• Image about Downtown Branson
Chicken pot pie at Andy Williams Moon River Grill
Gayle Harper
It was the hillbilly charm that lured me into Andy Williams Moon River Grill, where I grazed on some killer sweet-potato fries. Admittedly, I had no idea who Andy Williams was as I feasted on his mother’s made-from-scratch recipes — until I recognized a familiar song playing through the speakers and put two and two together. “He’s the guy who sang the song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s!” I exclaimed. You could hear a pin drop as my uninformed comment echoed off the walls. I cringed as a group of the waitstaff headed toward me, sure I would be berated for my ignorance. Instead they eagerly took turns educating me on Andy, whom they spoke of as if he were a close friend or relative. They passed no judgment as they welcomed me, an ill-informed outsider, to their world.

I came to find out that Williams did a lot for the community, helping to turn this gorgeous, musician-laden Ozark landscape into America’s live-music-show capital. Acts like Jim Stafford, Roy Clark, The Lennon Sisters and Donny and Marie Osmond have come through town. There are showtimes literally all day long, with younger acts added to the rotation constantly.

I saw a fair share of shows while in town, ranging from outspoken comedian Yakov Smirnoff to the incredible a cappella group The Cat’s Pajamas to a high-energy set performed by The Haygoods, a young and talented family band. For the more adventurous set, there are options to get your blood pumping, from ATV rides and trails for biking to kayaking and cave tours. Unfortunately, as the woman running the Vigilante ZipRider zip line told me, the winds were too strong on the day I visited to allow for any zipping or lining. But in pure Bransonite time-isn’t-an-issue-because-people-come-first fashion, she tried to diminish my disappointment by talking me through Branson’s history.

As we looked out over the lush, rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks, freckled with three pristine lakes, she explained how the book The Shepherd of the Hills, based on life in early Branson, brought in swarms of fans from all over the country to experience hillbilly culture firsthand. A proud self-proclaimed hillbilly, she told of her personal experiences from the economic boom in the ’60s to the Feb. 29, 2012, tornado that unsuccessfully sought to shred the plans for the city’s centennial celebration.

“We all love Branson,” she said with a smile. “Our goal is that you’ll love it too.”

And somewhere along the way — whether it was while traversing the historic streets of Silver Dollar City, a theme park that appeared several times on The Beverly Hillbillies; chatting with passionate performing artists; savoring local dishes like skillet succotash (a mix of corn, lima beans, peppers and who knows what else); or splurging on the oversized muffins at Persimmon Hill Farm — I did. Though Branson and its residents may seem part of a world that once was, the beauty of this unadulterated destination doesn’t just lie in the rolling hills or forests but in the fact that it’s entirely one of a kind.

This trip to Branson prepared freelance writer and Air Force wife Kristy Alpert for her recent move to Mississippi, where the best restaurant in town’s slogan is “Come’n getcha some.”