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Changes announced for annual balloon race festival


NATCHEZ — The winds of change blew into the Hotel Vue Thursday night when officials with the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race announced changes to the annual event.

Organizers announced a new name, a new logo and a new direction for entertainment for the festival on the third weekend in October.

“As everyone knows, the past two years have been disastrous,” Balloon Race Committee member Mimi Miller said. “We recognize that weather was the culprit, and we can’t control the weather. However, we think some changes will help us mitigate the threat of weather and better explain to the general public what the event is all about.”

Beginning this year, the event will be known as the Natchez Balloon Festival, Miller said.

The name change, Miller said, was made for three reasons.

First, the name race has been confusing to the public. It is as if people expect the balloons to line up at a starting line, Miller said jokingly.

Second, Miller said organizers decided the event needed to emphasize that the event is “more than hot air balloons, which may not be able to fly.” In the last two years, windy conditions have prevented balloons from taking off, even when the weather is fair, Miller said. With music, food, amusement park rides and an arts and crafts fair, the annual festival offers a variety of activities for locals and visitors, Miller said.

Third, the new name puts Natchez front and center in the title of the event, something that has been missing since the event started 34 years ago, Miller said.

Even though the name of the festival is changing, Miller said the official name of the organization would remain the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

“It is our corporate identity and will remain so,” Miller said. “However, the event we produce in the fall will be renamed for marketing purposes.”

With the new name comes a new logo, which was unveiled by festival director Babs Price during the announcement Thursday. The simplified logo features a picture of a hot-air balloon drifting by the Mississippi River bridges.

With a new name and logo, organizers realized the event needed to upgrade the entertainment on the festival site, Miller said.

“To achieve this goal we have reached out to one of the most experienced music promoters in Mississippi — Arden Barnett of Ardenland,” Miller said.

Barnett produces eight festivals and more than 150 shows each year throughout the country. For the past two years, Barnett has produced the Bishop Gunn Crawfish Boil in Natchez.

Barnett said he was excited to be part of the annual balloon festival and looks forward to announcing what he hopes will be an impressive music lineup in July — although he said there were no promises that Bishop Gunn would be playing at the festival.

Mayor Darryl Grennel said the annual festival and balloon race has had a tremendous impact on the community. Grennell said he was equally excited about the changes in store for the festival and expects the community will embrace the festival with the same enthusiasm it always has.

“In our community, the balloon race creates an aura that is so euphoric that we look forward to it every year,” Grennell said.