Saturday night, “Branson’s First Show on the Strip,” also known as the “Presleys’ Country Jubilee” show, will wrap their 53rd season, and third-generation cast member Eric “Cecil” Presley, Gary and Pat Presley’s youngest son, marked the last show of the season by making a special announcement.
“I do have a big announcement because you’ve heard the term ‘Branson Shuffle,’ where shows change venues every year, well we want to make an announcement,” Eric said.
“He’s been holding back on this for a while,” Gary Presley said with a laugh.
“I want to announce next March, we’re going to open up in the exact location we opened up more than 50 years ago (laughter).
“I’ve wanted to do that for years.”
Ever since the “Presley’s Country Jubilee,” featuring Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley, as well as their children Deanna, Gary, Janice, and Steve, Deanna’s husband David Drennon and Gary’s wife Pat opened on “The Strip” June 30, 1967, the show, as well as the family, has been a show synonymous with the live show scene.
“We kind of keep our heads down, and a lot of people say we keep to ourselves, but that’s because we’re so focused on the show,” Eric said.
“Like dad was saying, over 52 years and 53 seasons, we’ve seen the ebbs and flows, and stuff like that, but ... our focus is so zeroed in on our audience, and the people who would enjoy our show, that’s our top priority.
“It doesn’t matter what Eric likes, or Josh likes, or Gary likes, it all matters what that man who spends his hard-earned money to come see us. That’s really the only thing we care about.”
According to the family, it’s that love for the audiences that fill the theater nightly that keeps the show chugging along in a time where the Branson landscape changes more each year.
“We had a good year,” Eric said. “We’re super tickled with the crowds that showed up this year. We’re lucky because we get a family crowd, a fall crowd, and a Christmas crowd, so we hit every season.”
“When you’ve been here 53 seasons, you see a lot of things over the years, and it’s changing all the time,” Gary Presley added.
While the times may change, the formula that made the Presley’s a hit more than 50 years ago remains the same.
“One thing that’s true about this show is it’s the same recipe,” Eric said. “We recently found the show list for the first show we did in this theater, made using a typewriter, and boy that recipe is almost identical. You know, the jokes change, the songs change, but the order in which we hit the crowd is the same.
“We’re going to start off fast and hard to get ‘em going, then bring it down a bit, then get them back up. It’s about emotions. Like Waylon Jennings said, ‘a great show isn’t what you hear, it’s what you feel.’”
“And that’s true,” Gary interjected.
“It is, and I think that’s why we’ve been here for so long,” Eric said. “Plus, we really enjoy it because it’s just so much fun.”
Another “secret spice” to the recipe is the fact the show features an ensemble of performers, which makes planning next year’s show easier than many.
“We don’t have stars, per se, on the show, we spread it out over all the entertainers,” Gary said. “The people who are on the stage most are Eric and I, and Jay Wickizer, who is our emcee.
“We get together as a family, throw out ideas and some of the things we do, we’ve done for years, and people bring other people back to see those things. But we also add throw out several new things, throw them in a pot, and see what comes out.”
Sometimes what comes out isn’t planned, but ends up making in the show anyway.
“You know, sometimes the new things we end up adding are just mistakes,” Gary said. “We’ll do something we didn’t intend to do, the crowd will like it, then we’ll incorporate it into the show, as long as we can make it seem genuine and authentic.”
“We do about 230 shows a year, and there’s no way to keep it same every night,” Eric said. “We have a large group of season pass holders who come quite often, and they’ll tell you, it’s never exactly the same, which makes it fun for us.”
In addition to performing that many shows, the family is also a decade in hosting their own TV show on RFD-TV.
“We’re in our 10th year of doing the TV show, and for folks who have never done it, TV is more work than you could ever imagine,” Gary said.
“We just taped our 240th TV show, and every show has seven new songs, and new comedy, so the bank of material we have these days it makes it so mush easier when we’re discussing next year’s show.”
While the TV show has been a hit for many years, the family looks as it as tool to reach as many people as possible, and get them to Ozark Mountain Country.
“What’s neat is we reach so many people who have never been to Branson,” Eric said. “And that’s one of our main goals, obviously, to get them to want to come to Branson.”
When asked whether or not they’ve begun work on the 2020 show, Eric and Gary looked at each other, started laughing and at the same time said, “no.”
“We’ll come in about two weeks before opening night for rehearsal, then we’re off and running,” Eric said. “It’s just what we do.”
“We take the format, insert the songs and comedy, then we’ll see what works, and what don’t work,” Gary said.
“I’ve heard my dad say ‘in this many seasons we’ve opened with a bad show, but we haven’t ended too many seasons with a bad show.’ I think that’s true.”
“Everyone here knows it’s a team effort, and I know that’s said about a lot of things, but it is so true here,” Gary said.
“The group of performers and musicians we have up here now, they all get it,” Eric said. “We don’t mind trying new things, because if we don’t get the response we’re looking for from the crowd, nobody on stage wants to keep it. We all want to change it.
“Doing what we do helps us realize the audience is the most important group. We support everyone in the town, and would do anything for this town.”
The “Presley’s Country Jubilee” wraps Saturday night, and returns in 2020.