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A show review: Presleys' Country Jubilee defines "Branson family entertainment!"

by Gary Groman aka The Ole Seagull
published: Mar 28, 2007
"Herkimer, "Gary Presley and "Cecil,"  Eric Presley, 
Gary's son," prove there's more than one way to 
cook a hot dog.
The Ole Seagull had the opportunity to experience “Presleys’ Country Jubilee” the evening of March 22, 2007. The use of the word “experience” rather than “see” is intentional. Simply put, this show is a unique Branson entertainment experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere else by anyone else.

For those that don’t want to read an entire review, here’s the Ole Seagulls one paragraph view on “all that most people will need to know about this show.”

There are flashier shows and bigger name stars in Branson but it is doubtful that one will find a show that entertains them or their families more or that has more musical or comedic talent than Presleys’ Country Jubilee. It is a living testimony as to why it has been a Branson favorite for just about 40 years. The music is varied and presented by some of the most talented instrumentalists and vocalists in Branson, the comedy is unique and action packed, and the Ole Seagull would bet his feathers that you and, just as important, your children will love it. A trip to Branson without seeing the Presleys’ Country Jubilee makes about as much sense as going to New York City and not seeing the Empire State Building or the Statute of Liberty.

The talented harmonica playing
of Greg Presley is amazing.
For those that want a more complete review read on.

Starting at 7 p.m. there is a Gospel sing along upstairs over the lobby. The piano playing and song leading is done by the talented Rod Phillips who is starting his 12th year leading it. When the Ole Seagull dropped by everyone was having a grand time. Another unique feature is that in addition to the standard concession stand fare, serving Coke products, there is a separate stand selling Ozark glazed almonds and pecans glazed with a “secret” recipe. They hand out free samples and they are oh so good.

An excellent short video of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” about the early history of the Presley’s and the part they have played in making Branson what it is today provides an excellent introduction not only to the Presley’s but Branson’s entertainment history. A fast paced group rendition of “Gonna Have A Party” gets the show off to an exciting start and prepares the audience for the two hours of fun and entertainment that is to follow.

Mark Walker wows the audience with his 
fiddle playing.
The quality of the show’s musicians immediately becomes evident as Mark Walker wows the crowd with his rendition of the “Orange Blossom Special” on the fiddle. In addition to Mark, who also plays the banjo and guitar, the show is blessed with the instrumental talents of Lloyd Presley on the Doghouse Bass, Steve Presley on drums, Scott Presley on guitar, Greg Presley with the harmonica and percussion, John Presley on the piano, keyboard, and drums, Sarah Presley on the fiddle and saxophone, Don Reed on the steel guitar and dobro, and Bruce Haynes on bass guitar.

Now one cannot help but notice that there’s a lot of Presleys on that list and for good reason. From the Bass playing of  Lloyd, to the considerable developing talents of 17 year old Sara on the fiddle and saxophone, and the amazing talents of Greg on the harmonica along with the talents of Steve, John, Greg, Scott, and Gary, it is evident that God has blessed this family with a wealth of musical talent.

Sara Presley  entertaining the audience with a
lively renditon of  "San Antonio Rose."
Two of the many instrumental highlights from the show illustrate just how special that talent is. The harmonica playing of Greg Presley as he plays “Whammer Jammer” accompanied on the guitar by Scott is one and Greg’s version of “Amazing Grace,” is, excuse the pun, simply amazing. Sara Presley’s playing of “San Antonio Rose” is yet another example of the musicianship that will keep this show going for another 40 years. Ok, so it was three examples, give a poor Seagull a break.

From country to gospel, and lots more in between, this show’s variety of music and styles is sure to have something for just about every musical taste. Just as importantly, it has vocalists who can sing them with feeling and strong clear voices that do not slur and obliterate the lyrics. As a group, the talent of the vocalists in this cast Larry Turner, Jay Wickizer, Bruce Haynes, Chuck Crain, Devonna Wickizer, Ambrus Leigh, and Lauren Presley is second to none in Branson.

Ambrus Leigh doing one her outstanding vocals.
In a show filled with vocal highlights, Jay Wickizer’s version of “I Believe” will touch your heart because of its wonderful simple message and the vocal beauty of its delivery and his version of “Love Bug” was beautifully done. Nineteen year old Ambrus Leigh’s performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was powerful and moving. Devonna Wickizer’s version of “Crazy Arms” accompanied by Don Reed on the Steel Guitar was another special highlight. “Rocky Top,” sung by 12 year old Lauren Presley to the accompaniment of her dad Scott on the guitar, was a special blessing.

Gospel music plays a very strong part in Presley heritage and tradition. Bruce Haynes does a magnificent job on “Praise His Name” as does Chuck Crain on the solo portion of “Oh I Want to See Him” and when they join together to do “Bowed On My Knees” with the quartet it is so powerful and inspiring that one can almost feel the angels rejoicing. The voices of the “quartet” of Bruce and Chuck combined with Larry Turner and Jay Wickizer, do an excellent job on the old Statler Brothers hit, “Feelin Mighty Fine.” As mentioned above, Greg Presley’s harmonica version of “Amazing Grace” was just amazing and his rendition of the old Woody Guthrie standard “This Train” was as glorious as the destination of the train he was playing about.

After 40 years the "first generation," Lloyd Presley 
is still playing and has the joy of...
A major part of the show, and what helps set this show apart from any other, is the comedy and the way that it is seamlessly worked into the show. The result is a constant musical and comedy experience that is almost magical but is always entertaining. “Herkimer,” played by Gary Presley, and Herkimer’s son, “Cecil,” played by Gary’s real life son Eric, provide the shows comedy which is unabashedly country, absolutely hilarious, and positively, without exaggeration, unique in the entire world.

Their comedy answers several age old questions. How does Cecil know when to sing his part? How does he tie the poodle without using his hands and where did it go? From flying out of a cannon to crashing bikes and good old Ozarks humor, the synergy and energy of this father and son duo is amazing as they provide some of the funniest, most unique, and action packed comedy that you and or your family will ever experience.

Although not comedy in the classic sense, the taping of each show, which is available for purchase at a reasonable fee, provides live audience participation comedy as the live taping is displayed on large screens during the intermission and at other key times. A word to the wise, if you are going to pick your nose do it before you come to the show and above all keep your smile on because you might just be “Starring on camera, in Branson, Missouri, at the Presleys’ Country Jubilee.”

...witnessing the next 40 years 
develop . Fourth generation
Laren Presley and her dad Scott
perform "Rocky Top."
Now folks, here’s a little secret. Just about every show in Branson, content wise, is suitable for children but, for most kids, the typical musical show will be the longest two hours of their lives. Like the Jim Stafford show, the co-producers of the show, Gary and Steve Presley, have produced a show designed for families with kids to help hold their interest. All families will relate to the synergy between Herkimer and his son Cecil and kids especially, will relate to Cecil because he, in a comedic sense, is them. Why Cecil even sings and where does that “kid” get those great moves he puts on as he does “Do You Love Me?”

The finale with its Veteran dedication, and the whole cast doing “I Pledge My Allegiance” and “America” is a fitting end to a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Most people will leave the theatre fully entertained and with a warm feeling in their hearts. All will leave having experienced a show that defines the very essence of what Branson family entertainment and values are.

Alone, its origin and the faithfulness of four generations in maintaining the traditions and heritage of that origin make the Presleys’ Country Jubilee unique. Combine that with the shows genuineness, the talents of the Presley family and the shows other cast members, its variety, the uniqueness of the comedy and its seamless timely blending into the show and the result is that an evening spent with the Presley family and their cast is a special unforgettable entertainment experience.

For further information or to purchase tickets by phone or on line, call 1-800-451-3791 or click here. To see additional pictures taken of the show but not in the review click here and to visit the “Presleys’ Country Jubilee” web site click here.

Photos by Basil Groman.
Click here for additional photos of Presley's Country Jubilee.

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