Janice Martin, Aerial Violinist

A favorite fact about the showboat Branson Belle, which plies the waters of Table Rock Lake, Missouri: when the ship was launched in 1995, she slid into the water on a ramp greased with 4,000 pounds of bananas. The yellow fruit was a eco-friendly alternative to standard lubricants, and perhaps even cheaper, though I’m not up on the economics of boat launching.

Branson Belle is the property of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., the company that also owns Silver Dollar City and a lot of other properties.– including Dollywood, but that’s part of another tourist-magnet area. The showboat’s a paddle-wheeler – two twin wheels, 24 feet in diameter each, and it’s a smooth ride, because while sitting in the theater I didn’t notice the ship getting underway. Later I wandered around taking pictures, making it as far as the topmost deck.

The 4 pm show included dinner plus entertainment: magician-comedian emcee Christopher James, who told the best jokes among the various shows I saw, a number of musicians, and “the world’s only aerial violinist,” Janice Martin. That alone was worth getting on the showboat for.

Janice Martin also happens to be a fine singer and pianist, which was part of the act, but I think everyone was waiting to see just what an aerial violinist would do. Climb up a couple of silk lines and do the kind of act you might see in a circus, to begin with. But strapped over one of her shoulders somehow was a special violin built for the purpose, which she played skillfully while dangling from the silks in one way or another. Flat-out amazing.

How did the remarkable combination come about? From the little she said, she’s been a musician always, including training at the Julliard. As for the aerialist skills, she said she first learned rope climbing during her stint in the U.S. Army as a musician. At what point did a light bulb go off? – hey, I can do both of these at the same time. Couldn’t say, but it did, and I hope the Branson Belle is making it well worth her while.

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