The southwest region of Missouri has a secret: its three main towns, Springfield, Joplin and Branson, have a rich and diverse mix of art and entertainment venues.
History takes the main stage in Springfield and Joplin with outlaws and Route 66, while Branson goes beyond its well-known country shows with venues dedicated to jazz, swing, classical and more.
As the third-largest city in Missouri, Springfield naturally has plenty to offer groups looking for fun and artistic inspiration.
“Downtown Springfield is the city’s entertainment district,” said Susan Wade, public relations manager for the Springfield Missouri CVB. “We have more than 40 chef-owned restaurants that are available along with the city’s history museum, Park Central Square, coffee shops and nightclubs.”
Park Central Square is the heart of downtown, and the History Museum on the Square offers visitors the chance to explore historic events that shaped Springfield and the nation.
The city was the birthplace of the famed Route 66, but before that it was also the site of the first Wild West shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and a gambler named Davis Tutt in 1865.
The dramatic event captured the country’s interest and was the basis for countless Hollywood shootouts in Westerns, including High Noon with Gary Cooper.
The First Friday Art Walk is a popular way to explore Springfield’s downtown district, with more than two dozen galleries participating in the evening event.
Groups can see art, listen to live music and enjoy live demonstrations. For a spur-of-the-moment activity, planners can take advantage of the Sculpture Walk, which features 21 sculptures throughout downtown ranging from thought-provoking to whimsical.
Theater is an important part of Springfield’s culture, and the Springfield Little Theatre is the state’s oldest and largest community theater. Located at Landers Theatre, the organization hosts a variety of classes, performances and events, and groups that attend shows can also arrange for backstage tours.
The historic Gillioz Theatre was originally built on the new Route 66 in 1926 as a spot for a variety of acts, from vaudeville to films, and it stays true to that mission by presenting music acts, movies, stand-up comedy and more, from the Moscow Ballet to Lyle Lovett. The 1,044-seat theater is also available for rentals.
Other theaters in the area include the Springfield Contemporary Theatre and the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Many of these venues are available for rental, and can provide programming on request.
At the Springfield Art Museum, groups can admire the stunning collections and art exhibitions, or check the museum’s schedule of special events, which can include dance showcases from the Springfield Ballet or live chamber music performances. The museum is one of several attractions within a few miles of the Oasis Hotel and Convention Center, which can host meetings for up to 1,500.
The Springfield Symphony, Springfield Cardinals Minor League Baseball and the Dickerson Park Zoo are all within a five-mile radius of the hotel, making downtime activities easy to incorporate into any schedule.
When it comes to entertainment, stand back—that’s what Branson does best.
“Since the Baldknobbers Jamboree opened the first show in Branson, the Presleys’ Jubilee built the first theater on Highway 76 and Shepherd of the Hills produced its first live outdoor drama, shows have been a mainstay of Branson,” said Deborah Cohen, director of meeting and convention sales for the Branson/Lakes Area CVB.
“Our shows appeal to all ages, with many state-of-the-art theaters ranging from intimate 50-seat venues to 2,000-seat indoor theatrical mansions,” she said. “The wide range of entertainment options gives everyone something to sing about and every show is appropriate and fun for all members of the family.”
Planners can tailor any entertainment schedule to meet their attendees’ needs, from shows with an inspirational or patriotic message, such as shows at Sight & Sound Theatres, to variety or magic shows.
When it comes to music, every taste and genre is covered, including jazz, rock, pop, Broadway, swing and big-band sounds. Even classical music is represented with the Johnson Strings, a family of talented musicians putting their own spin on the genre.
Country, comedy and tribute shows also remain strong, and many touring stars like the Texas Tenors, Michael Bolton, the Oak Ridge Boys and the Celtic Ladies stop in for the town’s concert series.
Branson also offers dinner theaters, including the famed Dolly Parton’s Stampede, which features stunt riders performing on horses in a 32,000-square-foot arena, and the Branson Murder Mystery show, which offers up a hilarious, Ozarks-themed event for groups. Most shows are located near hotels and motels, but the area is compact enough that even staying at a luxury out-of-town resort like Big Cedar Lodge means entertainment is still just a few minutes’ drive away.
Groups enjoy special rates at most shows, according to Cohen, along with other perks like autograph sessions, special introductions and occasional behind-the-scenes tours.
While many shows are within walking distance of lodging, there are a couple of walkable entertainment districts on their own. Branson Landing, perched on the edge of Lake Taneycomo, blends shopping, dining and lodging in a 95-acre development. The area is anchored by the Branson Convention Center, the Hilton Promenade and the Hilton Branson Convention Center.
It also features a lakefront boardwalk past shops and scenic views. The development also boasts a town square that can handle up to 5,000 attendees for outdoor events, and a $7.5 million synchronized water show featuring music, light and fire, making it the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable group event.
While Branson Landing emphasizes the latest in attractions and technology, another entertainment district celebrates the past. Historic Downtown Branson gives attendees a glimpse of yesteryear with brick-lined streets, a scenic train ride, free trolley service and more than 80 family-owned shops.
Visitors can stock up on old-fashioned candy, get an ice cream or drop in at the famed Dick’s 5 & 10, a local shopping landmark that still carries toys and novelties from America’s past. Add in shows and restaurants and there’s plenty to do in downtown Branson, according to Cohen.
“Meeting attendees enjoy wandering through this charming downtown when they have a few minutes to spare, or can enjoy an entire evening shopping and eating wonderful local cuisine,” she said.
While entertainment is well-represented, the town’s art community is also growing. The Branson Arts Council started new community theater productions at the Historic Owen Theatre in downtown, which is a short walk from the convention center complex.
The Council has also installed art exhibits inside the convention center itself, so attendees can view the work of local artists without even leaving the building, and each work is also available for sale.
Main Street is a source of pride for most towns, but in Joplin it means even more; Joplin’s Main Street is also part of the famous Route 66. Known as the Mother Road, Route 66 was one of the first highways created in the 1920s as part of the U.S. Highway system. Groups can still enjoy the history and culture of Route 66, from historic home tours in Murphysburg to lunch at the Joplin Museum Complex or a driving tour that includes the Wildcat Glades Audubon Center, the butterfly garden at Cunningham Park and a quick glimpse of the apartment where the iconic outlaws Bonnie and Clyde once lived.
Although the city doesn’t have a dedicated entertainment district, the downtown region of Main Street and Joplin Avenue offers several options for fun and dining, including JB’s Downtown, which features live music, pizza and karaoke; the Infuxn vodka bar which features out-of-the-ordinary cocktails and snacks; and the Turtleheads Raw Bar, with seafood, Cajun cuisine and live music.
The arts scene is thriving in Joplin, and groups can experience art through the First Thursday Artwalk held monthly, or get hands-on at sites like Firehouse Pottery or RSVPaint, where they can decorate and create their own works of art. Planners can combine art with a health and wellness outing by taking advantage of the self-guided mural tour, which highlights 10 different murals in a variety of styles, from classic history scenes to contemporary and abstract presentations.
SOUTHWEST MISSOURI CVB CONTACT INFORMATION
Branson/Lakes Area CVB
Springfield Missouri CVB