need to use the facilities, there are usually three stalls and three-hundred women waiting to use them. There had to be a female Baldknobber involved with the blueprints for the powder room.

I had just enough time when I returned to the auditorium, to get to see Tim and Brent Mabe again and shake their hands and get a hug. I also got to finally introduce myself to Patty and I’m hoping she will agree to lunch with me one day soon. I also got to say hi to Brandon and Megan who really are pretty people, inside and out. And, yes, Brandon, I do know you’re probably not thrilled to be called pretty, but when paired with that fiance of yours, you two truly are pretty people.

The second half of the show began and once again, it was top of the line, quality entertainment. During the show we were gifted with a a rendition of LaBamba from the very talented fiddle player, Nathan Agdeppa. It was fun and definitely not country and he even got the crowd clapping along on the chorus. We also had the pleasure of listening to another fiddle solo from a member of the band that is from, of all places, Tokyo, Japan! His name is Mike Ito and he has been with the band for more than thirty years!

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I think one of my favorite parts of the show and for sure, the most romantic had to be the duet that Brandon Mabe and Megan McCombs sang. They started off on separate ends of the stage with Megan wearing this ruby red dress that was perfectly suited for the number. As the two sang their verses they inched closer to each other in pantomime of the song they were singing. By the time they were just inches from each other and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, it felt like a Disney love story and you know know what a sucker I am for Disney. No wonder I’ve heard Brandon and Megan described as the “Brangelina” of Branson! After seeing them perform that song together, I understand the moniker completely.

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One of the most poignant part of the shows was toward the end and it was the Baldknobbers gospel segment. First off, the women were literally angels in white and kudos to the stage lighting helping to make it look like they were enveloped in moonbeams sent from heaven. The harmonies of the two women, joined by third generation Mabe cousins, Brandon and Denton was as pretty as any I’ve ever heard. The melodies were simple and the tones blended so perfectly together. Denton also sang, The Old Rugged Cross and it was close to another teary moment for me.

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So, you know it was a good evening, with top of the line performances, beautiful costuming, mystical lighting and beautiful songs. What still needs to be mentioned is the comedy performances. Throughout the show, there were constant interruptions by the bumbling duo known as Droopy Drawers Jr. and Hargus Marcel. They told jokes, they interacted with the audience and they just plain knew how to entertain. Tim Mabe told me that hillbilly comedy is the cornerstone of Branson and back in the day, it was what people from up north or out west expected when they came to Branson. It’s a formula that is still alive and well and it’s amazing that it works so well. Every time Droopy and Hargus got into their hilarious dialogs, I would look around at the faces of the audience. Every single one of them had a smile on their face and had forgotten their cares and troubles for just a little bit. They were entertained and that’s exactly what Branson is famous for. Entertaining.

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If you ever get a chance to come to this beautiful and vibrant part of the country, I would encourage you to put the Baldknobbers show on your list of must sees. They’re the original and they know what they’re doing. You’re gonna be entertained and you’re gonna get to escape reality for just a little while. Helping to make it all happen are Brent Mabe, music director, and the rest of the talented band. Brent is also second generation Mabe and is a big part of carrying on this family legacy.

I had a wildly entertaining night and it will definitely live in memories as the epitome of all that is Branson. I want to thank the Mabe family and the entire cast, band and any other Baldknobbers that I might have missed. I can see why ya’ll have been around for fifty-six years and I would hazard to guess that there might just be another fifty ahead!

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Book of Mormon

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The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee is hosting the hit Broadway stage production of Book of Mormon and I had the pleasure of attending last Friday night. I went with my Broadway buddy and his daughter and her husband. The night started off on a hilarious note when my friend and his son-in-law decided to dress as Elders, complete with black ties and short-sleeved white shirts. All they needed was a couple of name tags and of course the renowned book in question. They also needed to be pushy, obnoxious and a little closed minded.

As soon as we get out of the car, I’m struck by the dazzling lights of the Orpheum marquee as I always am. We walk across the parking lot towards the entrance when we see young men in white short-sleeved shirts and black ties and these men do have the Book of Mormon in hand along with some literature that included business cards to direct you to the Ladder Day Saint website. When I willingly accepted the little card, I honestly thought that this was part of the show and that the young guys were actors hired to promote this event. Until I looked at the card and realized that these guys standing on the corner in front of our majestic Orpheum were in fact, Mormons. Now the funny thing about all of this is when one of the Missionaries made a comment to my friend’s daughter. “Nice blouse” he says to her as we walk by. She was wearing a nice blouse, one that was off the shoulder and that highlighted her stunning tattoos.  Any young man in America would have to be blind not to notice her, but for a Mormon on a mission, it seemed like an out of place comment that only added to the humor of the night.

And, humor was definitely the theme for the night. I’ve never been into comedy very much as I honestly don’t find most of it funny. I never understood The Three Stooges or slapstick comedy and I have never laughed at Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield. Just never really got it. Never found their schticks even remotely humorous.  For the most part, I’ve also stayed away from adult comedy humor and can remember one time going to a show in Tahoe and seeing Eddie Murphy do his adult stand up and I was disgusted. His obsession with bathroom humor just turned me off and though I’m not a prude, I felt like one while sitting through his routine.  I’ve also been to quite a few Broadway plays now and I’ve enjoyed each one immensely, but I have to tell you this was my first comedic play and I wasn’t sure what I would think about it.

Can you say, laugh out loud?

Well, we sure did and it was an uproariously funny show that did it’s absolute best to offend everyone, make the ladies blush and had the Christians in the audience wondering if they were going to hell after laughing through this performance. It was fresh, smart and carried out all the offensive gags with just enough class, truth and candor to tickle just about everyone’s funny bone.  There were some people offended but for the most part, the crowd loved the boisterous performances and the raunchy humor.

It kind of surprises me that Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone had the foresight to write this comedy that puts such a strong spot light on the Mormon religion.  Oh, and it’s not just the usual spotlight, but one that absolutely screams out how ridiculous religion can be and yet at the same time, highlights how wonderful humans have the capacity to be. The Book of Mormon was most surprising not for it’s crude and in your face humor but for it’s very evident story line that life is about love and understanding and a desire to unite the human race into a race of true brotherhood that transcends so called religions and their dogma.

These creator’s of South Park hit the mark and then some with this so very human show. They gave us laughter without bitterness and brought humor to our human condition with intelligence, compassion and a good dose of self deprecating humor. One of the most interesting things of the night for me was watching some of the older, obviously more conservative theater patrons and their reactions to some of the more outrageous skits. An older couple were sitting right next to me and I was curious to watch their reactions, and it was funny to see them at first uncomfortable and embarrassed and then laughing so hard, they had to hide their faces in their hands. It was reassuring to see people like that be able to laugh at the absurdities of life.

The Book of Mormon shot to the top of my favorite Broadway shows and it might always stay at the top of my comedy list. It was an awesome production that left me feeling good with the underlying story-line that love will always persevere and that if we can’t laugh at ourselves, there is no point in anything we ever do.

Is the show for everyone? Absolutely not. It is definitely an adult show and I would hesitate to bring anyone under the age of 18. I also would probably refrain from bringing my uber religious friends that don’t have a really good sense of humor and an ability to laugh at themselves. But, for anyone else wanting to spend a night at the theater being tickled funny, this is definitely the show you’ve been waiting for. Oh, and don’t forget to go to that Mormon website and download their free book! You’ll see pretty quick how easy it was to write a satirical play about this particular religion. I doubt many Mormons will be flocking to see this one, but if any do dare to venture out, I challenge them not to laugh out loud.