The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 25, 2013

Airline’s first passengers mark historic moment

New air service hoped to attract even more visitors

BRANSON, Mo. — It was a moment a dozen years in the making.

Last Saturday, a couple thousand Branson-area residents, tourists, entertainers, media and show types — and me — gathered at Branson’s airport to watch as the first Southwest Airlines flight arrive from Houston, Texas.

Many in attendance hope and believe the addition of daily, non-stop flights from Dallas, Houston, Chicago and other points of departure across the country, will make a big impact on Branson’s — and Southwest Missouri’s — future.

It was a big day for the airport staff, show and attraction owners and producers wanting to put more butts in the seats and heads in the beds of their theaters, attractions and hotels.

I know, I’m a pushover. But I had a little tear well up as the passengers deplaned, waving and taking photos of those in the crowd, who were in turn taking photos of them. It was a surreal experience and a huge party on the tarmac.

Like many of those in attendance, I’ve followed the airport’s progress for years, and I’m excited about having another Southwest point of departure in the area. Branson is Southwest’s 79th regular destination. Branson Airport is an easy drive with a terminal that’s easy to navigate.

Food, drink and song

The night before the flight arrival, I stopped in at Cosmopolitan Bistro and Wine Bar for a quick preshow meal and libation. I found that and more.

Yolanda Fletcher and her piano player entertained the early evening diners with great American musical standards and requests. Yolanda, a funny and talented singer, splits her time between independent gigs and working with Branson’s World Famous Platters.

The time I spent getting to know her on Friday night was swell. Check her out on YouTube. Her version of “Neither One of Us” is soulful and highlights her Motown-inspired talents.

Watching Yolanda’s YouTube videos made me want to check out her show with the World Famous Platters at the Tribute Theatre. The best part of catching Yolanda at Cosmo: No cover charge. For the price of a drink and dinner, she sang, laughed, encouraged requests and even took a try at “The Girl from Ipanema” — a 1965 bossa nova standard and regular piano lounge request of mine.

I ran into Yolanda on Saturday during the airport celebration, and she was quick with a wave, smile and firm hug. I’ll catch her and the Platters tribute show in the near future.

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