It’s no secret that many of us here at Touring Plans are big fans of Billy Hill and the Hillbillies; in the 2013 Unofficial Guide to Disneyland we give their musical comedy show 4 1/2 stars and call it “not to be missed.” Originally a street show created for the opening of Critter Country in 1989, the Hillbillies have been the most frequently featured act in the Golden Horseshoe Saloon since the Golden Horseshoe Jamboree ended its run in December of 1994.
While the Hillbillies have had the Horseshoe stage to themselves for most of the last 17 years (with the exception of Woody’s Round-Up’s run from 1999 to 2000), lately they’ve been on the move. Over the summer, they were shuffled out to the arena stage behind Big Thunder Ranch as part of a seasonal promotion, while the Laughing Stock Co. improv players took their place. More recently, Billy and the boys returned to Big Thunder for the Limited Time Magic resurrection of the beloved Golden Horseshoe Revue, albeit in the form of a “Salute” tribute show.
The Hillbillies’ hilarious bluegrass hijinks consistently draw a capacity crowd to the Horseshoe on the five days each week they perform, but all the performances of theirs I’ve seen at the Ranch have seemed much more sparsely attended. The answer as to which venue is the better location for them might seem obvious at first. But over the summer, I sat down with a highly-placed member of Disneyland’s entertainment team who gave me a different perspective.
This upper-level employee (who must remain anonymous, as our lunch was an off-the-record social meeting) is a lifelong fan of the original Revue, and was instrumental in advocating for its (temporary) return. He/she argued that, though the Billy’s are brilliant at what they do, their act is thematically inappropriate for the Saloon’s 19th century setting, because they “know they are in a theme park” and “break the fourth wall” with modern pop-culture wisecracks.
After attending a recent show in which the Hillbillies referenced American Idol, YouTube, and the Columbia House Music Club, it’s hard for me to argue with the premise. Yet, the packed audience around me (especially the special-needs boy blissfully dancing in the front row) didn’t seem to mind at all.
Should Disneyland’s favorite funny fiddlers have a permanent home in their most popular locale? Or should the Saloon return to presenting authentic 1800’s entertainment full-time like it did when Walt sat in the opera box? If entertainment and thematic integrity conflict in a theme park setting, which should win out? Join the debate, and leave your opinion in the comments below!