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Day 1 – Ronnie Milsap “Legend In My Time”

After enjoying a bountiful breakfast buffet we boarded an Ayr Coach for our journey to Shipshewanna Indiana.  Paul is my driver for this tour.  He was also the driver on my Branson, Memphis and Nashville journey that arrived back in Ontario two days ago.  A handful of the same passengers are on this capacity tour.  

We crossed the border quickly with no issues.  

Break stop was at a popular, Cracker Barrel.  Their staff was happy to see us.

When we arrived in Marshall, MI it was a winter wonderland.  Obviously a nasty snow storm had just fallen because many of the highway signs were covered in the white stuff.  Luckily we missed that precipitation and the main roads were clear.

Our 3 course Welcome Luncheon at Schuler’s of Marshall was excellent as always.  We were impressed with their wine bottle Christmas tree (over 400 of them).

Our first Shipshewanna stop was at Davis Mercantile, a unique shopping complex in the heart of this little Amish town.  Paul and I dropped our passengers luggage at our homey hotel for our 3 night stay.  Every time we stay here a group of Amish ladies look after luggage delivery and they have it down to a science – quick, and always perfect – it takes a woman to get it done right!

Dinner was family style at the Blue Gate.  Tonight’s two meats were fried chicken and meatloaf.  The bowls of food kept coming and the homemade pies provided the perfect ending to a true Amish style feast.  

I recall a few years ago before my family was going to be performing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, I was invited to Music City to go over all the arrangements.  Typically my brother Darren is in charge of this but I steer headed our Ryman performance.  

I was sitting in a beautiful suite at Opryland Hotel during the meeting when it was announced that they had a special guest they wanted me to meet.  In walked “Louise Mandrell”,  of the famous Mandrell Sisters with her little dog wrapped in blankets just like a baby and Louise’s personal assistant.  Louise was dressed glamorous just like she was going on stage.  She sat next to me and even though I had only met her once before for a brief time she spoke like I had known her for years.

She congratulated my family on our upcoming Ryman performance and of course talked about what that performance hall mean’t to her but what I will never forget is when she talked about entertaining.

She said her sister Barbara wanted off the road and retired.  Barbara literally dropped off the face of the earth.  You hardly hear her name anymore but she does get involved with some charity fundraisers in Nashville.  She is content working in her garden and spending time with her family.

Louise told me that her husband was not a well man and she wanted to look after him so she took time off the road to do this but she said entertaining was in her heart and she needed to get back on stage.  She missed the audience interaction and her fans so much.  

A few days ago I was in Branson, MO with my passengers and we watched the Urban Cowboy, Mickey Gilley on stage.  It was a remarkable show.  When Mom and I met Mickey back stage prior to his performance I didn’t get the picture of him that he portrayed on stage.

When he walked on stage he turned into a new man, an Entertainer, something he loves to do just like Louise Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, The Walters Family….. I’m sure the excitement of being on stage is what Mickey Gilley looks forward to more than anything else.

I’m sure this is the same reason that Ronnie Milsap is still performing today.  At 75 he is much younger than Mickey Gilley but I’m not sure how well he is.  Paul, brought the coach right next to Ronnie’s tour bus.  As my passengers were getting off I noticed that one of Ronnie Milsap’s band members was taking a wheelchair out of the bus bay and he brought it next to the coach door.  It was for Ronnie.

Tonight’s Capacity Crowd for Ronnie Milsap was so enthusiastic.  They cheered as Ronnie sang his hit songs.  His band was just fantastic.  Ronnie certainly is no longer in his prime and was rusty at the beginning of the performance but as his concert went on he continued to improve.  I couldn’t believe some of the high notes he hit.  

I recall when Ronnie announced his farewell tour a number of years ago.  Like many artists they re-appear years later as they miss being on stage so much.  It was an honor seeing Ronnie Milsap

once again.  He is certainly a true legend.  I don’t think he’ll be well enough to continue much longer.  His show was scheduled for 90 minutes without an intermission – it only lasted 70 minutes.  I could tell that some of his fans that travelled from across the USA were disappointed but I think he probably performed to his max.

His performance was a throwback in time, bringing back many memories of his 40 hit songs!

Day 9 and 10 – Nashville, Memphis, Nashville

Day 9 and 10 – Branson, Memphis and Nashville

Yesterday we started our journey North from Nashville.  It was sad to leave Music City – just love that city!

We were treated so well throughout our stay in the South

Lunch was at a really unique destination in the rural countryside, by Louisville.  The scenic drive to get there was stunning – beautiful homes – many with ponds on their large properties, narrow windy roads/

Our destination was a Family Farm where we were served a Country Thanksgiving Feast.  Everything was made from scratch – salads, turkey, ham, fried chicken with all the fixings and a choice of cobblers for dessert.  We ate extremely well during this journey but if I had to pick a favourite meal I think it would have to be this one.  

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Dinner was fantastic too.  We dined at “La Comedia Dinner Theatre”.  I’ve taken groups here for years and I’ve learned how to beat their crowds.  It was a sold out house so we showed up just a couple minutes before they opened the buffet.  We walked in and were taken to our seats – the rest of the house had already been seated.  Perfect.  Below find the recipe for their famous “Sweet Potato Soufflé”.

Last nights production was the broadway show, “White Christmas”.  The cast was top notch.  This was a big production for La Comedia to mount but they did it with flying colors.  Probably the best production I’ve seen there.

Today I was concerned about the weather.  There were snow warnings especially around Detroit (up to 8 inches) but other than the odd snow shower there was no issue and the roads remained bare but wet.

Our farewell luncheon was at a very posh mansion close to Detroit.  It was beautifully decorated for the season.  Couldn’t ask for a nicer location and the 3 course meal they served was good too.

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Clearing customs into Canada was quick.

We arrived back in Woodstock at 545pm.

My passengers have been raving about this journey – we really had a fantastic time – everyone may need a day of rest now that we are home – we kept very busy while we were away but we saw so many wonderful things and everyone appreciated that I threw in MANY extras.

Thanks to all my amazing passengers – one big family!

Seasons Greetings to all!

 

Day 8 – Music City USA – Nashville

It was a beautiful weather day in the Music City.

We enjoyed a bountiful, high quality breakfast buffet at the Opryland Hotel before meeting our excellent “Singing Tour Guides” who Entertained us as we toured around Nashville.  What a unique experience.

Our lunch location was a passenger “Surprise”.  The “General Jackson” Showboat did not disappoint!  Terrific show and yummy meal.

There was a bit of time to tour around the Opryland Hotel before getting dressed up for tonight’s special dinner.

The “Trace Adkins” Christmas Dinner Show was SUPERB! What a Voice!

 

Day 7 – Memphis and Nashville

Enjoyed a 90 minute stop at very busy “Graceland” in Memphis.

In Nashville we experienced the finest Southern Cooking and hospitality at Monells.  I always take a bit of a risk taking my groups to Monell’s as “officially” they don’t take a reservation.  Yesterday, American Thanksgiving this small restaurant’s 4 waiters served 1300 people waits were over 2.5 hrs but the food is worth it.

Last nights Opry performance the Ryman was fantastic – we could have asked for better seats.

When we returned to our fancy hotel, “The Opryland” I took my group on a walking tour so they could get their bearings and then we relaxed on our ornate balconies that overlook the indoor atrium gardens and Christmas lights.

Terrific day!

Day 5 – Little Rock plus an amazing “Surprise” Experience!

Happy American Thanksgiving!  

This morning I could feel excitement in the air, after all its American Thanksgiving and many families had gathered at “Chateau on the Lake” to celebrate the holiday.  Their Thanksgiving brunch which started at 10:30am will attract 1800 people.  

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After an early special buffet breakfast that they arranged especially for us we were on the road to Little Rock, Arkansas.  The scenery was beautiful.  I panicked that I wouldn’t find a break stop location that would be open due to the holiday but surprisingly I had no problems – we were able to fit in 2 break stops!  We even found a Walmart that was open – their many Black Friday specials were covered with clear plastic.  We were told that many would start getting in line at noon and at 6pm they could start buying the Black Friday deals!

Our home for one night is at the Wyndham Riverfront, Little Rock.  This hotel was recently fully renovated and it shows.  Today they welcomed over 600 guests for their Thanksgiving Buffet luncheon.  We took over one of their private banquet rooms and enjoyed that bountiful meal.  

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There was some time to relax before we departed for our Mystery Destination which was a short 20 minute drive from the Wyndham.  We traveled down secondary roads surrounded by cotton and rice fields.

Finally we arrived at a stately Plantation named Marlsgate.  The very hospitable owners welcomed us, served us a refreshing beverage using locally made vodka and then toured us around their beautiful property – 7.5 acres.

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A delicious 3 course dinner was served.  Our surroundings were so elegant.  Many told me this “Surprise Evening” was a dream come true!  

Day 5 – Branson. MO Pictures

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Day 5 – Shows and MORE Shows in Branson

It was another beautiful day – Perfecto – temps around 60F – nice and sunny.  The sunrise over the “Chateau of the Lake” hotel was spectacular.

I swap up breakfast entrees for my passengers so we aren’t eating the same thing every day at this beautiful hotel.  There was a breakfast bread pudding and ham off the bone as part of todays private buffet.

Yakov Smirnoff entertained us in his theatre at 10am.  I purchased VIP seating so we were in the 1st three rows.  Yakov is so good to me.  He very seldom will do a private meet and greet as there is a line up of fans waiting for him in the lobby after the show but he made an exception today as he met with my group.  Thanks Yakov.

Yakov still owns his Branson theatre but has not been performing here for a long time.  He lives in California.  Yakov is not only a very funny, clean comedian, he is an acclaimed artist and we admired his paintings that were on display in the lobby.

The first half of the show was very typical Yakov.  The second half offered a very serious Christmas message that brought a tear to everyone’s eye.  The show therefore ended up being an unique one – we all walked away in awe.

Lunch was a very special event at the Keeter Centre.  This state of the art complex is run in conjunction with “College of the Ozarks” where students work hard and leave school debt free.  We were served with by a group of young students who introduced themselves to us before serving us an exceptional 3 course meal.  The banquet room was so beautiful.  I believe I was lucky that they accepted us to dine with them today as tomorrow (American Thanksgiving) they have reservations for 1200!  Most of my passengers bought their house Pear salad dressing to bring home.  I pay a premium to bring my group here but I like to support these students.

The Duttons entertained us during the afternoon.  This Mormon family has been in Branson for over 20 years.  We watched 3 Dutton generations perform on stage.  Their family recipe home made fudge is worth the visit.

Dinner was Italian style.  We could select from a variety of entrees.

I always take my passengers to the “Andy William’s Christmas Spectacular” as our final Branson show.  As always Jimmy Osmond from the Osmond Brothers, The Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show and their many guests impressed us with this big production show that even features ice skating.  Everyone said that show brought back many wonderful memories.

All in all another fabulous day in Branson, MO!

Pictures to follow later today.

Day 4 – Our “FOUR” Show Day in Branson!

We enjoyed breakfast this morning in a private room at “Chateau on the Lake”.  Since we are in the South, biscuits replace toast and grits replace porridge.  The chef put out a nice spread of breakfast items for us to enjoy.  The “Chateau” is known for its excellent cuisine quality.

The sales and management team have so warmly welcomed me and my group here.  At most hotels I get to know a single sales person but here there is a large team of some of the most genuine, very nice staff I have ever met.  Its not an exaggeration that there has been a steady stream of them, that have showed up to meet me during our stay.  This is a mid size luxury hotel with the warm friend attitude of a bed and breakfast.  I applaud them.

It was a short drive to our first show of the day – “Clay Cooper”.  Clay has been in town for a few decades and he knows how to entertain.  His wife is the talented show choreographer and one of the many dancers and singers.  Their 9 year old son is on stage singing and dancing too.  

This is truly a big mega production not to be missed.  Its fast paced so the large cast works extremely hard.  Clay re-worked his show this year so its completely new.  Its not to be missed.

Since I always have so many regulars travelers with me to Branson, I like to switch shows around so my passengers can enjoy a new experience when they come to this music destination but the “Clay Cooper” Show is a MUST when I visit Branson.

I consider Clay and his promoter Pat good friends of mine.  They are very special folks.  Unfortunately once one of my passengers had a medical emergency at their theatre a few years ago.  I wasn’t able to travel in the ambulance so Clay loaded me up in his pick up truck and drove me to the hospital.  He gave me his personal phone number and was “on call” if I needed anything at all.  He spoke so fondly of me during his show today but he is the one that deserves the praise.  Clay has a very large heart and I’m honored to know him.

If you visit Branson be sure to pay the “Clay Cooper” show a visit – you will thank me when you get home – what a fabulous show!

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We enjoyed lunch at Branson Landing – a shopping/attraction destination.  My passengers were able to pick one of 3 delicious entrees.  Most decided on the wood grilled salmon (wonderful) and I heard many great comments about the very moist carrot cake.

Guess who showed up to visit us during lunch? Of course entertainer, Clay Cooper and Pat.  They visited with all my passengers and provided everyone with Clay Cooper Christmas ornaments.  Clay goes out of his way when I come to town and if anxious to provide me with a “Private” Meet n Greet.  It wasn’t possible to do this at his theatre so he joined us at lunch.  Thank you Clay and Pat – we all enjoyed your visit!

Las Vegas, “Legend In Concert” was the matinee performance we attended.  The Dick Clark Theatre is beautiful.  This show is high energy, uses impresses multi-media, the impersonators are the best you will ever see and that on stage band is top notch.  Some of the music impersonators we saw today were – Brooks and Dunn, Elton John, Brooks Brothers, Tina Turner – all fabulous but the ELVIS raised the bar – I thought the real ELVIS was on stage.  The MC/Entertainer/Comedian from Vegas was another true entertainer. Another terrific show.

”Hurts Donuts” is at the Dick Clark Theatre – this is a new USA Franchise that has made the Fortunes USA list.  Some of my passengers enjoyed their creative offerings during the shows intermission.

The “Stampede Dinner Show” complex was right across the road from Dick Clarks and that is a good thing.  As we were taking our seats the show begun.  This auditorium complex holds over 1000 ticket holders and I don’t recall ever attending one of their shows that hasn’t been at capacity.  Why is it always full – unique, entertaining, big cast, great for all ages and their food is delicious.

A couple minutes before the production ended I gathered my passengers so we were the first ones to leave the theatre complex.  Paul beat the parking lot traffic as we had another show to attend.

Yes we attended a whopping 4 shows today!  Many tour companies only include 1 show a day and drop their passengers at shopping venues to fill in time…. not me!  When in Branson why not see as many shows as you can!

“Raiding the Country Vault” is one of the highest rated shows in town.  This is a “Classic” Country Show with a cast of very talented performers and singers with music resumes that would impress anyone.  They have performed with the very best and have written many mega hit songs.  My passengers were singing along with all of the familiar lyrics.  There was no intermission so we were back on the road after 90 minutes.

The door man at the “Chateau on the Lake” warmly welcomed us to this our Ozark home.  We relaxed after a very busy but fabulous day!

Day 3 – We have Arrived – Branson, MO!

What an awesome day!

We departed St. Louis at 8am this morning.

Paul picked a very scenic route so we could avoid the morning rush hour city traffic.

The Cracker Barrel General Store was the perfect place to spend our morning break.

By lunch time we were transiting around Branson to its West side on a beautiful new route surrounded by the Ozark Mountains.  Its unbelievable the amount of money that has been poured into this tourist attraction over the years.

“Chateau on the Lake” also referred to as “The Castle On The Hill” is the only 4 Diamond property in Branson.  Its our home for 3 nights.  We are very fortunate to be staying at such an exceptional hotel.  When we arrived at this luxurious place another Canadian group was “touring” the hotel but we are the only tour company that will be “staying” here during this time period.  The passengers on that other coach could not believe that this is OUR home for 3 nights.   Lucky for us!

We entered a Christmas decorated banquet room where we were served a bountiful 3 course meal.  The soup was so delicious, as was the beef and southern red velvet cake.

There was a little bit of time to grab a few pictures in the Chateau soaring atrium which has been decked to the nines for Christmas before we departed to see our first Branson matinee show.

We were warmly welcomed by a wonderful friend of mine, Cindy who I have known for many years.  As Cindy always reminds me the Branson family considers me to be part of their family.  I’ve brought so many groups here over the years and my family has performed at this music destination many times.  I’m blessed to know so many wonderful entertainers that have made Branson their home.  

We were seated in the VIP section just a couple rows from the stage to see Nathan Carter who flew to Branson from Ireland for a 5 day run.  Nathan typically performs in auditoriums with thousands of fans.  We enjoyed an intimate setting – how lucky for us.  His concert was just amazing – variety of Irish and Country Music with a very talented 6 piece band and special guests, a lovely lady has been a headliner with Celtic Women for many years – Daniel O’Donnells talented and funny accordion player for many years – and from Bancroft Ontario the very talented “Fitzgeralds” (they are hoping to perform at the Walters Theatre – I think that is a given – don’t miss them).

Nathans show was just exceptional.  Earlier this year when I had a group in Ireland we saw Nathans pictures everywhere.  I refer to him as the young version of Daniel O’Donnell.  He is a superstar in Ireland and its well deserved.

I received a call when he was signed to perform in Branson but show times had not been determined.  My incredible friend, Cindy offered to arrange a show time around my schedule so we wouldn’t miss Nathans Show!  Thank you so much Cindy – my group was thrilled.

My passengers also had the privilege of a private meeting with Nathan Carter PLUS all the shows guest artists after the performance.  We were asked to remain in our seats while the rest of the theatre patrons cleared out.  I knew we were going to meet Nathan but didn’t realize everyone else was going to join him too – so lucky!  All of the entertainers posed for a group photo which I purchased for all my passengers as a “Bradleys Surprise”.  It will be a perfect reminder of the amazing performance that we saw.

 

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Next time I visit Branson and a Nathan Carter Concert you want to make sure you are booked on that journey for sure!

We arrived for dinner VERY late due to our lengthy “meet and greet” but the restaurant management went out of their way to give us priority and seated us ahead of another group that arrived on time “ahead of us”.  Their chicken and rib combo was delicious – the ribs meat was so tender it just fell off the bone.

There was a bit of time for some souvenir shopping before attending the evening concert I picked for my passengers – the Urban Cowboy Reunion – Johnny Lee and Mickey Gilley in Concert!

I can tell you my group was blown away with this amazing concert.  My brother Darren has taken this Mickey Gilley on the road across Canada a number of times.  Mickey Gilley’s girlfriend was anxious to meet Mom so she received a text to come back stage during intermission.  They enjoyed a nice visit and Mickey surprisingly sang Happy Birthday for Mom on stage – I’m sure Darren had something to do with that.  Mickey’s sound man was even wearing a “Darren Walters Productions” ball cap!

Johnny Lee is 72 years old – his voice and humor is top notch – what an amazing entertainer.  He reminded of us of how many #1 hits he recorded as he sang them during his hour set.  Sadly he is a battling Parkinson’s Disease but that ailment isn’t slowing him down – what a show!

Mickey Gilley is a true entertainer.  What a legend.  Soon to be 83 he has experienced so many tragedies over the years that its rightly so when he says its amazing that he is still here.  When he steps on stage you can tell that is where he is most comfortable.  He knows how to please a crowd.  His voice is surprisingly as strong as ever but sadly his body is failing him.  His band has been loyal to him for many years – they are truly legends too – all exceptional – I especially am fond of his 2 back up singers.

It was an honor to be in the crowd for this event.  Once again we were seated in the VIP section just a couple rows from the stage.  

Mickey came out at the end of the show for another “private” meet and greet.  He shook hands with my passengers and answered their questions.  

What an amazing day – how can I possibly top this one?!  To be honest I’m not sure I can…..