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01
Oct

Onstage In Fantastic Caverns!

Branson's First Family of Entertainment, the Presleys, will return to a venue where they performed half a century ago when they present Presleys' Country Jubilee Onstage in Fantastic Caverns at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17.
The show will take place in Fantastic Caverns' Auditorium Room, a natural underground theater that over the years has hosted events ranging from country music shows to live opera and symphony performances.

The event will be televised on the national cable/satellite networks RFD-TV and Family Net. All proceeds – 100 percent – will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks.

Eric Presley, who performs with his family at their theater in Branson, said the Nov. 17 show will be a signature Presleys' evening of family fun with a blend of country, gospel and bluegrass music and comedy with a talented cast of 18 entertainers, seven of whom are members of the Presley family.

It also will be a kind of homecoming, said Gary Presley, better known to Presleys' audiences as the comedian Herkimer. He performed with his family at Fantastic Caverns in the 1960s, grew up in nearby northwest Springfield and he and his wife, Pat, were dating at the time. He also worked as a cave guide when he was 16, so Fantastic Caverns holds a lot of memories, he said.

Presleys' Country Jubilee has been a mainstay on Branson's 76 Country Music Boulevard since before the road was even called that. The Presleys opened their theater – billed as the first show on the Branson Strip – in 1967.

Before that, the Presleys played for audiences at Fantastic Caverns. With family patriarch Lloyd Presley, they performed regularly at the cave from 1962 to 1966 on a radio program called “Farmarama.”

“Farmarama” was partly taped and partly done live in the Auditorium Room, Gary Presley said. Hosted by popular local broadcaster Loyd Evans, the program aired on Springfield radio station KGBX. It was during those shows that Gary Presley, who played guitar, created his Herkimer character. “Loyd Evans needed somebody to play some comedy,” he said. “I said, 'Well, I'll try it.' ”
“I put on some overalls I got from my grandpa and some wire rims I got from my other grandpa, and blacked out my teeth,” he said. At first, he just walked across the stage – and got some laughs from the crowd. Then he started dropping in a line or two of dialog and got more laughs. “The second or third time, it took,” he said.

Fifty years on, Herkimer is still making people laugh, along with his comic sidekick Cecil – played by Gary Presley's son, Eric.

Local charity benefits

Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks is marking its 25th anniversary in 2013. Bonnie Keller, president and CEO of the organization, is excited about the upcoming fundraiser. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime event and it's so neat to be a part of it. Plus, it helps support the organization,” Keller said.

Keller noted that the opening of Springfield's second Ronald McDonald House in November 2012 basically doubled the charity's funding needs.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks has provided a “home away from home” for more than 8,500 families of seriously ill and injured children over the past 25 years. There are two Ronald McDonald Houses in Springfield: a 10-bedroom house located on the sixth floor of Mercy Children's Hospital, and the Ronald McDonald House near Cox South featuring 14 bedrooms. For more information, visit www.RMHCozarks.org.
This will not be the first fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House at Fantastic Caverns. Keller recalled that in 1987, before the first Ronald McDonald House opened in Springfield, the cave hosted an event called Ronald McDonald’s Enchanted Caverns, a fundraiser with a Halloween theme.
Fantastic Caverns, America's only ride-through cave, is a small family attraction located just northwest of Springfield, Missouri. The staff and management of the popular tourist destination work hard to preserve the cave and its fragile ecosystem so it will be in place for our children and grandchildren to enjoy for years to come.

Presley’s Country Jubilee Onstage in Fantastic Caverns starts at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17. Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for children age 2-12, and will go on sale Oct. 1 by calling 800-335-4874.

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