By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
BRANSON Mo. —
About a year ago, friends and family of Branson performer Carrie April Tillis suffered property damage when the banks of the Cumberland River could not hold the river’s surging waters. The resulting flood waters killed 21 in Tennessee, destroyed homes and businesses, and saturated legendary Nashville attractions, such as the Grand Ole Opry House.
Though Tillis, a Nashville resident, was spared, many of her musician friends lost everything.
But the first thing they wanted to do was perform.
“If you’re one of the ones who survive, that instinct, that sixth sense kicks in,” she said. “You want to help any way you can. A lot of artists were hardest hit, but those were the first people who said, ‘Let’s do (benefit) concerts.’”
Tillis and Branson artists Jim Stafford and Shoji Tabuchi will host such a show featuring virtually every major performer in Branson. The Branson Cares Telethon will raise funds for recovery efforts from the May 22 tornado.
The three hosts visited Joplin Wednesday to survey damage and record interviews for the telethon.
The telethon will be shown live from the Mansion Theatre, and will be televised from 7 to 10 p.m. locally on KOAM-TV and KFJX-TV.
But the reach of the telethon will go much further. Cindy Merry, marketing chair for the Branson Show League, said the telethon will be broadcast on RFD-TV and on TV stations in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Wichita and across numerous radio stations.
Merry said that Danny Thomas, of KOAM, helped pinpoint two beneficiaries for the telethon. Proceeds will benefit recovery efforts for St. John’s Regional Medical Center and music programs at Joplin Schools.
Those two areas seemed perfectly suited for the telethon, Merry said.
“(St. John’s) immediately struck us, because they have 2,200 employees,” Merry said. “That’s 2,200 families, and the hospital is committed to them by keeping everyone employed. That’s a huge thing for a non-profit to do.”
And the selection of Joplin’s musical students was also easy, considering how Branson’s economic engine is fueled by the sounds of guitars, violins and voices. Among the damage to Joplin High School was the loss of sheet music and band instruments, owned by either students or the school.
“There’s such a vast need in almost every area you can name,” Stafford said. “Branson is a town founded on music, and we seem to gravitate toward knowing that those kids need to have music back.”
The list of performers for Sunday’s telethon could also double as a near-completed list of all the performers in Branson. Scheduled to perform are the Liverpool Legends, Kirby VanBurch, the Baldknobbers, Presley’s Jubilee, Jim Barber, Tom Mullica as Red Skeleton, Dog Gabriel, the Hughes Brothers, the 3 Redneck Tenors, J. Eddie Peck, Barbara Fairchild, the Duttons, the Haygoods, Acrobats of China, Buck Trent, the Lennon Sisters and many more.
Merry said the reason for such high involvement from performers is because of how many of them have connections to Joplin.
“As far as the performers, everyone in Branson has a relationship with someone in Joplin,” Merry said. “Joplin and Branson have very close ties. Everyone that I know somehow knows someone who has been affected by the whole catastrophe.”
Even bigger names have donated items for auctions to raise funds. Stafford’s wife, Ann, is the executive producer of the telethon. He said the family’s kitchen table has filled up with packages daily containing valuable, signed items.
“One is from Carrie Underwood, one is from Garth Brooks, one is from Ricky Skaggs,” Stafford said. “Garth Brooks sent a cowboy hat. People are giving guitars, all kinds of things.”
Want to watch?
There are plenty of ways to see the Branson Cares Telethon, to be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday. It will be broadcast live on the Internet and shown on KOAM and KFJX.
Those who want to see it in person, live at the Mansion Theatre, can get tickets with a donation of $50 or more. Those who want to donate to the telethon without buying a ticket can also do so at the theater’s box office or on the Internet.
Details: 866-707-4100 or www.joplinbenefit.com.