Balloon glow kicks off annual race

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 17, 2004

Great orbs of color lit up the night Friday, as balloon pilots clustered along the bluff and the Vidalia riverfront for the annual balloon glow.

Pulsing to music, the propane-lit balloon envelopes huddled together at the festival site near Rosalie, across the river on the Vidalia mat fields and on the hill near Ramada.

A balloon glow is not unique to Natchez, but Natchez’s event is unique, said balloon pilot Mike Hanson of Indianola, a longtime visitor to the local race.

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&uot;This one is unique to Natchez because everything is spread out,&uot; he said.

And with balloons glowing on the site of Fort Rosalie between the antebellum house and high above the river, this event couldn’t happen anywhere but the oldest city on the Mississippi.

Hanson, who has been to the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race for 11 years, said he enjoys coming back because of the people he meets.

&uot;I love Natchez,&uot; he said. &uot;I love the hospitality. It’s a beautiful place to fly, flying over the river.&uot;

Hanson has been a balloon pilot for 15 years. Like many people, he joined in through friends who were into ballooning.

&uot;I’ve had many wonderful experiences,&uot; he said, noting that attending festivals in Natchez and other places means meeting up with &uot;one big family.&uot;

For the past few years, many of those experiences have been with volunteer crewmember Cody Higdon of Ferriday, La. Higdon met Hanson three years ago at balloon race, and he and his family have been helping out ever since.

Higdon has been coming to balloon race since the event began, and he especially enjoys the balloon glow.

&uot;I just like watching all the different colors,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re all pretty at night.&uot;

If all goes well, those colorful balloons will be filling the sky this morning as the competitive events begin.

Friday morning’s media flight was scrapped due to high winds, but organizers expect the rest of the weekend to be smooth sailing &045;&045; make that smooth flying.

Although Friday’s flight was grounded, pilots still got in a bit of competition. Several pilots were to have had bicyclists as passengers. The plan was to fly from the Vidalia mat fields to the Natchez Airport, in a hound and hare event that included tossing baggies onto a target before the balloons landed and the cyclists got on their bikes for a race back to town.

So instead of flying, the pilots and cyclists got in their trucks, tossed their baggies onto a makeshift target on the mat field and raced in their vehicles to the airport, where the cyclists got on their bikes for their trip back downtown.

Organizers hope events go more according to plan today. A morning balloon flight is scheduled to begin at 7, and the festival gates at the site of Fort Rosalie open at 11 a.m. There will be music, food and children’s activities &045;&045; including carnival rides &045;&045; throughout the day, with another balloon flight at 4:30 p.m.

Music headliners include Miss-Lou native Maggie Brown at noon and Better Than Ezra at 5:45 p.m. A festival dance with the Andy Smith Band begins at 7:45 p.m.