PLAINVILLE - Norton Park was packed Friday as crowds gathered to see the annual spectacle of hot air balloons rising up before their very eyes.
The Balloon Festival, perhaps Plainville’s most popular community festival, drew more than 120 vendors, multiple groups of balloonists and numerous families dotting the field with lawn chairs. Visitors snacked on festival food, sipped on lemonade and listened to live music as the awaited the balloon glow and fireworks show during the festival’s opening day.
Brenda Myska, who attended the event with her husband, daughters and a friend of one of her daughters, said she has been coming a long time.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of the summer,” she said.
Donna Solis, who lives in Bristol but grew up in Plainville, said she has been coming to the Plainville Balloon Festival since it started 34 years ago.
“It’s like a home coming for me,” she said. “I get to see all the people that I grew up with.”
Leslie Stansfield said that the festival is “very relaxing.” She said that she loves the craft show and purchased a lot of baby books for her grandson.
“This is my third year here,” she said. “The moment I saw a balloon go up I fell in love with it. I had never seen anything like it before.”
Paula and Glenn Sabine, from Northford, were newcomers to the festival. They found out about it on Facebook and came with their son and daughter.
“We walked through the craft show and ate a lot of the nuts and candy treats,” said Paula Sabine. “We’ve never seen a hot air balloon before.”
Walter Sisco, from Southington, has been coming to the festival for 15 years.
“My wife loves the craft show and I love the music and sometimes the food,” he said. “The fireworks tops it all off.”
Sisco came to the festival with his son, his grandson and his wife.
Balloonist John Bond and his family from South Windsor have been coming to the festival for six years and Bond had been a balloonist for 30 years. They participated in the balloon glow in addition to flying their balloon around festival grounds.
“We like to give people the opportunity to fly who were not expecting it,” said Bond. “My children usually invite their friends. It’s a real family hobby for us.”
Bond said that his balloon is 77,000 cubic feet, a mid-sized hot-air balloon. It can usually carry three people depending on conditions.
“In a congested area we stay at around 1,000 to 1,500 square feet,” said Bond. “But these hot air balloons can fly at about 10,000 square feet without the support of additional oxygen. It’s a cheap way to fly and it’s so calming. I love sharing it with others and it is challenging because you never know how weather can change.”
Bond said that he enjoys when people come running over to see the balloon when it lands. He said that in the past he has then tethered the balloon and taken some people up for a bit. He said that they told him that it made their day.
Another balloonist, Bob Sommer, said that he had the “oldest flying experimental balloon in the world”, built in 1975. He has been a balloonist for 44 years and brought three hot air balloons with him to the festival. Two of the three balloons were 77,000 cubic feet and the other was 88,000 cubic feet.
“One of the smaller ones is home built,” he said. “I call it Simba and we flew it in Zimbabwe.”
Sommer said that a lot of his co-workers from ABB came to the festival with him.
The craft show featured vendors items ranging from beef jerky to quilts to candles to psychic readings. There were also booths for local businesses, organizations like the Rotary Club and the local political parties.
Town Council Chair Kathy Pugliese was at the Republican Town Committee booth, where visitors had an opportunity to meet their local legislators and candidates.
“I’m thrilled to hear that it is bigger than it has ever been this year,” said Pugliese. “The Plainville Fire Company does a great job.”
Plainville Fire Chief Kevin Toner said he that he didn’t think that the festival could be any better this year.
“This whole weekend is supposed to be beautiful,” he said. “Let’s hope everyone has a nice, safe event and everyone has a good time.”
The balloon fest will continue today and Sunday. The following is the schedule:
. 5:30 a.m. – Food booth opens
. 6 a.m. – Balloon Launch (Parking allowed at Norton Park until 8 a.m.)
. 8:30 a.m. – Busses begin running from parking lots.
. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – Outdoor arts and crafts show
. 11 a.m. to noon – Show along with a Meet and Greet with characters Elsa, Anna, Ariel, Belle and Batman
. Noon to 5 p.m. – Antique Car Show
. Noon to 9 p.m. – Musical entertainment on stage
. 6 p.m. – Balloon launch, buses run until park is cleared.
. 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. – Food booth open
. 6 a.m. – Balloon launch (Parking allowed at park, no buses run on Sunday morning)
. 9 a.m. – Balloon Festival Closes