Large crowds gathered at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore over Labor Day weekend to enjoy the 8th Annual Monroe Life Balloon Festival to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Monroe County.
Clear, sunny skies allowed spectators to observe and participate in captive hot air balloon rides, shows, food, games, bouncy houses, and shopping with vendors selling their wares. The museum welcomed many visitors throughout the two-day event.
“We were thrilled to bring a fall family favorite back to East Tennessee,” said Lisa Bingham, publisher of Monroe Life Magazine and owner of The Bingham Group, the company responsible for founding the event. . “We had 10 of the most talented balloon pilots in the country to entertain the community.”
In addition to the colorful balloons decorating the sky, five members of The Moonshine Fliers, a group of approximately 25 powered paragliders from the Knoxville area, came out to contribute to the festival and entertain the crowd.
Jean Bilheux, Cody Bock, Ben Garab, Tom Miller and Bill Gardner flew in formation around the balloons, accentuating their colorful presence.
“We had planned to meet on a field a few kilometers from the event and fly,” said Bilheux, a veteran paraglider. “Just before taking off, I texted the event organizer to let her know we were on our way. We took off and started training over the lake. The view was amazing. As soon as we were clear of the trees we could see the balloons and all the boats on the lake with a good view.
Bilheux said seeing the festival from the air and the mountains on the horizon was an impressive sight.
“We flew over the event. We loved seeing the balloons go up and down and the crowd enjoying all the rides,” he continued. “The last flight was amazing as we could see all the balloon lighting. We landed 20 minutes after sunset with big smiles on our faces.
Members of the Frederick, Franklin, Edwards and Kirkland families were looking forward to their second hot air balloon festival at the Vonore site. The group had traveled from as far away as Knoxville and Maryville to enjoy the festivities and watch the children perform ballets on the festival stage.
A family member and ballet teacher, Cassie Kirkland, was there with six of her students.
“I’ve set up a dance studio nearby in Madisonville, and six of my students perform ballet on stage at 5 p.m.,” Kirkland explained.
Live entertainment was presented throughout the event by local and national artists.
Bingham said she was inspired to create the balloon festival several years ago to benefit the Boys and Girls Club as a way to give back to the community that has blessed her life.
“The Lord has given me three beautiful (adopted) daughters and I give thanks to him for all he has done for me,” she said.
Bingham said the club provides the volunteers for the event. In 2019, enough money was raised to buy a bus.
“The previous one had broken down and the kids couldn’t go anywhere,” she noted.
While full totals aren’t final for the 2021 festival, Bingham said they estimate the Boys and Girls Club will receive approximately $50,000.