If you haven't been to Silver Dollar City lately, then you haven't been to Silver Dollar City. Each year the attraction (named America's Best Theme Park by USA Today Travel's 10Best.com) showcases a new theme and puts a slightly different spin on its beloved seasonal festivals. In 2014 the theme is "Celebrate America"--and what better way to kick off the festivities than World-Fest, America's largest International Festival, which features the rich entertainment traditions and heritages that helped build our own nation?
The Frisco Freight Company Barn serves up Tastes of the World to hungry parkgoers, tempting them with culinary selections like Caribbean Nachos (lime tortilla chips layered with jerk chicken and spicy mango-pineapple chutney), Korean Tacos (soft shells filled with pork and Korean BBQ sauce, and topped with coleslaw), and Irish Tacos (hand-torn corned beef with a spicy mustard vinaigrette cabbage). If you're more in the mood for a sandwich or salad, try the Chicken Cordon Bleu Paninis or the Greek Antipasto Salad (garden greens with salami, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese and Mediterranean dressing).
Other international specialties served up in the pavilion include French Dip Paninis, Italian Calzones, Polynesian Calzones, Skillet Spaghetti, and Chicken Yakisoba, plus a variety of tasty desserts. Your taste buds can travel around the world--no passport necessary!
World-Fest also brings internationally-renowned performers to Silver Dollar City stages. New this year is Benise--The Spanish Guitar, which features Spanish guitarist Roni Benise (who has appeared on Dancing with the Stars), backed by Flamenco dancers and a live orchestra. The show also includes Brazilian samba and Cuban salsa rhythms. Benise cuts a dramatic figure and the accompanying entertainers execute their moves with flair, employing sweeping arm movements and rhythmic foot stomping.
Also new is Via Romen, featuring lively gypsy music from the Ukraine. Returning shows include Amamos Argentina, starring the Los Pampas Gouchos drummers (nominated four times as "best variety act in Las Vegas"); Dearbhail Finnegan, a harpist from Ireland; Austrian yodeler Kerry Christensen; and the melodic pan flute music of Ecuador Manta.
Perhaps the most dramatic of all the World-Fest entertainment is Island Fire, which presents the rhythms, music and dances of Samoa, Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti and New Zealand. Prepare to be transported to a Polynesian Paradise as you marvel over the talent of the dancers, the intricacy and authenticity of the costumes, and the beauty of the set design and colorful lighting. During the grand finale, the stage is aglow with a breathtaking display of dancing flames as two World Fire Knife Champions exhibit their skills.
In an exclusive interview, Tawsh Pele Lavata'i, one of the female stars of the show, described the production as a family affair. Three of her brothers, as well as cousins, also perform in Island Fire. (Six-eighths of the show is made up of family members.) Tawsh considers herself a World Citizen, as she frequently travels back and forth from the USA (in addition to performing in Island Fire during World-Fest, she also works for The Dutton Theater concessions in Branson) to American Samoa on a dual passport. She is half-Samoan, with a Samoan father and a German/Irish/English mother. Although she was born in California, she was raised in Samoa from the age of two until she attended Washington State University, where she noticed striking cultural differences between her American classmates and friends her age back in Samoa. "In Samoa, families are sociocentric and very close. Members of a family do everything together. Children are taught to be humble, to 'keep their noses down,' and to respect their elders. They don't identify that much as individuals." She gives a laugh as she explains, "Samoans are all related to each other."
"On the other hand," she says, "Americans seem to be taught to be more egocentric and feel a sense of self-entitlement, as well as to value their individuality."
Tawsh loves the blend of American values and Samoan ideals that she lives while performing in Branson during World-Fest. "Life's all about balance," she says, flashing her gracious smile. And Silver Dollar City, with its emphasis on family values, seems like a perfect fit for the Lavata'i family.
This young woman is brimming with creativity. Her passions are dancing, music, art (she's sold paintings at art shows) and writing (poetry, short stories and journaling). But, whether she's gracefully hula dancing in Island Fire or selling fudge at The Dutton Family Theater, Tawsh's inner beauty never fails to shine through.
Tawsh is just one of the many amazingly talented artists who are waiting to wow you with their performances and to share their cultures at Silver Dollar City's World-Fest, which runs April 5-May 4, 2014. For more information, go to SilverDollarCity.com. Be sure to grab a program as you enter the park for a listing of show times and locations.