By Joe Bailey
Last weekend, the Chattanooga Balloon Festival kicked off November with its fleet of hot air balloons lighting up the crisp night air.
Friday Nov. 1 and Saturday Nov. 2 marked the city’s first balloon festival of this scale, as the 13 balloons, erected at Riverpark by Chattanooga State Community College, attracted an estimated 10,000 attendees on the second night alone.
Lines of hundreds formed for the opportunity to hitch a ride on one of the precarious and unconventional flying machines, but balloons weren’t the only attraction on offer. Along with rows of local vendors and food trucks, carnival rides, a dance floor, and a giant glowing ferris wheel occupied the remaining corners of the venue. Normal entry was $10.
The event’s director, Jeremy Kwaterski, said that this festival is one of many that his company has organized across the southeast.
“From 2008 until now, we’ve had almost one festival per year,” Kwaterski said. “It’s in Chattanooga this year. We’re from Rome, Georgia, so we’re not far. We did some research, and I think the last time the city had any kind of event with multiple hot air balloons was the in the early 1980s., and that was a pretty small thing, so this is the first real ‘festival’…”
Beyond the conventional teardrop balloons, Kwaterski said that they also have some weirder shapes to show off. A flying pig, a 150-foot bald eagle, and a huge smiling sun called “Sunny Boy” make up just a few of the standout designs.
“If you want to come out and get a tethered ride, you can be sure to check that off your bucket list, so to speak, which a lot of people want to do,” Kwaterski said. “They want to get in a hot air balloon and take a ride, but we don’t let people fly off anywhere. We keep them tethered for safety. Balloons are kind of a finicky little thing. You can’t really steer them. You have to go with the wind. So we don’t typically do rides like that.”
The ride offered, which costs $20, let guests quicky ascend for a fun and sometimes romantic 50-foot float. Kwaterski said that it’s the perfect destination for a college outing or date night. In fact, he said that on the first night, there were at least four airborne marriage proposals.
The event as a whole imparted a sense of that classic commercial american family fun typical of a state fair. Balancing precariously on the edge of classy, the Chattanooga Balloon Festival was elevated by enthusiastic participants and big fun balls of hot gas.
So as bright flames propel your balloon upward and replace the light from the setting sun, remember not to drop your funnel cake.