QUEENSBURY – Music by John Williams provided the dramatic soundtrack early Sunday morning as hot air balloons of all shapes and colors were launched.
The final launch that closed the 49th annual Adirondacks Hot Air Balloon Festival was dedicated to Joan and Walter Grishkot, two of the co-founders of the popular event, dubbed “Walter and Joan’s Great Ascension.”
“Remember, when the balloons take off, be sure to clap as loud as you can,” said master of ceremonies Chuck Aiken of Big Show Entertainment, who is affectionately known as the voice of the Adirondack Balloon Festival. He not only provided the morning playlist on the loudspeakers, but also excited the early morning crowd.
“Mom brought us here as young kids all the time. I fell in love with balloons and when I had the opportunity to work with them, I jumped on them,” Aiken said.
Especially on a day like Sunday, a break in the weather can delay the launch of the balloons, so Aiken said it was his duty to make sure the mood didn’t stagnate too much despite a potential delay.
There was a tentative forecast of rain threatening the grand final of this year’s launch, and while the morning unfolded with spectacular but fast weather, delayed rain forced organizers to cancel planned closing ceremonies in Crandall Park later Sunday.
ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
Around 7:30 a.m., at least 20 balloons filled the sky, with a backdrop of heavy clouds and a few rays of sunshine breaking through.
As it neared 8 a.m., more balloons seemingly appeared out of nowhere in the sky, one after another.
At the start of the hour, special-shaped balloons such as “Pandy” and “Taz” appeared, fully capturing the attention of the crowd.
Jay Szabo, who works alongside Pandy pilot Keith Sproul, held the crown line, controlling the top of the ball as Sproul inflated it.
“I control the fabric of the balloon until it’s ready to take off,” Szabo said.
Szabo and Sproul are from New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Aiken said many hot air balloon teams come from all over the country.
Sproul’s crew is made up of volunteers who got involved because it’s a passionate hobby, Szabo said.
The Adirondack Balloon Festival is the third largest in the country, according to Aiken.
While this year’s festival was back with vendors for the first time since pre-pandemic 2019, festival attendance was a bit light, Aiken said.
However, Aiken said Saturday night’s moonglow event saw thousands in attendance.
The Glens Falls Open Door Mission has made a return to this year’s vendor list, offering breakfast at 8 a.m.
Jerry Squires, an employee of the Open Door Mission, said their service was able to move outdoors this year, unlike previous years when they were in the airport hangar.
“Having him outside is amazing. This year’s exposure has been huge,” Squires said.
For Squires, the essence of the festival and the mission statement of the Open Door mission are linked and intersect where the community comes together.