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Hundreds gather on Natchez bluff Saturday for balloon festival

NATCHEZ — Despite the beautiful blue skies and balmy 60-degree temperatures, the wind was too strong for balloonists to take flight during Saturday morning’s Natchez Balloon Festival but the wind was just right for flying a kite.

And, that’s just what James Gavette of Natchez did Saturday morning on the Natchez bluff where hundreds of locals and tourists browsed the Farmer’s Market.

Gavette said he was happy to be out on Saturday morning and that the balloon festival had brought so many tourists to Natchez for the weekend.

“I’m just trying to get out of the house and see people,” said Gavette, who said he was tired of being cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have to make reservations to go to church.”

Gavette, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Natchez, said that was all right by him and he was wearing a face mask and social distancing on Saturday as were most tourists, locals and merchants selling their wares at the farmers market.

Darlene Pickett was one of those merchants selling homemade pralines and cakes at Dee’s Homemade Pralines plus Bakery booth that she runs with friends Ruby Mallory and Gail Moore.

“I’m very happy to see the balloon fest,” Pickett said, adding that she was seeing more customers on Saturday than usual and was selling not only her pralines but also homemade cakes including plum jelly cakes and lemon layer cakes with white icing and pecans.

Peter Sherman, who makes and sells hand-chopped wooden bowls at the farmer’s market each week, said he too was happy to see the increased traffic with tourists in town for the balloon fest.

“It is a lot bigger than normal,” Sherman said of Saturday’s turnout on Broadway Street. “We usually get locals out but today we have much, much more.”

Natchez Historic Foundation Director Carter Burns was working the foundation’s booth, selling Balloon Festival merchandise. The balloon festival is one of the foundation’s largest fundraising events.

Burns said he was happy with the turnout for the event that was scaled back this year due to COVID-19 pandemic

“We have a lot of people in town,” Burns said. “The weather is beautiful. I just wish the balloons could have flown this morning.”

Otherwise, Burns said he believes the turnout is strong, that merchandise sales were going well and that hotels and beds and breakfasts were reporting strong bookings.

“Pretty much this year we are just hoping to break even,” Burns said, adding the foundation went forward with the festival this year for the community.

Scott Adams, director of the Natchez Balloon Festival who was working in the foundation’s booth with Burns, said with the COVID-19 pandemic the balloon festival could not proceed as usual this year but he was happy with the way it was progressing so far.

“You can feel the excitement,” Adams said, adding more people are in town this weekend because of the event and that most people were being respectful of the COVID-19 guidelines such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Locals, Mike and Elaine Gemmell, said they go to the farmers market every Saturday and noticed an increase in the number people out on Saturday.

“It is a good community event,” Elaine said of the market and the balloon fest.

Mike commended farmers market director Eddie Burkes for consistent quality of merchandise at the market, including colorful vegetables and a variety of arts and crafts.

“We try not to miss a Saturday,” Mike said. “It is great to get out and see neighbors and friends.”

Balloonists are scheduled to meet Saturday afternoon and determine if conditions are amenable to flying.

Go to natchezdemocrat.com to sign up for text alerts to know when balloons are flying.