Crowds flock to festival site for food, fun

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 19, 2008

NATCHEZ — As soon as the gates opened at 11 a.m., there was a steady stream of people all headed to the bluff for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

The smell of propane and deep fried food filled the air.

And on Saturday, the only thing that rivaled the popularity of the balloons was the weather.

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Pockets of people all over the festival could be heard commenting on the blue skies and moderate temperatures.

And while Linda Shows and Alan Ingram, a brother and sister duo at the festival, were hoping for even cool weather they said they’d never consider missing a balloon race.

While he couldn’t say for certain, Ingram said he doesn’t think he’s ever missed one.

And in that time, Ingram has learned one thing that’s important to a good day at the balloon festival — get there early and get a good spot.

For the pair, that spot is to the right of the stage, backed up against the fence, with a great view of the river.

“You get the advantage of it all with a good location,” Show said.

One of the greatest advantages of their spot is their view of the river for the evening flight, Ingram said.

But Ingram and Shields noted there’s more to the balloon festival than just a good spot.

Both said to get the most from the weekend they attend every event at the festival.

From the balloon glow, to balloon chasing to the last event on Sunday, they do it all.

But not everyone is as involved as Ingram and Shows.

Denise Case said her favorite part of the festival is the food.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s just what I look forward to.”

And vendors at the fair said this year’s crowds are buying up a lot of food.

Jay LaSyone owner of Natchez Best BBQ has been at the festival since opening night, and said so far business is good.

“We’re real happy,” LaSyone said. “We’re doing good.”

And if the crowds heading to the festival are any indication of how successful this year’s event will be — things are looking good.

Volunteer Melody Fuqua oversees the entrance gate and said Friday’s crowds numbered between 4,000 to 5,000.

Fuqua said that number was based on wristbands and does not include children under 7.

“(Friday) night was just amazing,” she said.