A one-two punch of family-friendly events

Florida air show, North Carolina Native American heritage celebration draw big crowds each year

By Nick Fortuna

If you’re looking for fun for the entire family, then take your pick — either the gravity-defying feats of some of the country’s top aerial-acrobatic performers or the rich traditions of eight Native American tribes. Here is a look at two of the biggest tourist attractions in the Southeast this November.    

Florida International Air Show 
Punta Gorda Airport in Punta Gorda
Friday through Sunday, Nov. 1-3

The USAF Thunderbirds fly at Kogalniceanu airport, near Constanta, east of Bucharest, Romania in 2011. The Thunderbirds will perform in nine countries during their European tour, fostering international goodwill and representing America’s Airmen around the globe. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt Richard Rose Jr/Courtesy of USAF Thunderbirds)

The Florida International Air Show drew about 20,000 spectators last year, but organizers are hoping to double that figure this year, and there’s one big reason why. The event will mark the only appearance of the year in Florida for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, known as the Thunderbirds, whose aerial acrobatics in fighter jets are sure to impress children and adults alike. The Thunderbirds haven’t performed at the Florida International Air Show since 2014.

The 38th annual air show, run entirely by volunteers, will feature a wide variety of aircraft, including the GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team, a flight squadron of six vintage World War II aircraft performing precision flight maneuvers. Other performers include Matt Younkin, flying a 1943 Beech 18; Patty Wagstaff, piloting an Extra 300S; Greg Koontz and the Alabama Boys, flying the Lycoming AEIO-360; and Redline Airshows, piloting the Van’s RV-8. 

The Thunderbirds will perform Saturday and Sunday and will be on hand to sign autographs Friday night. General admission to the abbreviated Friday night show and fireworks display costs $5 for kids and $15 for adults if purchased online, or $20 for adults at the gate. Reserved seating costs $10 for kids and $35 for adults in advance or $45 for adults at the gate. Visitors purchasing general-admission tickets should bring their own lawn chairs. 

On Saturday and Sunday, general admission is $5 for kids and $30 for adults in advance or $35 for adults at the gate. Reserved seating in the shade costs $10 for kids and $55 in advance for adults or $65 for adults at the gate. A wide variety of food and beverage options are available, including beer and wine. 

For more information, visit www.floridaairshow.com.       

American Indian Heritage Celebration 
North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh
Saturday, Nov. 23

American Indian tribe members gather for the North Carolina Museum of History’s American Indian Heritage Celebration. Photos by Eric Blevins and Kent Thompson.

It’s fitting that the biggest event of the year at the North Carolina Museum of History takes place during November, which is national Native American Heritage Month. After all, North Carolina is home to more than 120,000 Native Americans, the largest population east of the Mississippi River, and recognizes eight local tribes — the Eastern Band of Cherokee, Coharie, Lumbee, Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, Meherrin, the Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation and Waccamaw-Siouan. 

All eight tribes will be represented at the 24th annual American Indian Heritage Celebration at the downtown Raleigh museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event, which drew almost 15,000 visitors last year, is held on the same day as the city’s annual Christmas parade, and many families attend both events for a day of free entertainment.

There will be more than 100 presenters at the museum event, including artists, dancers, musicians, craftspeople, drum groups, storytellers, scholars and authors, giving visitors dozens of opportunities to learn about the state’s American Indians, past and present. One of the highlights is always the Call to Grand Entry at noon, when each tribe parades into Bicentennial Plaza in front of the museum for the roll call of tribes and organizations. Then, as drum groups play, hundreds of dancers in vibrantly colored regalia perform dance demonstrations.  

This year’s celebration will feature a performance by Pembroke, North Carolina-based singer and guitarist Lakota John Locklear, who blends traditional Native American music with the blues, jazz, ragtime and other genres. In addition, visitors can view selected pieces from “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now,” a temporary exhibit of Native American artwork at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  

The museum’s restaurant will be open, but visitors will want to sample the barbecue, turkey legs, bison burgers and other offerings from visiting food trucks as well as collard sandwiches — a blend of Native American and Southern cuisine featuring cornmeal, collard greens and a piece of fatback pork. 

For more information, visit www.ncmuseumofhistory.org.