Balloon race three days of family fun

Published 11:10 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NATCHEZ — Great Mississippi Balloon Race organizers said they are excited to present new events, and bring back the most popular attractions this weekend.

Arts on the Bluff is a new attraction associated with the race this year. At least 25 artists will be stationed at the gates of the festival — selling and displaying unique pieces.

For football fans who want to attend the race, but not give up their favorite games, a sports bar tent will be open Saturday for college football and Sunday for NFL football, namely the Saints vs. Tampa Bay game.

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Also new to the race will be a key-grab event for the pilots on Saturday afternoon. Since the barge drop was cancelled because it’s considered dangerous, a 50-foot pole will be erected on the fairgrounds, and pilots will compete to grab the key and win a new truck from Great River Chevrolet-GMC.

Organizers Babs Price and Eugenie Cates agree that Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens is the ideal location for the festival

“They’ve been so gracious to let us use their grounds,” Price said. “It’s the perfect location.”

A donation is contributed to Rosalie from the balloon race fund.

The balloon glow is a notoriously romantic event, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday after the gates open at 6 p.m. Pilots light the balloons on the ground as dusk settles, so visitors can wander up and get a close-up look themselves.

Price and Cates said Peter Burns is the emcee for the glow. Tubular Bells plays, and Burns says, “Ready, set, glow!”

“They sporadically do it, and it’s really kind of neat,” Price said. “You can get up close, talk to pilots, touch the baskets and feel the heat from the flames.”

A fireworks show, sponsored by the cities of Natchez and Vidalia, will follow at 7:30 p.m. The Cosimo Effect will play from 8 to 10 p.m.

“It’s fireworks in two states,” Cates said. “(They are shot from) a barge in the river, and it’s a beautiful, large display. It’s a local tradition to watch the fireworks.”

Saturday is known as rock-and-roll day.

After balloons fly around 7 a.m., the festival opens at Rosalie at 11 a.m. Missippi Roots plays at noon.

Cates said five pilots will be offering free tethered balloon rides. Because the draw of free rides will appeal to so many people, they are offered on a first come, first serves basis from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Balloons will be on the festival site, and it is estimated that about 30 people per balloon will get a chance to go up, up, and away for a few minutes,” Cates said. “All this depends on the weather and wind factors. But it is free, so people should get there early.”

The Honey Island Swamp Band plays at 1:45 p.m., with Guitar Shorty playing before the afternoon balloon flight at 3:30 p.m. The Last Waltz Ensemble will perform at 5:30, with Ingram Hill opening for Tonic — the headlining band, playing at 9:30 p.m.

After Sunday morning’s balloon flight, the festival will open at noon.

Talented Miss-Lou youth will perform as part of the Concordia Parish Talented Music Program, led by Sylvia Johns Ritchie, who directs the Concordia Parish Schools musical programs.

“There are some talented young singers,” Cates said.

Music will be country style the rest of the day, with Mark Adam Miller playing at 2:45 p.m. An afternoon balloon flight will be at 4 p.m., with Randy Houser playing at 4:30 p.m.

Organizers ask that guests leave pets, coolers and tents at home.

“But bring chairs and a blanket,” Price said. “There’s plenty of room on the bluff, and you can get a good breeze.”

Outdoor toilets will be plentiful, organizers said, and waiting will be at a minimum.

Tickets can be purchased at the Natchez Reception and Visitors Center. Friday admission for adults is $5, and $3 for children. Saturday adult passes are $15, and $5 for children. Sunday’s adult passes are $10, and $5 for children. A weekend pass is the best deal, however — $25 for adults and $8 for children. Ages 6 and under are admitted free.

For more information, visit the website at

The City of Vidalia will be holding events of its own throughout the weekend, beginning Thursday.

A Mad Jax Carnival at the Vidalia Landing is boasted to be bigger and better than ever by the city, with free admission. The carnival will be open through Sunday. Proceeds raised at the carnival will benefit the Guardian Shelter.

A flea market will also be at the landing, Friday through Sunday, with more than 150 booths. A trolley will be available to assist those with limited mobility.

The balloon glow can be viewed from the Vidalia Riverfront at dusk on Friday, with the Christian band Got Purpose performing at the amphitheatre at 7 p.m. Friday.

Tethered balloon rides will be offered from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday by the spa at the Riverwalk. The cost is $10 for children ages 10 and under, and $15 for adults.

Visit for more information.