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Working At Silver Dollar City: A Year In Review And A Look Ahead

Updated on February 13, 2018

Silver Dollar City, that little jewel of a theme park nestled in the Boston Mountains near Branson is where I now work. I have just completed my first full year of employment and decided I should recap the year, sort of a retrospect regarding what I saw and experienced in that year. As a longtime patron of the park (I have been coming here since oh, about 1969 or 1970) I thought I knew the park pretty well, and had seen most if not all it had to offer.

Man, was I ever wrong! There is so much going on here that the casual visitor, or even the serious visitor that comes multiple times a year cannot begin to know what they've missed. I will try to give you, casual reader, a look behind the curtain, so to speak, at what working here has allowed me to see, do, and experience.

2017: The year in review

I began the year interviewing for a full time seasonal position. Last year I worked strictly as an usher, newly hired and not assured of a job come 2017. I applied for work in the Sales Audit office. I was interviewed, put to some tests to verify my abilities and subsequently offered a position. I was quite happy, then I saw another opening, this time in Entertainment. I called the office to see what it was and discovered it would be something I felt I would greatly enjoy. I applied (again), was interviewed (again) and offered the position.

Now I am in a pickle: Two good jobs, one outside virtually all the time, the other half in and half out. In the end, what decided it for me was the fact that I would be able to walk the park constantly, greeting people and offering assistance when I was not needed in one of the venues.

And so I began my new position as Entertainment 910, which means I travel from venue to venue, checking on the talent, the technicians, the ushers and whomever else may be in or around during the festivals. Basically I walk, lots of steps every single day. I started strong, making over 36,000 steps the first day (never did that again! Oh, my aching blistered feet!!!). To those who ask what I do, I call myself Captain Stepnfetchit. Sound it out slowly, you'll get it.

SDC has the Opera House, Red Gold Heritage Hall, Riverfront Playhouse and the Saloon as its indoor venues. The Saloon holds about 250 people and features the same show multiple times each day while the other venues have acts rotating in and out, sometimes daily depending upon the festival. The Playhouse is a wonderful venue which was designed and built with stage performances in mind. Its acoustics are amazing and even without microphones and speakers you can hear every single word uttered or sang onstage to the very last seat in the house. It seats roughly 600 or so persons, depending upon how cozy you can get with your neighbor.

The Opera House is next, seating around 850 on a good day. It is another stage, permanently set in place as the Playhouse is. This is the class venue and generally sees the big name groups on park. Lastly we have the Red Gold Hall. Believe it or not, it began life as a warehouse! It is huge and can seat over 900 people. During Bluegrass and BBQ it becomes a stage with folding chairs and tables, surrounded by the most heavenly smells from various vendors as they offer to sell you anything from ribs to pulled pork to mason jar sundaes to, well you name it. Then later in the year it transforms itself into a ring as you see at the circus, but rather than elephants you see a Wild West Show, complete with... more on that later!

For outside venues, there are the Dockside Theater, Boatworks Theater, Gazebo and Echo Holler. They range in size from the Gazebo at around 150 or so capacity to the two theaters which will seat about twice that much to the Echo Holler which is the single largest venue in Branson. It is here that the really big acts perform at various times during the year.


Spring 2017: March and April

Spring Ride Days opened the year with a crisp 32 degree day. At that temperature no big rides open but the water rides will. Go figure. So, we literally had people in line to ride the Lost River and American Plunge! Yes, shivering and screaming they rode!!

Acts were at the Gazebo, Dockside and Boatworks. Spoken 4 Quartet and Sunday Drive were two great acts and great people. They will be returning this Spring so if you can, come visit!

April opened with a brand new festival: the Festival of Wonder. The Opera House hosted a set of brothers who were, shall I say, loved by the ladies. Flamenco dancers extraordinaire, they literally danced their way into the hearts of the ladies with their stomping feet, sweaty chests and sparkling eyes. Oh yes, the ladies really enjoyed them!

Red Gold had the Earth Harp group. The venue was perfect for this act, as it had the room to stretch the strings across a vast open space and allowed the audience to be within the act itself. It was superb!

The Playhouse hosted a juggling/balance act from the darkest continent, Africa. At times, these guys were so high up in the air you could not see their heads! And the screams! Oh, the screams from the crowd as they performed on the stage!

Bluegrass and BBQ

Oh, that time of year! The smells of smoking ribs and pulled pork floating on the air, BBQ sauces from across the country, and the sounds that stir the soul and force the toes to tap! Acts, performers, both single and in groups; some together for years, others thrown together at a moments notice. All bent on just having a blast, both for themselves and for the listener.

Acts that top the charts, acts that are award winners, some multiple times over. Acts that are just beginning, acts that are several generations together, acts that are family. Some here for the day, others for three days or so. Some that made their beginnings here at SDC and went on to stardom, acts that are looking at these acts and dreaming that someday, someday they might be that group, the one that made it.

It was here that I began to see just how much I had missed over the years. This has been my favorite time at SDC as a patron, and I had come for years to taste, smell and listen. But being here every day, and seeing each act as they crossed the stages across the park I found out just what I had been missing. To fully realize and enjoy every act one needed to not only attend the park daily from open to close, but to have a plan of attack each day. At the every venue but the Saloon, acts are in place for two or three days at most. Performing a maximum of four shows each day (some only three) the visiting patron must bounce from venue to venue, catching bathroom breaks and grabbing food as you can in order to see every act. It can be exhausting! Shows are at different times but rarely is there sufficient time between shows to get from one place to the next and find a seat before the show begins. I began to see why people come here and stay for the entire month of the festival: there is no other way to fully enjoy the shows other than being on site every single day!

Star Spangled Summer

Beginning in early June and running through mid July, the Star Spangled Summer event is full of fun for all ages. Featuring the Stunt Dog Experience at the Opera House three times daily, Chris Perondi and his trainers and dogs put on a show that will dazzle you and leave you laughing. Fast paced and full of amazing tricks, these canine performers are a sight to behold.

Over at the Red Gold hall, the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters performed for the final year here at SDC. Everyone knows their antics, but to see them every day and come to know the different nuances and show preparations was eye opening to me. They would practice before the shows, between the shows and sometimes after the shows had ended for the day. There was even days where an impromptu two on two game erupted, or even an extended one on one game between team members would take place, where after each shot someone would rotate off the court and be replaced by another player. If the shot was made, the shooter stuck; if not, they left. And nothing mattered: not size, gender, nothing. It was a hoot to see 5' tall Too Tall playing against the giants on the team, or to see TNT go against Moose in a do or die one on one match. Then there were the times that they just shot around or attempted to set world records during these shoot-arounds. I was fortunate enough to be there when Firefly decided to try and set a new record at most consecutive 3 point shots made in a minute. TNT filmed, Firefly shot and I rebounded! Yes, I was able to rebound his shots and kick the ball back to him for the next shot!!! And he did set a new personal record with 13 straight shots made from 3 point land in under a minute. How cool is that!?!? During their time at SDC I got to know a few of the team members a bit and they are outstanding people. I took some pictures of them while they were on the court and offered copies to them, and they were gracious enough to take them. Zeus wanted one from several years ago we had taken where he helped my wife and I "renew" our vows: we were there on our anniversary and told him about it. Turns out he really is a minister!! He wanted the picture to put on his "man cave" wall, asking for it before I had even offered it. That gave me the idea to take other shots and offer them to the other players. It was so nice of them to give me autographs on the copies I kept for my son, so we know that for every picture we have of them during this time, they have the corresponding picture somewhere in their scrapbooks.

And Moose, if you're reading this, I thank you once more for your gift to my son. He loved it more than you can imagine. Stay cool and enjoy your family!!

Southern Gospel Festival

The Southern Gospel Festival followed, and was twelve straight days of near sun up to past sun down of people, groups, and music. Oy vey, what a mass of people! The gospel groups from across the nation came in, performed and were greeted by I don't know how many people at every venue, every show, every day. Much like Bluegrass and BBQ, people would come and stay for the two weeks or so, attending every day all day long then staying for the evening concert in Echo Hollow. Often standing in line for two hours before the gates opened to allow entry into the venue, then another hour until the show started, these people are dedicated! And the performers are outstanding! I got the chance to know a few of the visitors as I assisted in "keeping order" at the gate because the same people would get in line early each day. It is special to get to know our patrons like this; too often in life we just breeze past one another but here, we can slow down and talk. I thank each and every one of you for that.

National Crafts and Cowboy Festival

School has started and a large part of the summer visitors have left to go home. But now begins what is a truly amazing festival: the National Crafts and Cowboy Festival! Filled with craftsman from across the nation, some 100 plus booths are set up around the park and filled with an array of crafts that boggles the mind. Glass, wood, iron and steel, paint, weaving, baskets, gourds you name it and it is here. From food to jewelry to knick knacks to heirlooms you can find something to tickle your fancy. And then there is the Wild West Show in the Red Gold hall, various cowboy singers every day like Belinda Gail or the Malpass Brothers at the other venues. There is also Fred Woehl showing us how to train a wild mustang and that cowboy chef couple extraordinaire, Kent and Shannon Rollins here to teach us how to cook and care for our cast iron cookware. It was such fun getting to know these artists and watch them work their magic each day.

And for those of you so inclined, there is a thrice daily barn dance! Yep, kick your heels up and dance to the old time waltzes, two step and line dance classics played by our own Horse Creek Band. And who knows, other artists just might drop by and sing for your pleasure! It's been known to happen!!

An Old Time Christmas

The year is passing and we have reached the final festival: An Old Time Christmas. SDC has been acknowledged as the Most Illuminated Park On Earth and it just got better. Adding 1,500,000 (that's 1.5 MILLION) more lights to the 5 million already here this year, it has become even more beautiful. Lights, lights everywhere. Light creations, light tunnels, light extravaganzas deluxe. A parade two times nightly, a 50 foot tall tree along with perennial favorite shows like It's A Wonderful Life, A Dickens Christmas Carol, and The Living Nativity one cannot help but be moved as you meander through the park. There are booths set up everywhere filled with hot chocolate and goodies and even a caroling group wandering about the park singing to the people they meet. All in all, a truly wonderful way to close out the year.

So, that's a brief overview of what was, now a look at what is coming!

I cannot go into too great of detail in this hub on every festival; for more you need to seek out the others I have written throughout the year. Sorry, but there just isn't enough space for an all-encompassing hub for the year in review.

But enough looking back, let's look forward! Beginning next month (March 2018) Spring Ride Days will greet the new year! Weather permitting (of course) most of the rides will be open and available for your riding pleasure after this long cold winter. And at some point this spring comes the new, $26 million dollar ride the whole world is waiting for, Time Traveler! The first of its kind, as well as the highest, tallest, most inversions ride ever, this ride will leave the rider gasping for air. Beginning with a ten story drop straight down right out of the chute with no climb at all, Time Traveler will loop three times, launch twice and all while spinning around and around! Yes, you read that right: while performing as a normal (HAH!) roller coaster riding the tracks up down and around, Time Traveler will be spinning laterally all along the route!! Confused? Think the Teacup ride set on the back of a 50 mph roller coaster all while going through various loops and drops associated with a roller coaster. Get the idea? Yeah, insane I know but this will mark SDC as one of the most targeted theme parks in the world this year. Watch the video attached to this hub for a better idea of what it will be.

The Festival of Wonder kicks off in early April and will welcome back the Earth Harp group and speed painter Dan Dunn (who is AMAZING!!!) as well as new acts CirqUnique, illusionist Vitaly Beckman and the X-Pogo Stuntmen.

Bluegrass and BBQ will begin in May and will again welcome Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Flatt Lonesome and others along with that sweet scent of hickory smoked BBQ!

June will see the Star Spangled Summer, Moonlight Madness and concerts by... are you ready? Atlanta Rhythm Section, Exile, and Blood Sweat and Tears! Local super cover band Members Only will once again perform for our listening pleasure as well. And can you imagine riding Time Traveler IN THE DARK?? Yes, all rides will be open long into the night so you can experience the fun (terror?) of flying along in total darkness on the rides and roller coasters. Oh, and while you're here on the weekends take advantage of our block party and dance on the square while watching the fireworks nightly.

Next up will be the Southern Gospel Festival followed by the National Crafts and Cowboy festival. This will be the final year of the Wild West Show so be sure to come out one more time to enjoy the trick riders and ropers and the Native American dancers. Oh, and by the way, Sawyer Brown will be performing September 9th and as always, all concerts are FREE!!

NOTE TO READERS: If you want to see a specific show I would advise you to either A) get to the venue AT LEAST two hours early for these special shows; any later and you will run the risk of not getting a good seat or B) purchase a $10 Show Lovers pass for each show desired. These are limited to 100 each for Opera House and Red Gold, and 350 for Echo Hollow. The Echo Hollow Show Lovers go on sale two or three days prior to the show so keep watch on the SDC website. As for the shows in Red Gold and Opera House, you can purchase them at any time online up to two hours before the show begins. While the shows are free, sometimes waiting in line for a couple or three hours in the summer heat can be worth the $10. Just an thought.

And again we come to the final festival of the year, our Old Time Christmas. And once more, we must say goodbye to an old friend making their final performance, our show It's A Wonderful Life. This one hurts, for it is what my wife and I saw together for the first time, and where I began my working life here at SDC. I am sure I will be shedding more than a few tears as the performances dwindle away in late December.

Ride... If You Dare!!!

And of course there will be things like Deputy Lump trying to corral those merry miscreants the Hatfield's and the McCoy's; Terry Sanders and his myriad of characters all bent on making you laugh, often with Miss Whoopsie Daisy in tow; the Echo Hollow shows nightly; the foods, the sounds, the rides and all of the other reasons to visit us this year. Come once, come often, come and work with us if you want! We'd love to have you for a day or a month or a lifetime: your choice!

If you do come a-visitin' stop in any venue and ask for me, Mike. I'll be around somewhere more than likely and would enjoy meeting you face to face. Y'all take care now!!


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