BRANSON Mo. —
Rex Burdette thinks it’s important to embrace international culture and entertainment.
“It just makes the world a little smaller,” said the longtime producer of World-Fest, Silver Dollar City’s annual celebration of international relations and relationships. “Everybody gets the opportunity to experience the way others people’s cultures and heritage work. (World-Fest) just makes the world a little smaller and makes us live in a little bit bigger box.”
For more than 25 years, Burdette’s imported hundreds of international acts to the Ozarks. He scouts performers, produces the festival, directs shows and handles international clearances and immigration paperwork for dozens of performers each season. He spends some time on the road and the phone.
“So many people never get the chance to travel and meet people from different countries,” he said. “World-Fest is a chance for people to visit and become friends. They write letters and e-mails to people and performers they meet here.”
Through May 6, thousands of visitors will make World-Fest and See the World in Branson the Tri-Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s nod to the Ozarks immigrant heritage a destination. Dozens of Branson theaters, restaurants and other businesses participate by celebrating an international culture.
“We all came from somewhere,” said Lynn Berry, the CVB’s director of public relations. “For me, it’s those Irish roots.”
During See the World, Berry said families can experience the costuming, history, culture and learn a little about their heritage.
“(See the World is) a great reminder of all of the international talent in Branson,” she said. “On Highway 76 many of our theaters, attractions, restaurants and lodging are really in the swing of things with an international flair.”
About 60 percent of the shows each season are new to the festival, Burdette explained. He said he still gets excited talking about the season’s lineup, which includes acts from Italy, Mexico, Peru, Russia and Ireland. The United States gets international recognition, too.
“We’ve got a Hawaiian show,” he said. “It’s not American country music, it’s Hawaiian country music. They are great pickers. If you haven’t heard ‘Wipe Out’ played by two ukuleles, you just haven’t been to a Hawaiian show.”
Rounding out the lineup of entertainers new to the festival are The Mariachi Divas, a Grammy Award-winning group of Central and South American female performers, Peruvian Scissor Dancers and Kenyan acrobats.
Acts returning to the festival include a master yodeler, the Russian Academic Band, Irish harpist Dearbhail Finnegan and the Slovenian Polka Party.
In the Red Gold Heritage Hall, La Bella Musica highlights Italian tenor Aaron Caruso.
“It’s all new this year,” Burdette said. “Aaron Caruso. What better name can you have for an Italian show.”
The show includes soprano Melanie Goerlitz and Cory Pesaturo, an award-winning accordion player.
Viva Italia performs in the courtyard out side Red Gold Hall. Italian flag throwers, living statues and stilt walkers draw crowds to the colorful show.
“The flag throwers are back from Italy this year,” he said. “There are about 15 of them who play trumpets and drums and throw flags. People always enjoy them.”