December 19, 2009

Ray Stevens: Branson, Missouri era

Long-time co-host of Hee-Haw, Roy Clark, is often the one given credit for the music theater boom in Branson, Missouri. In the early 1990's, according to an interview with Roy Clark, he theorized that his own music theater gave some artists the idea to open up their own place and slowly but surely that's what happened. By 1991 the theater business down there was enormous. Roy Clark, Mickey Gilley, Mel Tillis, Jim Stafford, Ray, and several local acts all had theaters. A bird's eye view could show just how clustered the theater's were. It was like Music Row except in this case the street's are lined with theaters instead of recording studio's. I was never one of the fortunate millions that was able to catch Ray Stevens in person when he was in Branson, Missouri. The distance from here to there is simply too far and even worse was I was in high school in the early 1990s and so I had no way of going down there in the first place.

So, I was happy when Ray released a home video in 1993 called Ray Stevens Live. My parent's bought the video for me for Christmas. The television commercials had stopped airing by that time and so I found an ad for the video in a newspaper of all places. It had a mailing address and the cost, etc etc, and so during the holiday season of 1993 I finally got into my possession Ray Stevens Live. I had no access to the internet in 1993...was it even in existence back then? I also had no access to chart information, neither, so I was clueless at how commercially successful this video was. Below you will see an actual TV commercial for the home video...featuring snippets of the performances done at his theater.

During his time in Branson, Missouri his show was one of the consistently sold-out venues. His stay down there lasted two calendar years: 1991-1993, three consecutive years technically. While the theater was up and running he would perform two shows a day, six days a week. He'd take a break during the winter months but then according to his own words in no time at all he found himself having to gear up for the next season's program. In other words he felt it exhausting and monotonous and so after the 1993 tourist season wrapped up he shut down the theater and would eventually rent it out to whoever wanted to use the facility during the interim. After the rest and relaxation period he began working on his innovative direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious, which saw it's release in 1995 and just like Ray Stevens Live and Comedy Video Classics, the Get Serious home video became a top seller.

The place that was once the Ray Stevens Theatre is now the RFD-TV theater even though they still have the big road sign proclaiming it to be Ray's theater. This image is located at the start of this blog. They also kept the stage design as well...the only changes they made were to the building itself...putting up the big RFD-TV Theater logo on the building and painting some of the building a different color.

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