Visions of hot air balloons will be glowing in the eyes of children and adults alike as the Paris Balloon and Music Festival makes a comeback following last year’s cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event, set to take place Sept. 10 and 11, brings hot air balloon pilots to Northeast Texas from as far away as California for a weekend of festivities and wonder as the balloons soar high into the air.
Organizer Lena Spencer said the event will be all the more meaningful this year after the community had to miss out on it in 2020. Spencer, who chairs the Children’s Department, wrangles volunteers, and takes care of publicity, graphic design and creative work to get the word out about the festival, said the decision to cancel last year was a tough one for the board.
“So it was heartbreaking. It was a really hard decision. I know everyone was disappointed,” she said.
There will be live music in addition to the balloons and a unique section of the event, the “Balloon Glow,” where pilots light up their flying crafts and a balloon in a special, secret shape is inflated as a surprise for the children. In 2019, Spencer said the surprise balloon was a crab — and the kids were in awe.
“The kids’ faces were just amazed when they started inflating that balloon,” she said.
Matt McClinton, a pilot at SkyCab Balloon Productions, the company that oversees the festival, said flying in a hot air balloon is like nothing else. He’s been in the flying business since he was 14 years old.
“It’s kind of a romantic notion. Flying, in general, it draws a certain type of person to it,” McClinton said. “But now that I’m doing it for a living, I feel like I catch everybody on their best day.”
McClinton said SkyCab organizes and participates in events across the country, from Maryland to Florida to New Mexico. But he said coming to Paris each year is a treat.
“Specifically with Paris, you get that small town feel. It’s an awesome little community,” McClinton said. “They’ve got really great bands coming in. They do a very good job of making sure people are entertained.”
Along with SkyCab, Spencer said volunteers make the festival possible — and there are unique options for volunteering. Anyone 18 or older can get in on the action by helping to hold the balloons while the pilots inflate them, getting a one-of-a-kind look at how the balloons and pilots work.
“The pilots are so nice. I mean, they’re wonderful,” Spencer said. “They love to tell you all about ballooning and experiences. In being a part of the crew, you just really get an upfront, up-close experience. It’s wonderful.”
There’s an added perk to volunteering, too. Spencer said sometimes the pilots will need extra weight or an extra hand and will ask a volunteer to fly with them.
“Being at the right place at the right time, sometimes that helps,” she said.
Weather permitting, the balloons will fly in the mornings and evenings. Spencer encouraged attendees to bring lawn chairs and picnic set-ups to get comfortable, and so they can enjoy the food vendors and bands that will be there. Information on the festival is available at parisballoonandmusicfestival.com or on their Facebook page.