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Jubilee to showcase 60 balloons this weekend in Decatur

With balloonists from as far away as Utah and a mix of local and out-of-town spectators, Decatur’s 45th Alabama Jubilee will boost tourism this weekend while offering residents the sight of 60 hot air balloons — including UFO — as well as other activities.

“It brings people into the city that may not ever come into Decatur,” said Ken Garner, president of the Alabama Jubilee committee. “In the past we have had people from Arizona, California, New York and even as far away as London come in to see the jubilee.”

Frank Anger, who will bring his hot air balloon from Tupelo, Mississippi, said events like the Alabama Jubilee will help everyone return to normal activities after the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody’s ready to get back to normalcy, and hot air balloons are a great way to do it,” he said.

The jubilee will take place Saturday and Sunday at Point Mallard and also will include live music, food vendors, an antique tractor show, and a fireworks display. Dry weather is forecast for the holiday weekend.

The hot air balloons scheduled to take part include several shaped like animals and one named UFO that resembles an alien spaceship.

Anger has piloted balloons since 1995. This will be his 12th year attending the jubilee, and he travels to similar events two or three weekends a month, going as far as New Mexico. His balloon is red, white and blue with stars and stripes and is appropriately named America.

Anger said he enjoys coming to Decatur’s event because it is close to home and it is “run by a private group that gets the community involved. You can tell by the crowd size and enthusiasm of the spectators that come up and talk to us about our balloon.”

Spectators showing interest is Anger’s favorite part of piloting a balloon.

“Landing where the people can come up to the balloon after we land and ask questions and maybe do a few tethered rides right there in somebody’s front yard” is enjoyable, Anger said. “We love to get the crowd involved and we love to see the smiles that come on the little kids’ faces when they see it up close.”

The jubilee started in 1978 as a way of attracting tourists for the beginning of the season at Point Mallard Aquatic Center. Estimated attendance was close to 40,000 for the 2017 jubilee.

Garner said he hopes for a strong turnout again this year.

Ramona Evans, vice president of the Alabama Jubilee committee, said this year there will be towers set up throughout the event to count how many people are attending.

“It’s going to be the first time that we will actually have a way (to count people).”

Evans said the jubilee is a free, family-friendly event.

“It’s gotten to be that people view this as a way to start their summer,” Evans said. “We have families that actually set up reunions around the jubilee and come. It’s just a very meaningful event for the entire city.”

Garner has piloted the Decatur balloon many times over the years and has piloted it for about the last 10 years.

“I started flying whenever the city of Decatur was looking for a couple of balloon pilots to help with the Decatur balloon,” Garner said.

He has been flying in the jubilee since 1986. He also has two personal balloons. One he named Black Magic, which is black with rainbow colors starting at the basket and going half-way up the balloon.

Garner has a favorite memory from piloting balloons during the jubilee. “The look in everybody’s face whenever they see the balloons go up. The smiles and joy brought to everybody by the balloons flying.”

The festival will start at 6 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The hound and hare chase starts at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday after a pilot briefing. Balloons in the key grab will arrive at the jubilee field Sunday from about 7-8:30 a.m. All balloon flights are dependent on safe weather conditions.

There will be tethered rides both days starting at 5 p.m. On Saturday there will be a balloon glow at 8:15 p.m. in which the balloons remain grounded but all light up at the same time. The Alabama Jubilee Fireworks Spectacular is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

There will be a car show, a motorcycle show, and an antique tractor show on Saturday. There will be arts and crafts shows all day on both days at the pavilion, formerly the ice rink. For more details, visit alabamajubilee.net.

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