The first time I visited my friends in Branson, Mo., it was a town in the midst of an identity crisis: It had built its brand as a place for mature folks to go hear popular music offered by performers cherished by their generation, from Andy Williams and Lawrence Welk to Roy Clark and Glen Campbell. The acts were still great, but they had largely become invisible to the younger folks who dominated the demographic focus of places like Las Vegas.
When I was there in 2003, Branson was starting to face the fact that its audience base was thinning out year by year. Unwilling to cede its position as a set of great venues for mass entertainment, the town figured out that it needed to retrench and appeal to a younger crowd – particularly families with children – to keep the lights on and the music playing.
When I made a return visit in 2017, I couldn’t help noticing that installation of a grand fountain complex was one of the retooling upgrades offered by the owners of Branson Landing, a retail/dining/hotel/entertainment hub on the shore of Lake Taneycomo. None of it was there back in 2003, but the complex now boasts more than 100 retail stores and restaurants – and a spectacular musical fountain that serves as a regional magnet.
There are actually two cool fountains here, but the main attraction is right next to the lake – and if it reminds you in some ways of the Fountain at Bellagio in Las Vegas, it’s for good reason: The Branson Landing Fountains are creations of WET Design (Sun Valley, Calif.), and the big display fountain offers the same sort of dynamic water show as the Las Vegas version on a somewhat smaller scale. And the newcomer even one-ups its Nevada cousin by including balls and plumes of fire as part of the display – a testimonial to how technology keeps pushing fountain design in new and interesting directions.
The other, lower-key fountain is right nearby and puts fan-jet nozzles on excellent display. It may lack the elevated drama of the display fountain, but it fills its space with beauty and grace.
Of course the big fountain is the star of the show, and it’s easy to get caught up in the experience: The water flows are choreographed to follow the music with all the precision we’ve come to expect, and where the Bellagio display leans more on the classics, the Branson edition reveals a more of a country/popular slant in its selections. Frankly, the water effects are so cool that individual tastes just don’t matter.
I saw the fountain display only in daylight and it was amazing, but after seeing nighttime videos on the Internet, I have to say I wish my schedule had worked out differently: It’s mesmerizing after dark, and even as a jaded observer of cool watershapes, I loved the little surprises the system delivers as the music intensifies – including jets that rise up to 120 feet in the air as well as the abovementioned use of fire.
It’s a cracking good time and should be part of your next visit to the Ozarks – a wonderland of physical beauty and well worth a lengthier pause than I could manage.
To sample the Branson Landing Fountains’ nighttime panache, click here.