Glow lights up night sky

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 18, 2008

NATCHEZ — Under a canopy of hot air and nylon, hundreds gathered on the bluff for the kick-off event of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

Friday’s balloon glow drew hundreds for an evening of food, music and well, balloons.

Just as the sun dipped out of sight the event’s namesake began.

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After a quick countdown the pilots hit the burners and lit up the sky.

There were about a dozen balloons on the bluff and another handful on the levee in Vidalia.

Daphne Richardson, from Biloxi, attended the event for the first time Friday evening.

Richardson has lived in Albuquerque, home to one of the biggest balloon races, and said she never knew the Natchez race existed.

“I was very surprised by the whole thing,” Richardson said.

While Richardson said she didn’t talk with any of the pilots at the race, she did like the opportunity to get close to the balloons.

“They’re wonderful,” she said.

And many pilots at Friday’s race said the chance to show-off their balloons and have the public ask lots of questions is the best part of being at the race.

Pilot George Richard has been in the Natchez race for close to 20 years and said the balloon glow is one of the best parts of the entire event.

“It’s an important part of the event,” Richard said of the glow. “It really gets people involved.”

And Richard is one of the pilots who loves to talk with almost anybody about his balloon.

“People come by with questions all the time,” he said. “It’s great.”

And while the first day of the race got off to a glum start weather wise, by afternoon the clouds cleared and the crowds hit the town.

Mimi Miller, in charge of logo sales at the event, said Friday’s shirt sales had well exceeded last year’s sales before the gates even opened.

And for one local man the 2008 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race had particular significance.

After the fireworks show ended, Ken Price was awarded the Spirit of David Steckler Award.

Emcee, and former award recipient, Peter Burns said Price has volunteered with the race for 20 years and does some of the festival’s most important and difficult work.

“He has been in an official capacity as a board member for seven years but was giving his time and efforts to make this a better even for this community long before,” Burns said.

When Price accepted his award he looked both surprised and honored.

“Thank you,” Price said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m kind of speechless.”

With that, the crowed cheered and Price walked proudly off stage.