Branson Missouri:

Well it is official, we played Branson at the BMC theater.

(Wednesday) We arose at about 4:30 in the morning, finished packing our stuff into our bus and straightened it up a little. Then we invited Damon and Marilyn (our hosts in Hackett, Arkansas) in to check out the bus interior before we drove off. Marilyn had thoughtfully supplied us with home made rolls and brownies for the drive. Awesome! When we did leave my mom, Laura and Abby all went back to sleep. My dad and I stayed awake. Dad drove and I worked on my school assignments.

We arrived in Branson City, Missouri at around 9:00 a.m. Having arrived in Branson we had to find our way to the Branson Motor Coach Shop. We had our GPS navigator, Irene, all programmed for it. She took us all the way and then she said we were arriving at the destination on our right. On our right we saw a business and it wasn’t the Branson Motor Coach Company, it was a Quick Mart gas station. Well my dad wasn’t exactly happy about that. We drove on a little bit and then, amazingly, my dad called the motor coach company to ask for directions. They told him to turn the bus around and head back the way we had just come from. When we reached the destination that our GPS had previously indicated, the Quick Mart, they instructed dad to turn towards it. He did so….and, lo and behold, there it was…..the entrance to the motor coach property. Dad drove down the rather long driveway while checking his watch to find that we were an hour late for the scheduled appointment.

Once my dad had checked the bus in, he came and told us there was a small coffee room where we could hunker down and exercise our brains on school work. Inside the bus barn we walked down a lengthy hallway which was plastered with a long line of portraits, featuring the mugs of illustrious bluegrass and country music stars, which had shared the honor of hanging out in the coffee room while their broken down buses were being serviced. We stood around in the hall for a while reading the inscriptions on all the photographs. I even discovered that President George W. Bush and his First Lady, Laura, must have had a broken down bus, because they were there in the hallway too. It was curiously comforting and strangely amusing to know we shared the same mishaps as those entertainers, presidents and president’s ladies who had gone before us which we had studied in the hallway.

In the coffee room which was the size of a shoe box we stuffed our instruments and school work where ever we could find a spot and then argued about who would sit where. The coffee room smelled of stale coffee. And two large vending machines offering salt and sugar fortified meals of soda and junk food to stranded motorists occupied one corner of the room. The walls were hung with posters of Branson City entertainment and magazines were stacked on a coffee table. Laura flipped through several bus magazines and found photos of amazing bus exteriors and interiors. Laura picked out a double decker bus which she said she could live with. She wanted to have her pickin parlor on the top level and a sun deck and hot tub as well. She and my mom drooled over those for awhile and then talked about how cool our bus was, even though it’s old and stinky and somewhat confining, and that they really didn’t need anything so extravagant to run around the country in. After all they probably would end up hanging out in the same motor coach coffee rooms across the country as everybody else anyway if the pictures in the hallway were any indicator.

A bit later I took a break from the books and followed my dad out to the parking lot where we discovered the bus was still parked. There were two workers standing by the bus with some exciting looking cables hooked up to the bus. My dad asked them what was wrong. They said that the bus was dead and therefore it hadn’t been driven into the shop to be serviced yet. Of course my dad didn’t believe them. So he climbed up into the bus and tried to start it also. It was dead. They eventually got it started and drove it into the shop. After it was in the shop we weren’t allowed back into the bus so dad and I went back to our shoebox and I went back to the books. After the school work was done we pulled out the instruments and started to practice. Every once in a while we would see a mechanic or two dancing down the hallway, hoedown fashion, past the coffee room door.

My dad asked the mechanics to take a look at one of the bus wheels because he thought it might be out of alignment or something. The mechanics came back after a few minutes and said, “Well we looked at your wheel and it was fine. But while we were down there we checked on your brakes.” One of the mechanics passed a photo off to my dad and said something to the affect that all but one of our brakes were shot and the one that we had was almost completely shot. That was somewhat scary. The owner of the bus company came in and told dad that we had a light shining on us to get us to Branson in one piece. We all looked at the photo and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was but they seemed to know what it was. It turned out that they had a brand new set of brakes there in the shop so they installed them right away.

The bus was serviced and ready to go by 4:30 p.m. So we were glad to be done in time to catch the Redhead Express show. The owner of the Branson Motor Coach Company told us that he and his crew had really enjoyed our music that day and he wanted to buy our CD’s. So we went and retrieved some from the bus. My dad shot the breeze with him about Alaska for a short while. Then we presented a photograph of the Alaska String Band to him and hinted that it would be ok with us if he were to hang it up in the hallway between Dolly Parton and George and Laura Bush.

When we did leave we drove off up a hill and then down a hill and so on. When we arrived at the theater we weren’t able to access the front entrance, because it was a bit too small…..or maybe we were a bit too large. We kept on driving along until we found a large enough entrance. It took us along the scenic route behind all of the theaters. We parked behind the Dutton Family Theater where the Redhead Express show was to be held.

Once we were parked I grabbed my newly purchased red haired wig, put it on and Laura and I ran on up to the ticket booth. Our passage took us up through the back parking lot. When we were almost to the top Mrs. Walker the mother in the Redhead Express family band came hurrying out a back door. She saw us and said hello to Laura. She didn’t recognize me.

Once in the lobby we were being escorted to our seats when Mr. Walker, the father in the Redhead Express family band, spotted us. He had a bit of trouble keeping a straight face as he said, “I am sorry but there are no redheads allowed.” Then he asked who put me up to wearing the wig. I told him no one. Once we were seated, Laura and I had a brobdingnagian dispute over the lone armrest which was situated between us while we were waiting for the show to start. Laura ended up getting the armrest. My mom and Abby joined us soon after.

At the intermission we visited with the Redhead Express family and Mrs. Walker said that she had thought that I was a friend of Laura’s when she saw me in the parking lot before the show. Larae and Kendra Walker came down and visited with us; they both admired my wig. Abby went back and bought some mint fudge and popcorn from Megan Walker at the concession. Mr. Walker said that he was going to do something to me during the show because of my wig.

Back in the theater auditorium there were video cameras that filmed the show. There were two rather large screens that showed what was being filmed during the live show. During the intermission they would pan across different parts of the audience. When the video camera got to Abby it showed a lizard trying to eat her popcorn and when the lizard scurried away from view there was a bit of popcorn missing, but I am suspecting that that was because Abby spilled it while trying to take it away from him. Once the show started again Abby shared her fudge and remaining popcorn. They were really good.

While I’m writing I should touch on a few highlights of the Redhead Express show that we saw that night. The Redhead Express consists of the Walker family band. There are Mr. and Mrs. Brett and Apryll Walker; four beautiful daughters named Kendra (19), Larae (18), Alisa (16) and Meghan (13); and bringing up the rear are the three young sons named Sean, Joseph and Ammon (not sure of ages, apprx. 7 – 10). Their instruments were voice, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bass and spoons. Their music incorporated a blend of bluegrass, gospel, Celtic, original and a kind of rock-a-billy. Aside from the outstanding musicianship, their show included humorous stories, a little drama, awesome dancing, and cool visual effects which included lighting, smoke and western costumes.

They played one song that was fashioned after the Hee Haw show. Another fun tune was the song Man of Constant Sorrow made popular in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou. Sean, Joseph and Ammon were the stars of this number sporting long dark beards, overalls and hill billy hats. They also did a mean rendition of Bile Them Cabbage Down.

Larae impressed the audience by demonstrating the different styles of banjo picking while smiling at the same time.

Kendra was featured as an accomplished songbird playing and singing some of her own compositions.

Meghan stood demurely with her bass and shocked the audience by saying “When I get married, I’m going to marry me a preacher man so that I can be good for nothin!”

Mr. Walker had a fantastic bass voice and played the spoons. And since I happen to be in a family band myself I know that behind it all Mrs. Walker not only sang great and played guitar she also held it all together behind the scenes.

Alisa wowed the audience with some rippin fiddling and mandolin work. She also did a terrific yodeling song. And did I mention that she even pulled a ‘Laura Z’ by stumbling back stage and adding a resounding crash to the show? Well back to that yodeling number……the Redhead Express invited all of the audience to yodel along during the chorus. At the conclusion of the song Mr. Walker invited the audience participant whom they determined had yodeled the loudest to come up in front of everyone. It was an older gentleman. Mr. Walker then produced a big red wig and placed it on the man’s head. They then asked me to come up also. During this process the Redhead Express continued to vamp along with the same yodel song. Once the yodel contestant and myself were up in front of the audience together the band resumed the song and when they came to the yodeling parts of the tune Mr. Walker would first give his microphone to the man and then me. After a while they stopped, took our photo and gave the yodeling contestant a Redhead Express CD.

After the show we visited with the rest of the family for a while. Finally we had to leave so they let us out of the back door. We went back out to the bus and ran around in the parking lot for a bit and then we drove off.