It Is Balloon!

Middletown Balloon Festival - performerJust as I can no longer hear The Banana Boat Song without seeing a certain dinner party, it’s nearly impossible for me to see a hot air balloon and not think of F Troop.

OK, now that I have that out of the way, I can move on to the 2012 MidUSA Ohio Challenge Balloon Festival that I attended on Friday. The official opening ceremonies were scheduled for 6:00, the gates opened at 4:00, and I arrived a little after 5:00.

Middletown Balloon Festival - performersMiddletown Balloon Festival - performersThe early crowd was naturally sparse but things were happening well ahead of the opening ceremonies. Food, crafts, and other vendors lined the big spectator field and virtually all were open. A small troop of acrobats warmed up near the middle of the field and an Indiana band, The Skallywags, completed their sound check and immediately stepped into their first set on the main stage. Several skydivers rather casually fell out of the sky. There seemed to be just about everything needed for most festivals but this was a hot air balloon festival and there was not a balloon in sight.

Middletown Balloon Festival - opening ceremoniesMiddletown Balloon Festival - opening ceremoniesMiddletown Balloon Festival - opening ceremoniesOne reason for the lack of balloons would be explained during the opening ceremonies. They started with a fellow named Rick Gibbs singing the national anthem. Then Team Fastrax jumped in with gigantic U.S. flags and a group of Native Americans provided a prayer, some music, and some dancing. A small Indian village with a huge tepee is part of the festival and dancing and other activities would take place there throughout the weekend. There were also a couple of short speeches and announcements. One of the announcements  was that there was just too much wind for safe ballooning. The announcer pointed out a pole with a red flag flying from it on the far side of the field. No launches could take place under a red flag. A window of opportunity could open later but, instead of a 7 o’clock launch, there would be a 7 o’clock pilots meeting. The red flag might turn green after that.

Middletown Balloon Festival - red flagBy 7:20, I was convinced that there would be no balloons flying tonight and started for the gates. At that exact instant, a car with a trailer in tow pulled onto the field; Then another and another. The red flag was still flying but balloonists were at least getting into position. Some unloading was also occurring through at a pace that indicated a complete lack of urgency.

Middletown Balloon FestivalMiddletown Balloon FestivalThe original plan had been for all of the balloons to take off around 7:00, fly for about an hour, then land and return for a “balloon glow” shortly after 9:00. As I thought about that, I once again became convinced that there would be no balloon flying tonight. I theorized that the balloons had come onto the field in anticipation of the “glow” with no intention of taking off. Again I started for the gate and again action on the field stopped me. Balloons were starting to inflate. Some fellows hauled down the red flag and ran up a green one.

Middletown Balloon FestivalMiddletown Balloon FestivalSoon the announcer was describing a “Hare  & Hounds” competition where one balloon, the hare, lands somewhere and marks the spot and the other balloons score points by dropping a bag of sand as close as they can to the mark. The hare and the first hound, a sunglasses wearing cutie named Lindy, got off in quick succession. A few others followed but it wasn’t long before a yellow flag was raised and a red one soon followed.

Middletown Balloon FestivalFrom photo time stamps, It appears that the green flag flew for barely fifteen minutes. I believe that about a half-dozen balloons slipped through that small window. That’s but a fraction of the thirty-five competitors listed in the program and I have no idea whether the flight will count for scoring points or not. I suspect it will since the competition appears to be anything but cutthroat and balloonists are somewhat used to being grounded by winds. So this is as close to as I got to the picture I’d envisioned of a balloon filled sky. But it’s a nice little group floating serenely into the sunset and it certainly looks inviting.

Middletown Balloon FestivalMiddletown Balloon FestivalWith the late launch, it was a fairly short wait for the glow preparations to begin and I suspect some of those hounds were still in the process of being loaded and trailered back when the glow took place. A laser light show and fireworks were to follow but neither interested me all that much and I left after the glow peaked. This was the event’s tenth year and I’ve wanted to come several times. I’m glad I finally made it and consider a return quite likely. It’s definitely a worthwhile event and I still want to see that balloon filled sky.

I did not make it back to a World Choir Games Champions Competition as I wanted to. Thursday would have been good but it was sold out. I decided to settle for a free Friendship Concert that was to be held on Friday in a park not too far from my home. It was moved, however, and by the time I learned of that and reached the new location, the parking lot was filled to overflowing and I’m sure everything else was, too. I drove on by and on to the balloon festival instead. I had planned on attending the festival on Saturday so this was just a little time shift. It all worked out well except for that Champions Competition thing.