Despite living most of my life in Kentucky, I had no idea that The Great American Brass Band Festival existed. It was founded 27 years ago, because Danville didn’t have a yearly festival (which I found surprising). It typically runs Thursday through Sunday the first weekend of June. The Great American Balloon Race is a small part of the festival that draws a large crowd to the local airport on Friday night of the festival. I think hot air balloons look magical in the sky, and it was the one event associated with the festival that I didn’t want to miss.
A little known fact about my husband is that before he received his Ph.D in Public Administration, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Centre College. He played the trombone in the Advocate Brass Band for fourteen years. He used to attend the festival regularly.
I read online that they were giving free tethered hot air balloon rides beginning at 5:30, but that the line forms much earlier. We arrived at the airport about 5:15, which was later than we anticipated, and hoped that we would get to go up. The line was enormous, and the woman in front of us commented that for the last two years they ran out of fuel before she and her son went up. I was hopeful that she arrived earlier than the previous two years, and that we would make it up before they closed the ride. I had a very excited 6-year-old who stood in line for almost 2.5 hours, with little objection, to go up in the balloon for just a few moments.
Gabe loved the ride, once he realized his head wouldn’t catch on fire. It was well worth the wait in line, and he’s already asking when he can go again.
Note: If you plan on attending and trying to get a free ride, I would suggest taking chairs. I really wish we would have brought our folding chairs from the car. The line doesn’t move fast because they can only take a few people at a time. The line forms before the balloon goes up, so you’re standing stationary on pavement for what seems like ages. While the weather was a cloudy and rain was moving in, it made waiting in line much more bearable.
Jeremy mentioned he wouldn’t mind owning and learning to fly a hot air balloon; I was all for it up until he said that I could drive the pick up vehicle as his chase crew. What fun would I have doing that? I think I would make a much better hot air balloon pilot. lol
I had no idea how hot air balloon races worked. I had read that in previous years in The Great American Balloon Race, the balloons chased a “hare” balloon that led them to a target. They would then try to drop a one pound seed bag onto the target, and the closest drop wins. Apparently you could follow along on the radio, and see where the balloons were headed. Much to our surprise, they changed the game a little this year; the hot air balloons launched from a different location, and tried to hit a target on the airfield where everyone was watching. I think that it was much more exciting, and everyone was loudly cheering on the balloons as they approached. A balloon can’t turn on a dime, of course, so some of them didn’t even make it within throwing distance of the airfield.
Note: The X above wasn’t the target, it was prevent planes from trying to land during the event.
The truck pictured above belongs to my favorite balloon of the race. I found their motto hilarious. For those of you not from Kentucky, many of us have a love/hate relationship with our largest city (especially during basketball season).
If you take a close look at the photo directly above, you can see the passenger anticipating the seed bag drop, and you can watch a video below.
The weather wasn’t ideal, and The Great American Balloon Race organizers were worried that the race would have to be postponed due to bad weather. Someone mentioned that they didn’t think there were as many balloons there as last year; given the forecast for that weekend, I wouldn’t’ be surprised if that was true. Still, a dozen or more balloons drifting into view on the horizon is a majestic sight to behold. We amused ourselves for a while wondering what people who aren’t from the area would think if they saw the sky full of balloons as they were passing through.
It was fun to watch all of the balloons come in. A few ended up too far off course to attempt a drop. Some even had to land short of the field because of an FAA curfew that requires them to be on the ground by sunset.
Here’s my favorite hot air balloon, The Sunny Side of Louisville, making their drop. You can see the streamer attached to the bag as it falls to the ground in front of the balloon below.
The Great American Balloon Race was a fun, family friendly, event that you shouldn’t miss. There were inflatables for kids, food vendors, and The Ceremonial Band of the Waterloo Police Service performed throughout the event, lest anyone forget what this festival is really about.
We plan on marking our calendars so we can attend next year. I’m hoping for clearer skies so that I can take better photos.
Have you ever ridden a hot air balloon or watched a hot air balloon race?