MANATEE -- Heads arching skyward, hands shading their eyes from thesun, a crowd gathered Saturday at Mixon Fruit Farms stared in amazement as Rietta Wallenda performed aerial stunts atop a 100-foot pole.
The Wallenda Family is among the many attractions at this weekend's Orange Blossom Festival at the family farm, 2525 27th St. E.
"It was amazing," said Maxence Lippens, 10, after posing for a picture with the gravity-defying family.
"We've been to a lot of their circuses," added Manon Lippens, 12.
The sisters, originally from Belgium, now live in Palmetto. They agreed that watching Rietta climb to thetop of the pole, hanging from her arms, then her legs, was the highlight of the show.
Before she performed high in the sky, Rietta walked across a tightrope with Rick and Felix Wallenda. Showcasing different tricks, Rick pedaled a bicycle forward and backward on the thin cable. Tammy suspended herself from a rope, performing a vertical routine.
The air was chilly and wind whipped around the pole as Rietta, in a turquoise suit, eased her way down before taking a zip line to the ground, ending the performance.
"We were worried for them because it was so windy," said Lonnie Helgerson of Ellenton.
His daughter, Hannah, 8, said she wasn't scared they might fall. "It was awesome when she was up on the pole," she said, while waiting to get a picture with the performers. Saturday was the first time Hannah and younger sister Nora, 3, have watched the Wallendas.
"I saw them when I was a kid," Lonnie Helgerson said. "This is a great family event. You can bring the kids out and everyone has something to do. Great food, great entertainment, great facility."
Kids ventured through a maze, couples toured the grove and families enjoyed local entertainment and craft booths. Inside the gift shop, people sampled fresh fruit juice, fudge and wines.
"When I was growing up, this was in the country, now we're in town," Janet Mixon said.
"This is a great time for the community to come out and see the farm, watch the Wallenda Family and have other entertainment with free parking and admission. It's about making Mixon memories."
Mixon said this is the fifth year the farm has celebrated two festivals: one in the fall and another in the spring.
"The birth of the blossom," said organizer Sheri Gooby. "That's what she (Janet) always says."
Mixon said it was nice to see people bundled up in jackets, enjoying the fair weather.
"I think it's perfect, but I wish it wasn't so windy," Mixon said. "It's too cold to go to the beach."
And because of that,Gooby estimates the fes-tival will draw about7,000 people this week-end.
Entertainment begins at 9:30 a.m. today with Ancient Ways Dance Group. The Wallendas will perform again at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Tram tours begin at 10:40 a.m.
Parking is available across the street from the farm.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.