Flying High on Father’s Day!
Discovering Vermont’s Balloon Festival
with Barbara Rizza Mellin
As we look overhead, we see colorful shapes dotting the sky. Our world has been transformed into an enchanted place as hot air balloons float above us and crowds of people create a festive atmosphere. This is the annual Father’s Day Weekend Balloon Festival and Crafts Fair in Quechee, Vermont. What better way to spend this special weekend than with fathers and grandfathers at a spectacular family-oriented event that for 37 years has been bringing together thousands of visitors to enjoy the simple pleasures of a shared outdoor gathering.
The hot air balloons, of course, are the main attraction. On the first afternoon, you see multi-colored, uninflated balloons stretched out on the grass, striping the landscape with vibrant fabrics that lie like rows of flowers in a textile garden. It is here that the enormity of the envelope (the fabric top usually made of parachute material) becomes apparent. When the balloons are hovering among the clouds, they look like distant planets, and as they drift from sight, they gradually diminish in size until they disappear entirely. But on the ground, it is quite different. You must walk the length of the balloons, which approaches 100 feet, to fully appreciate their grandeur.
The first ascension is on Friday night. The roar of fans and furnaces signals the impending flights, as empty envelopes are filled with cold air that is then replaced by the heated air necessary to provide the lift. As if by magic, the billowing balloons begin to take shape, rise from a horizontal to a vertical position, and wait for baskets to be attached before being released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, a carnival of colors plays out before our eyes. Blue zigzags, purple stripes, orange swirls and silver stars all form out of the shapeless folds. Before long, there is barely enough room to contain the giant globes. At that point, they begin to glide upward as each is released from its tether. The sky becomes speckled, like a gigantic scattered rainbow. As the wind carries the balloons, I think the slow-motion pace of their travel creates a kind of oxymoronic tapestry, in which excitement and tranquility are simultaneously woven together.
This ascension process is repeated again at 6 a.m. and
6 p.m. on the following days. After dark on Friday evening, the Balloon Glow takes place. While the balloons remain grounded, they are inflated and the spectacular glow of the inner-lit envelopes brightens the night sky—all of it choreographed to music.
As impressive as the balloons are, they are not the only attraction. This three-day event is also a bustling craft fair featuring craftspeople and vendors offering a wide range of products from the funky to the fine. Many of the participants are members of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and the Vermont Hand Crafters Association.
There are also lots of food vendors selling ethnic and fun foods, such as fried dough and cotton candy that make a fair a fair. Throughout the weekend, entertainers provide the sound track, with blues, rock, bluegrass and folk music filling the air.
But most of all this is a family affair, so you’ll find plenty of child-friendly activities such as mini-train rides and face painting.
Since the Father’s Day Weekend Balloon Festival and Crafts Fair attracts upwards to 20,000 people each year, accommodations fill up quickly, so plan ahead if you want to stay the entire weekend. You won’t have any trouble finding the place … just follow the balloons.
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