Their show is billed as the most popular show in Branson – for good reason. From the minute this family band of five brothers and one sister hits the stage, it’s non-stop, fast-paced, high-quality music and family entertainment that keeps everyone in the audience, from ages five to 95, watching with excitement.
Whether it’s Michael Haygood sliding in from the ceiling, upside, playing his guitar, or the group performing one of their well-choreographed songs done with LED lights and special effects showcasing their talents as multi-instrumentalists, or any one of their constantly changing segments featuring their spin on old-favorites – every Haygood show is full of surprises. It’s the reason they pack the theater with sold-out crowds year-round.
“We love it, truly,” says Catherine Haygood. “Every time we step on stage it’s a new crowd, a new vibe, no show is the same. We love coming up with new things to keep people coming back. They know they’re going to see groundbreaking lighting effects, costumes, and new numbers.”
Michael is the mastermind behind the special effects and LED lights that add so much to the shows. Among his many accomplishments, he built his own jetpack, complete with LED lights, and sometimes wears it as he flies above the audience. He’s also known for entering the theater from the ceiling, catching those in the audience below – by surprise.
“What’s really entertaining for me,” he says, “is getting to watch people’s faces from my point of view, coming in over the crowd and they slowly start to realize that I’m flying above their heads, playing guitar, and smiling. That’s super entertaining.”
In a city known as the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” (due to Branson’s many theaters and live musical acts) the Haygoods have one of the most dynamic and well-produced shows on the strip.
To see their show is to believe it, but what makes it even more interesting is the story behind the Haygoods and how they got to where they are today. They’re celebrating 30 years as a performing family in Branson, but their story started long before that, in the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.
“When we tell people our story, a lot of people say, ‘Oh, come on, that’s just a showbiz story,” Timothy Haygood says, “but the reality is we all lived in a single-wide mobile home and our father was a carpenter. He worked very hard, but it was difficult trying to feed eight children.”
“It was tough,” Patrick Haygood remembers. “We always had food on the table, the house was always clean and we were always clean and scrubbed up, but all of our clothes were hand-me-downs, our shoes were duct taped together, and at times, it was really tough.”
As the family struggled to make ends meet, fate intervened to pave the way for a musical future for the kids, when Timothy became inspired by something he saw on TV in 1983.
“I became interested in violin lessons or fiddle lessons at the age of five,” he recalls, “after watching a famous violinist by the name of Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street. And I went to our mom and I said, ‘Mom, I want to be like him.’ That was the serendipitous moment that launched the whole thing.”
His mother didn’t get him those lessons right away, but when Timothy persisted and she knew he was serious, she followed through on his request. And when she saw how violin lessons helped her oldest son with his focus, discipline, and schoolwork, she made sure the other kids got violin lessons, as well.
Their first chance at performing came when the young Haygoods were invited to play a local festival. Soon, they were traveling to fairs and festivals on weekends across the southern United States. Then, their father saw a segment on 60 Minutes about country artists finding success by opening theaters in Branson and decided to move his family to Missouri. In June of 1993, the young, fiddle playing Haygoods got a job at Silver Dollar City. It began off as a two-week gig at first, but the theme park ended up extending their stay.
“They started pouring resources into us,” Timothy explains, “and getting us instruction on other instruments, as well as singing and tap dancing. We were pretty much in lessons with 20 different instructors for the next decade. My mother would go to all the biggest shows in Branson, and she’d find Johnny Cash’s bass player, Willie Nelson’s guitar player, another band’s harp player, a tap dancer from this show and so on, and she’d hire them to come teach us. That’s how we got all of these different musical influences.”
In 2002, the Haygoods left Silver Dollar City and moved to the Branson strip to start performing on their own. It wasn’t easy at first. At the theme park they had a built-in audience, and as their own act they would struggle to build a following. No other band had transitioned from Silver Dollar City to the Branson strip and found success. But they banded together as a family, determined to make it work.
They’d find themselves tackling a very steep learning curve, at first.
“We didn’t know anything about the business side because when we were at Silver Dollar City, we were sort of in a bubble,” Timothy says. “We’d done extremely well there, but we didn’t realize people weren’t coming just to see us, they were coming for the overall the experience of being at the theme park. So, we moved to the strip and instantly hit a brick wall. We went from playing for houses with a thousand people every single show, to houses of 50 people every show.
They soon ran through much of the money they’d saved over the past decade, as well as a loan their grandparents had given them to go out on their own. Timothy realized he’d have to learn very quickly how the business side of things worked.
“So, I left the stage and started studying marketing and studying Branson, and became obsessed with it,” he says. “I talked to everyone I came into contact with, every hotel owner, others in the music industry, and I figured out what we needed to do to make it work. And slowly the numbers began to rise.”
Timothy’s deep dive into marketing, is similar to what his brothers and Catherine have done with every other aspect of the Haygood family business. They all have different responsibilities within their family business, and all are self-taught in their respective fields. Michael handles the show’s high-tech lighting, and special effects.
“I joke with people and say I went to the school of YouTube tutorials,” Michael says. “Put yourself in our shoes maybe 20 or 25 years ago when we were wanting to do all sorts of fun production and program our lights to the music but couldn’t afford a programmer. Out of necessity, we knew we were going to have to do it ourselves.”
Patrick, who handles accounting for the family business, agrees.
“I actually did got to college for an Entertainment Management degree and was writing the business plan to take the show to the strip,” he says. “And one of my professors sat me down and said, ‘Listen, you’re in the real world. You don’t need to be in college learning about the real world, your opportunity is in front of you already.’ So, I took that to heart.”
Patrick says that ‘learn as you go’ approach applied across the board, sharing of some of the special effects things they had to learn to do themselves.
“We decided we want to have light up mic stands. Okay, figure it out. We want the piano to light up wirelessly. Okay, figure it out, build it. Disneyland is doing this projection mapping stuff on their castle. Okay, we can downsize that and put it on instruments. We’ll figure it out.”
Dominic Haygood is the shows overall producer and arranges the music, Catherine focuses on costumes and assists with social media, and Matthew Haygood helps with office paperwork.
Over the past three decades, they’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. Two brothers (out of the eight kids) have opted not to perform with the family group and gone on to pursue other careers.
Today, the theirs is the longest running, most successful first generation show in Branson’s history.
They’ve had success elsewhere, too. In 2011, they teamed up with the RFD-TV cable network for a show that took their talents into homes across the US, and they’ve also toured, performing as far away as China.
These days the Haygoods stay pretty close to home, by choice.
Like many Branson acts, they owned their own theater at one point, but eventually decided to get out of the management business.
“We used to play six shows a week, but the show is so physical and it’s so busy, we couldn’t keep going at that pace,” notes Timothy. “We also noticed that when we were running a theater our focus wasn’t on the show, our focus was on running a theater.”
Today, they do their shows at the Clay Cooper Theater, where they alternate the nights they perform.
“We made a deal with Clay Cooper where we would have two A shows that would swap 8pm slots. This had never been done before in Branson. There’s a theory that you needed to play six, seven, eight shows a week and always be open. We thought we should play a show, skip a day, play a show, skip a day, and it ended up being the perfect formula for success.”
The schedule allows them to focus on creating and performing the best shows possible, which they constantly work to improve, but also have time to spend with their children and significant others.
Family has always been a top priority for the Haygoods. Patrick says that responsibility to each other is what carried them through those early years when things were tough.
“I’ll tell you a great memory I’ll never forget,” he says. “We’d just left Silver Dollar City and were out on our own, and we had a couple of injuries. Tim had a hernia, Dominic missed a back flip on stage and cracked his shoulder, and Michael had randomly burned himself on his hand. And I remember looking across the stage, there’s Tim hunched over his guitar, Dominic’s got a jacket covering his shoulder, and Michael’s playing guitar and there’s literally blood on his hand. And we were just tearing it up! We were bloodied, but unbroken, battling through and taking care of each other. That attitude started very young, and I think has helped us over the years.”
He says it’s all come full circle. Today, their parents work with them on all of their shows.
“I watch my mom and dad at different times and they’re so proud,” Patrick says. “And that’s incredibly rewarding, especially coming from nothing and seeing how hard they struggled to provide for us.”
As happy as they all are with their success, it’s still sometimes hard to believe how far they’ve come.
“I don’t think any of us thought 10, 15, or 20 years ago when we were just doing this as a hobby that this would be any kind of a 30-year career,” Michael says. “We’re so blessed and excited to be continuing as a family.”
“I’m blown away at the amount of people who come to Branson, who come to see our show,” says Catherine. “And continue to come back, bringing their kids and grandkids. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your brain around it, but we feel so blessed to have been here three decades.”