Entertainment Editor’s note: With the tourism industry here in Branson facing the same crises as the rest of the world, there aren’t any shows, attractions, restaurants or other tourism-based things for your ol’ Entertainment Editor to go out and experience, then write about to share with my Loyal Reader(s).
So I thought it might be fun to see just how some of our favorite entertainers are spending their “spring quarantines.” I will do my best to have one of these stories in every issue of the Branson Tri-Lakes News until this whole thing runs its course.
Also, if any of my Loyal Reader(s) have any ideas or suggestions for entertainers, business owners or personalities you’d like to see profiled, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Before the world was turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic, Branson native, entertainer, award-winning Elvis Tribute Artist, E.T.A., and show producer Radney “Little E” Pennington was hard at work on a new production, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty,” set to open April 1 at the Americana Theatre.
The show, set to star Pennington, Matthew Boyce and Chris Bustillos, is called a musical tribute “like no other, with tributes to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John” and more.
“We’ll be dressing up in different costumes and things like that, but we’ll also be putting our own spin on things,” Pennington said.
Things changed March 18 when ownership at the venue announced they were suspending operations. The next day, the city of Branson passed its first ordinances dealing with the virus outbreak.
Boyce, who left his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, to move to Branson in anticipation of the show opening, was en route to Ozark Mountain Country when the word reached him.
In fact, he got here just in time for the city’s new rules to take effect.
“I was 15 hours into my 20-hour drive when I got word about the new city ordinances,” Boyce said. “The area I came from was already on lockdown, but since I was technically moving, I was able to leave.
“I was only about three hours from the big city, and by the time we got our first case confirmed, we had already self-quarantined, so we were all good. And obviously, I took as many precautions as possible on my trip, and once I got to Branson, we’ve been holed up in the apartment.”
Boyce, a newcomer to the area, is an award-winning tribute artist who has been performing since age 7. He has headlined touring shows such as “On Tour: A Tribute to the King,” as well as “Memories of Elvis.” He has also toured with “King and Cash” alongside Pennington and Bustillos, and performed in more than 45 musical theater productions across the state of New York.
Fortunately for Boyce, he visited the area for the first time earlier this year, so at least he knew what to expect.
“We knew each other through social media, because all the ‘Elvis’ guys kind of know each other,“ Pennington said. “I hired him to do a Johnny Cash gig with me at a casino in Booneville, which is the first time we actually met.
“So he came to Branson and just fell in love with it.”
“While we were rehearsing for that first gig, we were kind of joking around about starting a show here in Branson,” Boyce said. “So we messaged a couple of theaters, sent out a couple of promo reels, and then we started to get bites.
“It quickly became more of a reality and less of a joke then.”
Like most entertainers, they have no idea when they’ll return to work, but the guys did say they’re taking every moment to ensure the show is the best it can be, whenever they finally get to open.
“Every day, we’re working on new stuff,” Pennington said.
“We’re still editing the videos for the back drop, and we’re recording and mixing a new cast album,” Boyce added. “We’ve got all this time, so we may as well do those kinds of things.”
As far as dealing with the inevitable “cabin fever” that comes along with the current ordinances, the guys said having music, as well as something to do, is helping to keep them sane.
“You know, we don’t really feel like we’re quarantined,” Boyce said.
“Yeah man, it just feels like we’re hard at work on a project we both love, instead of ‘being stuck in some apartment,’ you know?” Pennington said.
“We still had a bunch of loose ends to tie up anyway, so we may as well take the extra time and make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be,” Boyce said.
Although they are spending their time wisely, Pennington said he misses lots of the “little things” he enjoyed doing.
“It’s so weird man,” he said. “One of my favorite things is to go get groceries at Walmart late at night when there’s nobody out, and we can’t do that now. But, just like everyone else, we’re not getting out unless we have to, and we can’t find any toilet paper (laughs).
“So if anyone knows a good T.P. dealer, send them my way (laughs).”
“Between the two of us, we’ve got 19 guitars, so surely we can figure something out to make a deal (laughs).”
Visit rocknrollroyaltybranson.com for more.