By Terri Tabor

Daily Journal

If you missed New Orleans' Mardi Gras, there's no need to wait until next year.

Tupelo will have all the sparkle, glitz and glamour of the yearly Mardi Gras celebration and more with its sixth annual OLEPUT (Tupelo spelled backward) festival May 30-June 1.

In its second year at the Tupelo Coliseum, the festival has grown to attract more than 30,000. And this year with a variety of new attractions, festival spokesperson Bobby King expects an even bigger attendance.

"I would say attendance should dramatically increase by as much as 25 percent," he said.

Debbie Stauffer, director of Tupelo's Main Street Program and general chairwoman for OLEPUT agrees. "There's no question that this year's OLEPUT is going to be the biggest and most varied we have ever produced," Stauffer said. "We have tried to have something for everyone."

New events for this year's festival include a hot air balloon competition, barbecue cooking contest, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, 3-point shootout and a Hi-Tech Power Party for the youth.

Twenty-four balloons from in and out of state will compete for $3,000 in prize money in the balloon competitions which begin Friday evening. Coordinated by Balloon Promotions, Inc., out of Greenwood, the race will be sanctioned by the Balloon Federation. Also there will be balloon glows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

OLEPUT will cook up more fun with a barbecue contest sponsored by Bryan Foods and Miss 98 radio station. Dubbed the QBB Pig Gig (after the backward name of OLEPUT), the cooking contest will feature several teams competing for prizes in three categories including whole hog, pork shoulder and pork ribs. An "Anything But" contest is slated for Friday night and the actual cooking contest will take place on Saturday. Also on Saturday there will be a hog calling contest and a barbecue sauce contest open to anyone. Prizes will be awarded for first through third place and showmanship and best booth.

OLEPUT is also striving for more youth activities this year with the Hi-Tech Power Party and the 3-on-3 basketball tournament for youth and adults. The Hi-Tech Power Party in the coliseum breezeway will give young people ages 12-18 a fun activity in a non-alcoholic setting. Sponsored by Whitaker Sales and KZ 103, the party will feature a VJ, 15-foot video screens of the latest music videos and a laser show.

Also, throughout the weekend on the east side of the coliseum, youth and adults can team up for the 3-on-3 basketball tournament sponsored by 92 JAMZ with support from the Park and Recreation Department. Also there will be a slam dunk contest and a 3-point shootout. Cash prizes will be awarded for the adults and trophies will be awarded to children. Entry fees are $10 for both the slam dunk and 3-point shootout contests and $60 per team for the 3-on-3.

In addition to the new events, King said they are bringing back all of the festivals famed activities such as the 5K OLEPUT run, the children's fun tent, music stages, the OLEPUT Criterium, nightly fireworks displays, arts and crafts, games, rides, the King and Queen ceremony and the OLEPUT parade. The Mardi Gras style parade is set for Saturday morning and the annual introduction of King EEL (Lee County spelled backward) and Queen OLEPUT and their royal court will be Friday night.

The New Orleans-style festival will kick off Thursday with a midway, arts and crafts, balloon glow and fireworks, all highlighted by a concert featuring one of the best boogie bands of all time, KC and the Sunshine Band.

Preceding the concert will be a "New Faces Show," hosted by Wizard 106 radio station. The concert will feature some of Nashville's fastest rising country music artists. After each performance there will be "meet and greets" in which festivalgoers can meet the artists and get autographs.

This year's presenting sponsors are Budweiser, Bud Light, WTVA and WLOV/FOX 27. Additional sponsors include Bell South Mobility, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Cook-Coggin Engineers and Waste Management.

OLEPUT admission is $16 for adult 3-day pass and $11 for child 3-day pass (ages 4-12). The passes include admission to the KC & The Sunshine Band concert. Daily admission is $11 for adults, $6 for children on Thursday (includes concert); and $6 for adults and $2.50 for children on Friday and Saturday.

Tickets for OLEPUT may be purchased through any Ticket King location, by phone at 841-6528, or at the gate.

Festival hours are 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday.

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