Branson’s entertainment reputation has long drawn hopeful singers, dancers, and entertainers to its Ozark stages. The city itself first found fame as the setting for The Shepherd of the Hills, Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 folk novel. That text inspired an outdoor production by the same name that has been performed since 1960, securing the town’s viability as a live entertainment destination. It’s the home of the Presleys and the Lennons, the city that launched Shoji Tabuchi’s career, and a place that once boasted more theater seats than Broadway.

Over the years, Branson’s tourism economy has diversified to include more outdoor attractions like Top of the Rock and Ballparks of America, but shows remain an anchor industry that generates more than a hundred million dollars per year. It’s still a city where hopeful performers can carve out not just a living, but a life. With its affordable homes, good schools, low crime, and pristine outdoor recreation opportunities, many entertainers find it hard to leave. And thanks to an annual visitation average of more than seven million people, those tourism dollars drive improvements that only sweeten Branson’s livability.

“There’s no doubt that Branson’s going through a ton of change,” says Timothy Haygood, who stars with his five siblings in the hit show The Haygoods. “People are doing VRBO. They want craft beer and specialty restaurants. They want to spend the evenings walking up and down the landing. We’re rising to the challenge of entertaining a modern demographic and holding onto what makes it special in the Ozarks.”

We caught up with entertainment industry workers—both on and offstage—about what it’s like to live in this quirky town, their surprising side-hustles, and what they think is coming next.

Jeannie Horton, Legends in Concert

Every year, Jeannie Horton oversees the reorganization of memorabilia in the lobby of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, which she has managed for the past twenty-one years.
“It’s like a museum,” she says. “There are contracts on the walls, pictures, unique items worn by people like Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson.”
Oversight of this display is but a portion of her greater role as a general manager. She’s also in charge of operations, production, marketing, and sales for the theater’s business, including its headliner show, Legends in Concert, and she provides operational support for other shows that lease time slots from the theater. Legends in Concert is a tribute show owned by On Stage Entertainment. It has locations in places like Atlantic City and Waikiki, both cities where Jeannie previously worked. But even though Branson is smaller, its size reminds Jeannie of her own beloved hometown, a tiny Montana mountain community of fewer than one thousand people.

Jeannie Horton connects with nature at the Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area, just around the corner from the Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, during the hectic work week.

“I enjoy the diversity and different things you can do in a bigger city, but I prefer small towns,” she says. “I love being back in one.”
Jeannie also loves the outdoors. One of her favorite local trails is in the city park right across from the theater where she works. “You can overlook Taneycomo. It’s beautiful.” Plus, Branson’s opportunities for boating and camping are a huge perk. She and her husband parked their Airstream at Table Rock State Park for years, where they camped alongside friends. She’d work during the day, then have dinner around the campfire. Afterward, her husband Robb, the show’s production manager, would leave for work.

“We live, breathe, and eat theater,” Jeannie says. “It’s always the topic of our discussions, and it works for us.”

They’re in good company. From ushers to dance captains to backstage managers, several of Jeannie’s co-workers are couples. She met her husband twenty-eight years ago in the industry. At the time, he was playing Elwood of the Blues Brothers on a cruise ship, and she was working for Premier Cruise Lines, the official cruise of Walt Disney World in the ’90s. “I was like, ‘he’s really cute,’ ” she recalls.

When the opportunity to move to Branson arose, the Hortons seized it. They loved the schools, the low crime—and never mind the absence of a department store. “When we first came here, there weren’t a lot of big-box stores, which we were used to. We joked about going to the ‘big town of Springfield’ a lot. It was a forty-minute trip. We felt fancy,” she says with a laugh.

Springfield visits are less frequent these days. In the decades since, Branson’s commercial resources have grown. Now there’s Branson Landing and Branson Hills Parkway, with its Super Walmart and Ulta. But for Jeannie, it hasn’t lost its luster. “It’s evolved in the past twenty-plus years, but my husband still calls this our private little Mayberry. If someone honks at you, they’re just saying hi. Or they’re from New York.”

Patrick and Tim Haygood, The Haygoods

One of Patrick Haygood’s earliest memories of Branson has nothing to do with music, but of the woods. He remembers the feeling of discovering the Ozarks when he and his siblings were just kids, tourists visiting from Texas. He remembers the checkered green light of the understory, limestone bluffs, and streams. He especially remembers looking for caves. “It just captured our imaginations,” he recalls. “There’s a wonderland-adventure charm to this place.”

As an adult, his ideal day still channels that early awe. If the weather’s clear, he’ll take his plane up for a sunrise flight over the hills. If not, he’ll hit the lake for trout or bass fishing. After that, he takes the kids to school. Then he meets his five siblings at the Clay Cooper Theater, which hosts three of their shows per week.

Between the six Haygood siblings, they play more than twenty instruments.

The Haygoods, starring siblings Catherine, Dominic, Matthew, Michael, Patrick, and Tim, is a variety show that features contemporary hits, ’60s classics, and everything in-between. But it’s far from ordinary. There are four laser light systems, video walls, smoke machines, electric guitars, harps, and even banjos. Every performer plays at least four instruments. The costumes light up. They even tap dance. And when the show ends, it’s just a twenty-minute drive back home.

“We close the night with a Vegas-style finale, then get to sleep in our own bed,” Patrick says. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else quite like Branson, especially for entertainers.”

Branson has long tied its identity to the rural Ozarks and country music, thanks to legacy acts like Shepherd of the Hills, Presley’s Country Jubilee, and The Baldknobbers Jamboree. While this genre anchors the city’s heritage, the Haygoods have channeled the town’s can-do attitude into something new.

“The spirit of Branson is what gave us our success, and it’s all about adapting, change, and hard work,” Patrick says.

They’ve performed more than seven thousand times over the last twenty-nine years. Last season, they broke local records with eighty-five sold-out shows. Tim, the oldest brother and show manager, expects one hundred sell-out shows this year. But it wasn’t always like that.

For Patrick Haygood, the perfect day starts with a sunrise flight over the Ozark mountains.

As kids, they lived in a single-wide mobile home with a leaky roof. They duct-taped their shoes to hold them together. They also loved music and performed as a family at Silver Dollar City. It was a grueling schedule—five shows per day, five days a week—that solidified their passion and work ethic. Eight years later, they moved to the Branson strip to approach familiar songs with modern dance moves, even stunts. But the show they envisioned kept falling flat.

“It was the early 2000s, and what we wanted to do wasn’t what the Branson audience wanted,” Tim recalls.

Meanwhile, they recorded an album, got a show on RFD-TV, and even did a hit tour in China. Back home, Branson was beginning to diversify. Branson Landing opened. Johnny Morris built a golf course. Acrobats of China came to the strip. Once pigeonholed as a rhinestone-studded haven for motorcoach tours, Branson was becoming cool. And the Haygoods found their foothold.

“We are Branson-believers. We always have been,” Tim says. “But we had always been the sort of show that was too much for the Branson crowd. Then all of a sudden, boom. We started packing up shows and selling lots of tickets. It’s been a rocket ship. It’s unreal. We still can’t believe it.”

The show is often described as “high-energy.” That follows the family offstage, too. Between the six siblings, they are licensed pilots, dirt bike riders, watersport enthusiasts, real estate moguls, talented home cooks (well, maybe just Catherine), and even fly powered parachutes. For the Haygoods, life is good.

“We truly love what we do, and we know it’s a privilege,” Tim says. “We are very, very grateful to Branson for supporting us. People here have been really, really, really good to our family. Without the support of waiters, waitresses, front desk people, ticket sellers, you can’t make it in Branson.”

Jay McManus, Anthems of Rock

Jay McManus came to Branson in 2007 as one of the 12 Tenors performing in the Dublin’s Irish Tenors and Celtic Ladies traveling tour. He remembers the arrival as “a nice breath of fresh air.” Jay, who grew up in the United Kingdom and lived in London, found Branson’s charm irresistible. “Locals were willing to do anything as a favor, give you rides to Walmart. Everybody was really friendly and really nice. That hasn’t changed at all. It’s still that small-town feeling.”

Branson seemed like a good place to raise a family, so he did. Today, he performs in the Anthems of Rock show at the King’s Castle Theater.

“I do a Mick Jagger impersonation,” he says. “It gets a big laugh.”

The show features tributes to Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Journey, Def Leppard, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, among others. With leather jackets and ripped jeans, the costumes are a gritty departure from the Branson norm.

Performer Jay McManus played a key role in the development of Anthems of Rock, one of Branson’s newest shows. But outside of the theater, he runs Weed Whackers Lawn Care, where he applies showbiz-flare—think zig-zags and diamond cuts—to landscapes in the Branson area.

“But we’re getting really good audiences, around four hundred people per show, which is really amazing for what’s been going on in the economy.”
When the pandemic struck, Jay focused on spending more time with his kids and expanding his business, Weed Whackers Lawn Care. And though not glamorous, side-hustles have been a long-standing tradition in both the local and national theater community, even pre-covid-19.

“A lot of people do that,” he says. “There’s people that clean Airbnbs, performers who own their own farms. I take care of thirty-five yards weekly. I feel like everybody has something else that they do. It’s not quite so glamorous when you say it aloud.”

Just because Jay works two jobs doesn’t mean Branson has lost its allure. He’s been performing since he was eleven and has experienced a range of entertainment lifestyles. In Branson, he doesn’t have to put up with the demands of a traveling show or the high cost of urban living. For Jay, Branson offers an unparalleled quality of life.

It just captured our imaginations. There’s a wonderland-adventure charm to this place. — Patrick Haygood

“We’re not living out of a suitcase and going from hotel to hotel or tour buses. I just commute daily, five minutes from the theater. There’s not many places like this,” he says. “I love the people, the locals are just amazing, and the stability of my shows—it’s a steady income, steady job, a beautiful place to live, the schools are great.”

With a chuckle, he adds that he has to say that because his wife is a teacher, but his praise is sincere. “Branson is getting better and better. They’ve added more restaurants, the aquarium. The longer I stay here, the better it gets.”

Jay McManus

Non-country shows began appearing in Branson as early as 1991 with the opening of Andy Williams’ theater, but the edgier sound and design features of Anthems of Rock represent a new Branson that some view as shifting away from the city’s squeaky-clean, Americana roots. As Jay sees it though, there’s room for both. “There are still country music options in Branson. As long as we’ve got the options, then those brands should be happy, but there’s nothing wrong with change.”

Joe and Tamra Tinoco, The Magnificent 7 Variety Show

Tamra and Joe Tinoco met at the Christy Lane Theater in 1991, where she sang backup for Christy Lane and he opened for Ray Price and Ferlin Husky. Over the next four years, they continued working in Branson. After marrying, they moved to Nashville, where they performed at the Grand Ole Opry. They also toured, taught ballroom dancing, and worked for country music stars like Clint Black, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Jerry Reed.

In 2001, they returned to Branson at the behest of Chisai Childs, the glittery visionary often credited with transforming the town into a neon-lit live music hub. Chisai had a Magnificent Country variety show at the Branson USA Amusement Park theater, and she wanted the Tinocos’ talent on her stage. Those early years were good, with seats filled every night.

For more than a decade, Tamra Tinoco has set the curlers in her daughter Talya’s hair backstage before showtime. For this working family, it’s a small window of intimacy that allows them to reconnect amid chaotic schedules. The Tinocos operate two businesses outside of their show, including TNT Old Time Photo, the largest faux-vintage photo studio in town.

When the park sold the following year, the show moved to the White House Theater. At 1,400 seats, it was one of Branson’s largest stages. There, the Tinocos began producing and starring in the Magnificent 7, featuring an eleven-piece band and ten entertainers. “It was the biggest show in Branson,” Joe recalls.

But then their backer died, and the economy tanked.

“Over the years, we slowly lost band members. It was tough,” Joe says. “It was an eye-opening experience being a show owner. It kicked us smack in the face. There was a lot of things we didn’t know, and eventually we had to cut a couple singers and the band members.”

They took a loan out to keep the show alive. This period was documented in the 2013 film We Always Lie to Strangers. The Tinocos call it fair, but tough to watch. It showed the uncomfortable realities of working in the entertainment industry, including laying off employees, cleaning bathrooms, and hustling to sell tickets. “It was painful,” Tamra admits. “But you live and learn and move on.”

Today they star in and produce The Magnificent 7 Variety Show, featuring two hundred costume changes, songs that span seven decades, and seven performers, including their sixteen-year-old daughter, Talya.

Despite numerous awards, the future remains uncertain. During the pandemic, they canceled their entire 2020 season. A week before their 2021 opening, ticket sales were “not great.” Still, they’re hopeful. “Branson is a different type of town. It’s a walk-up town where many people wait till the last minute to see where to go. We are getting buses, which is exciting,” Joe says.

Tamra Tinoco

For years, retirees on coach tours formed their core audience. As tourism demographics trend younger, families have increased, too. But shifting their song line-up to capture new crowds is scary, and they fear bad Tripadvisor reviews from long-time fans resistant to changes in the show formula. Right now, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s music is a safe bet.

“We have to be careful doing even the ’80s with hair bands,” Tamra says. “You have to make it more of a production to introduce it to the older crowd.”

“One of the funniest comments I ever got was several years ago; we tried ‘Thriller.’ After, we got comments like, ‘Wow, why are there gravestones?’ and ‘Why were there monsters in the show?’ ” Joe says.

It’s a frustrating position, but quitting is the last thing they want. And show business is just one piece of their lives. Offstage, they have Artists in Motion, a non-profit dance studio they started with three other families to provide children’s dance education in Branson. The couple also owns TNT Old Time Photo, one of the top-rated photo studios in town.

Producer, entertainer, and choreographer for The Magnificent 7 Variety Show, Tamra Tinoco performs in the 1990’s segment of the show covering music in chronological order from the 1940s to today.

“The greatest thing I love about what we do is that we get to do it as a family,” Joe says. “Branson has been a blessing for many entertainers in our town. There’s no telling how much longer we’ll be able to continue with this show. It all depends on if the audience keeps coming. When that stops, who knows what our next adventure is going to be?”

Amanda Brown, Sight & Sound

Sight & Sound Theatre show operations manager Amanda Brown grew up with a simple household motto: all roads lead to Branson.

As a kid growing up in Oklahoma, her family vacationed in Branson often. “Even on years when we saved up a bunch of money and went to Disneyworld or something, we always went out of our way to stop here on the way home,” she says.

The summer before she planned to start nursing school in Springfield, she moved to Branson to work at Silver Dollar City. One perk was free access to all of Branson’s live entertainment. “I made some friends, and we made it a goal to see every show in town. Growing up in Oklahoma, musical theater was foreign.” Sure, she’d liked the few Rogers and Hammerstein classics she’d seen on TV, but her school didn’t even have a theater program.

As operations manager, Amanda Brown oversees all of the productions at the Sight & Sound Theatre, including Jesus, which runs through the end of the year. Amanda’s children, Duncan and Piper, and her husband Andy Brown perform in shows at the theater.

Watching a Christian musical production about the life of Christ called The Promise would change the course of her life. The show stunned her. “I saw, for the first time, my beliefs married with musical theater. I was inspired, in awe, and I thought, ‘How in the world is this a thing people get paid to do?’ ”

Brown withdrew from nursing school and started working in concession stands, the box office, ushering, and eventually backstage—all jobs that now inform her current role at Sight & Sound. “It’s been a unique journey, and I really got to experience the full gamut. It was just my passion, getting to be a part of faith-driven storytelling in such a creative way.”

Branson is also where she met her husband, Andy, a local performer. Today, the pair have built a life that revolves around church and the theater. She’s the show operations manager, he plays Joseph of Arimathea, and even their children perform. It seems idyllic, and in many ways, it is. But Sight & Sound is a business. In their industry, people expect to be entertained in the evenings, on weekends, and on holidays. Adult cast members typically perform nine to eleven shows per week ten months out of the year.

“That can be a pretty challenging schedule, especially when you have a family and are trying to raise kids and get them through school,” she admits. “The schedule is grueling, but it’s fun. We get to play for a living.”

Living in Branson also offers a unique work-life balance seldom available to the live-show industry. She loves the town with the fervor of a zealot. “Being in a small town, that’s a blessing. My husband is home for dinner every night. And there’s no commute. Nowhere else in the world can you walk out your front door and within a few minutes be at a live show, on a roller coaster, ziplining, or playing miniature golf, or do all the things nature has to offer: hiking, swimming, boating. For us as a family, we appreciate all of that.”

It’s a passion perfectly articulated for a visitor’s guide or city spokesperson. The suggestion makes her laugh. “Well, when you love it, you don’t have to be a salesperson. Branson is home.”

Reza, Edge of Illusion

Illusionist Reza Borchardt is one of Branson’s rising stars—one at the forefront of changing the public’s notion of magic. “When people first hear the word ‘magic,’ ” he says, “they think sparkly boxes and rabbits out of hats. But Edge of Illusion is a rock concert meets a magic show.”

His two-hour performance features complicated set pieces involving disappearing motorcycles, helicopters, and video walls, among others. He calls it “large, in-your-face magic. But then I’ll sit down and connect with the audience using stories from my personal life.”

Reza is also surprisingly funny in his commentary and observations, inciting riotous laughter from audiences. This entire formula—big magic, deadpan humor, and acoustic moments—is a winning combination. He performs seven days a week in his one-thousand-seat theater. At the time of this interview, the last twenty shows sold out completely. “Every day, I wake up and pinch myself,” he says. “It’s great.”

While other young magicians might dream of building their careers in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, he has no plans to leave.

“It appeals to me—big fish, small pond,” he says. “Plus, the area’s incredible, so scenic and peaceful. I just purchased a home on the lake to enjoy the beauty. It’s got the small-town vibe and community, similar to where I grew up [Brookings, South Dakota], but also amenities that cater to the seven million visitors that come here a year. It offers good balance. We have so much but don’t have to live in an area that comes with the challenges of a bigger city.” What about traffic? Reza laughs. “As long as you know the backroads, you can get around quite easily.”

Branson has also been a safe place to hone his entrepreneurial skills. “Here’s the thing: show business is as much a business as it is a show,” he says. He performs year-round in Branson while also touring nationally and internationally. And geographically speaking, the town fits perfectly into his business model.

“I love Atlantic City and Vegas, but they’re isolated. Branson is right in the center of the country, allowing us to do performances here and then get on a tour bus and be in Chicago or Dallas or wherever overnight, and have my entire show with me. From a logistics standpoint, touring works very well here.”

Reza also feels loyalty to the region because of the crucial role it played in his early success. In his small South Dakota town, he stuck out. While other kids pursued hunting and sports, he dreamed of becoming a magician. Unfortunately, his community lacked the local resources to nurture that interest. But everything changed after his family’s vacation to Branson at age seven. “As a kid, everything is magnified,” he says. “I remember these huge venues and superstar performers, the Mandrells and Osmonds and names like that. I was intrigued by the massive productions. I’d sit and just dream, thinking, ‘That’s where I want to be: on that stage.’ ”

Reza’s brand of magic departs from classic tricks with rabbits in hats and scarves that take flight. But offstage, his retired pet dove Lance (named for its prior owner magician Lance Burton), pays homage to the foundation of magic that inspired his lifelong dedication to the craft.

Branson was a win-win for the Borchardt family: an idyllic summer vacation destination and a place that could offer the professional mentorship and networking Reza needed to succeed. He wrote letters to local magicians like Kirby VanBurch, Brett Daniels, and Dave Hamner. Many invited him backstage, even demonstrating tricks he’d only read about in books.

Those early experiences influenced the accessibility of his own stage. “I want to create an experience that moves people, inspires people,” he says.

While the show features bold tricks like running saws through an audience member’s neck or walking through concrete walls, there are also striking moments of intimacy, like when Reza shares his childhood pursuit of magic. He often invites children onstage to dazzle them with linking rings and magical coloring books. It echoes his own upbringing. And who knows? These kids might be the next Reza or Haygood.

For the lucky few who hit it big in Branson, anything seems possible.

Photos // Rose Hansen, The Haygoods, Anthems of Rock, Tamra Tinoco, The Magnificent 7 Variety Show, Sight & Sound Theatre, Reza Borchardt
Top Illustration // Makalah Hardy