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Balloon race is Friday-Sunday

NATCHEZ — What is perhaps the most anticipated weekend event of the year for residents and visitors to the Miss-Lou will begin Friday with plenty of games, thrills, tastes and entertainment — not to mention hot-air balloons (if the weather cooperates).

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race kicks off Friday with the first flights starting at approximately 7 a.m. and competitive flights starting at 7:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.

The festival gates open at 6 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday and noon Sunday at the Rosalie Bicentennial Garden on the south end of the Natchez bluff.  The gates are accessible from Broadway Street.

Weekend passes are $35 each for adults older than 13, $10 for children older than 7 and all activities are free for ages 6 and younger. Friday and Sunday passes are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Saturday passes are $25 for adults and $5 for children.

Balloon race committee interim director Babs Price said wealth of activities and sounds are scheduled to keep attendees of every age entertained and occupied. The event will feature food and drink vendors, carnival rides, craft booths and live music performances.

First on the festival stage Friday is “Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes” at 8 p.m., proceeded by a balloon glow at 7 p.m. and fireworks display at 7:30 p.m. on the Mississippi River — weather permitting.

Saturday morning is the first competitive flight for the balloon pilots, who will attempt to toss a beanbag from the sky onto a ground target that is usually set up behind the Natchez Mall — the target’s location may be moved depending on atmospheric conditions.

Price said a few acts are new to the balloon festival stage this Saturday, including the instrumental “Buku Broux,” Cuban artists “Papo y Son Mandao” and “Southern Avenue” with a blues-like sound, she said.

Also returning to the festival this Saturday are Irma Thomas and Southern rock artist Anders Osborne, who Price said is “just amazing.”

On stage performers Sunday include “Learned’s Hill,” “Brint Anderson and the Bluff City Blues Revue” and Walter “Wolfman” Washington.   

“Seeing the balloons and hearing the music are my favorite things about the balloon race,” Price said. “There’s something for everybody.”

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