This last weekend marked the 30th anniversary of Natchez’s most anticipated event: the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.
Hot air balloonists from around the country gathered to celebrate the festival, and people of all ages who attended the festival came for the colorful balloons, famous musicians and Southern-style food.
The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race kicked off Friday at 6 p.m. at Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens on the corner of Canal and D.A. Biplane Streets in downtown Natchez. That night, balloons lit up the night sky as part of the initial balloon glow show. The glow show was followed by a splendid fireworks show centered on the Mississippi River, leading to a carnival.
The event was sponsored by neighboring cities like Vidalia and has drawn spectators from both sides of the river. The entire event hosted a children’s village and a variety of regional foods. Balloon competitions took place at 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The start of the event featured a live performance by local favorite Bishop Gunn, and the rest of the weekend was filled with performances by a variety of well-known musicians.
The entertainment lineup included Dr. John and Nite Trippers, Mingo Fishtrap, Anders Osborne, Johnny Samson and Monk Boudreaux, New Breed Brass Band, Brint Anderson, Mojo Mudd, Gred Martinez, Hannah Belle and the Concordia Parish Gifted Music Program.
Blufftoberfest, a collaborative project between five brewing companies, also joined the festival this year and showcased craft beers from various breweries. Oktoberfest-style beer and foods were included with the admission price. A craft fair also took place at the festival and featured some of the area’s best artisans and their works. The sports bar tent, which held several large screen televisions, attracted many fans for its several featured football games throughout the weekend.
Businesses and restaurants in Natchez are benefited by the annual event and expected to yield high returns this year.
“We had a great turnout this year compared to last year, which had high winds,” said Piara Brown, Natchez Grand Hotel manager. “Because our hotel is in the downtown area, we are in a key location for the event. Our hotel books up within three months (before) the event happens.”
Maxine and Bruce Brice are volunteers for the Natchez Music Festival, for which Jay Dean is the artistic director. The Brices were fundraising for the organization and are members of the Natchez Historical Society, which sponsors the festival.
“Natchez is a hospitable town, and it’s always exciting to welcome visitors here for whatever event, but this one seems to be the most favorite event that happens,” Maxine Brice said. The widely attended annual event has won several local and state awards for its ongoing success.
The Southern Miss Outdoor and Adventures team takes students to Natchez to try and attend the event. The team is hopeful to go next year because they were not able to participate.
“I love that this is held in fall and October; I love seeing the people that come here,” said Kelly Durr, attendee and 2014 USM alumnus. “It’s like a big family get-together. The weather is great and the balloons are a lot of fun. Getting to fly over the Mississippi River is a beautiful view.”