The Ashland Balloonfest takes place in Freer Field where there are food and merchant vendors, children’s activities, live music and a large amount of hot air balloons that come together for take off a a great balloon glow.
2023 DATE: June 22-24, 2023
Location: Freer Field, 1264 Center Street, Ashland
This post documents my experience on July 2, 2010.
Many years ago, I went to York, PA to visit my college friend Cliff. Cliff has always loved hot air balloons and, at the time of my visit, he was working toward getting his license. This meant accumulating hours, which he hoped to do even over the weekend I was there. After various phone calls to check the weather, he set up a time with his teacher and chaser crew and we headed off to meet them in some field.
I had assumed that I would accompany him and his teacher on this flight. But, as we drove towards the destination, he asked me to let the chaser crew know about his vehicle’s tricky door.
“But I’m going up with you, aren’t I?” I asked.
He scoffed. “You can’t go up. I’m still in training.”
My heart dropped as I felt my feelings of excitement transform into disappointment briefly before blossoming into anger.
My lips moved slowly and meticulously. “I…hope…it…rains.”
I didn’t even inhale before a few raindrops struck the windshield.
“Kris?” Cliff nervously uttered.
Fortunately for him, my anger subsided when he offered to buy me dinner and he got to go up in the air without me.
Time passed and I still haven’t been in a hot air balloon, making the Ashland Balloonfest something rather appealing. It also didn’t hurt that Ashland was only an hour drive away.
The main difference between the Ashland Balloonfest and most other festivals is that this was an activity-driven festival, meaning I had to be there at certain times for certain events. There was a balloon liftoff scheduled for 6, tethered balloon rides from 6:30-8:30, and then a balloon glow at 9:30.
It would be the longest amount of time I would spend at a festival, so I prayed that there would be something to entertain me.
When I got there at 5:45, I became hopeful by the number of cars.
I made my way inside…
…through the gate…
…and onto Freer Field.
The festival consisted of a large field where people set up chairs and blankets to watch the show….
…which took place on a smaller closed-off field…
…where balloon crews were set up and waiting.
On each side of Freer Field was a line of food vendors…
…with your basic festival fare.
And there were also games for the kids…
…with prizes as well as purchasable souvenirs…
…and even free souvenirs…
…plus an inflatable…
…a music stage…
Actually, there was more than just this small tent of Alpacas and Alpaca products. In a neighboring tent, they had….
…a calf and kangaroos…
…and a baby camel.
As cute as they were – and a great time waster between events – I tried not to pet any of them.
Thank goodness, since I had to use my hands to eat this finger-licking gyro..
Unfortunately, I saw just about everything there was to see AND ate dinner before the balloon liftoff even started. They were supposed to take off at 6, but they didn’t actually start until 6:45 or so. I even think there was someone on the loudspeaker explaining this delay, but I couldn’t understand him.
Still, once the event did start, I thought it was beautiful as the colors expanded…
…and each balloon took off one…
…until each of them took to the sky…
…they let the wind take them…
…away from us as they flew over Ashland…
…meaning more time with overfed animals until the next event.
I walked around and around, wasting time and contemplating a funnel cake until I noticed two new balloons in the distance – Celebration and Great Adventures. They were set up in a smaller closed-off field behind a rows of vendors.
I approached the field with many others and we watched them prepare themselves for the tethered rides. It took some time….
…but they were eventually ready.
I noticed a man wave someone over. At that moment, I realized there was a line….
…and it was huge, coming out that closed-off field with the tethered balloons and twisting into the Freer Field.
Was I to walk around aimlessly for another hour and a half, perhaps befriending the Alpacas, or should I just waste time in line for the chance to go up in a balloon?.
I thought back to Cliff and that cloudy day in Pennsylvania. If I was powerful enough to conjure raindrops, perhaps I had enough magic in me to get a tethered ride during the balloon glow.
Could I be that lucky?
I decided to try and see, so I got in line. Within a few minutes, I began talking with a guy in front of me who had visited the same area of Italy where I once lived. Later, I talked with two sisters behind me who were from my hometown. What could have been a painful wait with caged exotic animals turned into a pleasant conversation with some nice people.
After an hour, we got closer…
…but with plenty of people still ahead.
We came around the bend and saw the balloons before us. We noticed those ahead of us filling out waivers for the ride..
Things looked hopeful and we filled our waivers out too.
The sky darkened, but I still wasn’t worried. The liftoff started 45 minutes late and the tethered rides began over an hour late. I was convinced that the same would happen with the glow….
…but then I saw it in the distance!
Glow had begun.
It was almost my turn at this point and the glow event was simply presenting each balloon one by one. I had plenty of time..
The possibility of being in that balloon at the moment of glow’s climax was in reach. My power was growing. My wish would come true.
My group headed to the second waiting area and I took pictures in the distance as we waited.
Here’s one of the better ones.
I even managed a video.
But my video was cut short when they told me it was ready. I stopped the video and went with my group under the rope…
…only to be told that the balloon ran out of fuel.
We were redirected to the second balloon, but my hopes were starting to deflate. The balloon change put us behind two other groups and the glow was now in full force. I thought about asking for my money back so I could leave the area and get a better view of the glow.
But I didn’t. I stood there and listened to the volunteer explain the rules of the tethered ride, only for her to tell me afterward that the second balloon had just run out of fuel as well.
As I came to the conclusion that those Pennsylvanian raindrops were nothing more than a well-timed coincidence, all the balloons went dark. People started walking to their cars and there was a strange silence in the air. Not only did the tethered balloons run out of full. The festival did as well.
It was over.
I walked back to my car in the darkness as lines of cars silently rolled their way out. Before getting in the driver’s seat, I emptied my pockets and placed the contents on the passenger seat. Among the items sat the free photo from the Ashland Grace Brethren Church. With me standing there in that hot air balloon basket, at least I made it one step closer to going up in one…