This year has been the worst. 2020 has been awful and I’m glad it’s behind us. While last year headlined a ton of negativities, there were still a few bits of positive sprinkled throughout the last 12 months.
At this point we all know that a novel, or maybe two, could be written on the horrible things that were featured in 2020. However, I wanted my first published story of 2021 to be a positive one, so I felt a look back at some of the awesome, cool, fun, joyful and amazing things I got to do and cover in 2020 would be both appropriate and refreshing.
I’m going to start off with one of the coolest things I got to do in 2020. Many of you are well aware of the fact that I am a nerd. In March when our friends at Ripley’s Entertainment reached out to me first to let me know that they would be bringing a lightsaber used on screen by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill for his role as Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back to the Branson Ripley’s Believe It or Not for a limited engagement, I was practically speechless.
The real awesomeness began though when I was one of three people to receive a private viewing of the lightsaber and physically got to hold it in my hands just hours after it arrived in Branson. The nerd euphoria was real folks and difficult to put into words. It was an amazing moment and one I will always treasure.
The lightsaber itself was actually brought in to be displayed at the Ripley’s booth at Branson Con 2020, which leads me to my next story of 2020 positivity. During Branson Con, I was given the chance to meet, interview and hang out multiple times with Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo; Power Rangers Selwyn Ward, Tracy Lynn Cruz, Melody Perkins and Blake Foster; and voice actor David Eddings. All were amazing people who were kind enough to grant me time professionally and personally to visit with all of them. It was a fantastic weekend.
2020 also gave me the chance to meet and interview Actor Jeremy Ray Taylor from “IT,” “IT Chapter Two” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. Taylor came to Hollister High School after students won a nationwide contest though Safe and Sound Schools to bring the Good Days Tour, which is a national campaign that aims to promote positive school culture across the country, to the school. It was an extremely positive experience for both myself and the Hollister students, and I was honored to have been invited to be a part of it.
When COVID-19 emerged in our state in March and the shutdowns began, I of course wanted to cover the pandemic to keep all of you informed on the local side of things, but I also felt it was imperative that we also run stories of hope to create some kind of balance between articles. Some of those hopeful stories came in the form of lights.
At the end of March the Branson Adoration Parade Committee, with approval from the city, relit the polyhedron Christmas star that resides above Branson’s giant Nativity scene on Mount Branson. Soon after, Cox Medical Center Branson relit its outdoor Christmas lights. Then the Branson Hilton Hotel turned on specific room lights to form the shape of a heart in their windows. The Branson Radisson did the same to create the message “We Love U.” Putting together those stories did my own heart good, as I hope it did for others, as we began to navigate the trials of 2020 together.
While sad and negative stories continued to find their way to my desk, the chance to write any positive story I could get my hands on was always a welcome one. It was heartwarming to interview the brother of Ridgedale resident Gary Stacy who was killed in action in the Vietnam War in 1970, who made it his mission to dedicate a highway in memory of his brother. It was inspiring to speak to the mother of the local 8-year old boy who underwent life-saving brain surgery after being diagnosed with brain cancer. And it was an honor to visit with former Forsyth Police Chief Roger Ellis and former Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell as they reflected back and shared stories from their respective decades of law enforcement service.
In 2020 I also got to fly. Twice. And both times were a surprise. While touring Doc, a restored World War II B-29 Superfortress, at the Branson Airport in September, the crew invited me to fill an empty seat on the aircraft as it took to the sky for a tour of the clouds above Branson. It was an unexpected journey and an adventure I will never forget.
In November I took to the sky for a second time in 2020 with Branson Helicopter Tours to take photos as they flew above the Branson Veterans Day Parade. I have to admit, being that high in the sky is a surreal experience whether you’re riding in a 75-year-old piece of flying history or hanging out the side of a doorless helicopter. Both experiences I’m afraid have made me a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and I’m anxious to get back in the air soon.
In this job, I conduct hundreds of interviews a year. As I always do, I hand the person I interviewed my business card and invite them to call me anytime. For the first time in my journalism career someone took me up on my offer for a positive reason, and that person was Buck Taylor. Yes, the legendary actor best known for his roles in Gunsmoke, Tombstone, Yellowstone and every other cowboy movie or television series made in the last 50 years.
In October, Silver Dollar City welcomed Taylor, who is also an accomplished artist, back to the park as part of their annual Harvest Festival, and I traveled out to the park to meet him for a story. After our interview, I wrote the story and never expected to see or hear from Taylor again. Much to my surprise, one Saturday morning Taylor called me to tell me how much he loved my article and that he wanted multiple copies of the newspaper. Next thing I know, actor Buck Taylor is standing in our front office here at the paper to personally pick up the newspaper bundle I had set aside for him. It was definitely a ‘WOW’ moment and certainly a positive one.
Now I suppose the biggest news of 2020 for me personally came in August when I became the new Branson Tri-Lakes News Entertainment Editor. Was I nervous to take on the role that was held by the same person for approximately a decade that readers and entertainers alike had come to know, trust and love? Extremely. Am I still nervous even though I’ve been in the role for five months now? YES!
In all seriousness, I’m enjoying my new position tremendously. Getting to spend time with Branson’s most talented performers and tour the area’s best attractions is surreal to say the least. But compared to writing local news, it has definitely been an adjustment. Especially when you look down at your phone and see that music legends like Mickey Gilley or Kathy Lennon are calling to talk to you, you find yourself sitting across from Rhonda Vincent for an interview on her tour bus or you’re getting to stand 10 feet from Aaron Tippin, one of your favorite childhood country artists, as he performs live.
While I didn’t want to make it the main focus of this editorial, I did want to mention that Jan. 2, 2021 is officially my two year anniversary with the Branson Tri-Lakes Newspaper. It has been a very exciting two years.
When I arrived at the newspaper, I had five-years of broadcast journalism experience and no real-world experience writing for print. I was terrified at the idea of writing stories that were more than a few paragraphs long and having to transform my talents of editing audio clips into transcribing quotes for stories. But here we are two years later and I’m now the entertainment editor. I suppose I must be doing something right. I feel I’ve definitely grown as a writer, but I know there is still much to learn.
Clearly I couldn’t include everything I wanted to in this piece, mostly in an effort to save room for some of my favorite pictures captured in 2020. I’ll admit, selecting photos to include was not an easy task. Most of them are fun and some are included just to share some of the cool people I met this year, but there are a few that are more serious or heartwarming. I wanted a mixture of both.
While there were some positive highlights, I’m certainly glad for 2020 to be over. I’m looking forward to continuing my coverage of Branson’s entertainment scene in 2021. If you would like your show or attraction to be featured in Branson Live this year, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy New Year.