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What’s new, what’s familiar at Balloon Fiesta

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Darius Rucker. Hot-air balloons from China, Italy, Mexico, Poland and Israel. Red, yellow or green flags. New balloon shapes. What do these things have in common?

They’re all new components of the 42nd annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, titled “Enchanted Sunrise,” to be held from Oct. 5-13 in Balloon Fiesta Park.

With 550 balloons set to launch on the 78-acre field, dozens of events are planned for the nine-day fiesta, hailed as the premier ballooning event in the world.

Many of the defining events, such as the morning mass ascensions and the evening glows, are sure to enthrall the tens of thousands of revelers. But new features are on hand, too.


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One of those is country music star Darius Rucker, who performs at 4 p.m. Oct. 12 as part of the four-concert Music Fiesta, which starts that day at noon.

“It’s the first time we have had four specific shows,” says Tom Garrity, director of media relations for the Balloon Fiesta. “It’s something that the Balloon Fiesta has always wanted to try. There’s always been music, and we wanted to provide additional value for our vendors, so they (visitors) have reason to stay on the field longer.”

Another feature that excites many fiesta-goers is the balloon pilots from all over the world who come to participate. This year, 18 countries will be represented – including pilots from five countries that weren’t represented last year (China, Italy, Mexico, Poland and Israel).

Returning countries are Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A Flight of the Nations mass ascension will begin at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9.

Another change this year will be in the way people will learn about whether events will go off as planned. In the past, a public address system would let people know if wind or other unexpected weather events would prevent a launch. For the first time, a flag to be erected about 100 feet high at the eastern side of the field, about midway between the north and south ends near the main stage and concessions, will tell people whether balloons will launch that day, using a color-coded system.

If a red flag waves on the field, events could be canceled. A yellow flag means there’s a weather hold, and if it’s green, balloons can launch.

This year’s fiesta will also feature 10 new special shapes, including “Peg Leg Pete,” a parrot dressed as a pirate, as well as “Angry Bird” and “Snow White.”

Other new balloons featured this year will be by Brazilians, who are famed for their creative designs. New balloons from Brazil will include “Scuba Diver,” “Triple Clown,” “Little Wizard,” “Hummingbird,” “Carriage of Princess” and “Rocket Boy,” a boy with a jet pack on his back.

Specially shaped balloons have been the stars of Balloon Fiesta since the Special Shape Rodeo premiered in 1989. This year’s Special Shape Rodeos take place Oct. 10 and 11.