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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: February 22, 2017

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Third annual Balloons and Tunes weekend rainy but not washed out

Hundreds of lanterns lit up the cloudy skies over Kanab Saturday at Balloons and Tunes. Photo by Jayme Church.

By Mark Havnes

Pilots from around the country hoping to fly their hot air balloons up, up and away last weekend over Kanab were grounded when a lead-gray sky clamped down over the town and rained on their floating parade.

“It’s just too wet and windy to fly,” said Glen See, who traveled from Butte, N.M., to participate in the annual three-day Balloons and Tunes Festival, created to give area businesses an economic boost in the winter when travelers slow to a trickle.

See and his wife travel to about 18 such festivals around the country every year. While disappointed the weather put a lid on his plans to fly above the Vermillion Cliffs, he said it was worth the trip. It gave them a chance to gather with like-minded aficionados of the sport to share stories and enjoy a tailgate breakfast.

“Kanab is a wonderful, friendly place,” he said under a big tent on the golf course Saturday morning where about 200 balloonists and fans gathered before the inevitable decision to cancel the flight portion of the festival. Balloonmeister Brian Hill schooled the non-balloonists in the crowd on weather, wind direction and the rationale behind having to cancel the launch. Safety was the number one reason.

However, the event’s momentum was propelled forward by other activities that included a vendor fair on Main Street, an exhibition of the burners that fill the balloons with hot air, and an event that sprinkled the night sky with the flames of 800 floating lanterns.

Friday and Saturday, the entertainment tent was filled with festival goers watching and voting for the winner of the Battle of the Bands. Twelve bands competed, but Carver Louis and Old Lincoln Highway walked away with the $1500 grand prize. Festive People took second place winning $750 and Naked Waiter collected $500 for third place. Judges were musician Raven Cain from Hurricane, Jensen Buck from Emmett, Idaho, and Brady Franklin from Kanab. 

Lannell Dove, an assistant events and volunteer coordinator for the town, said the idea for a festival was conceived in 2015 to bring balloonists and tourists to the town as a way of generating an economic boost to the winter doldrums.

She said in the past many businesses would close down in the winter due to lack of customers. The festival was intended to break that pattern.

“We wanted to bring some fun to the community and opportunity to businesses,” said Dove. She said she was raised in Kanab and every winter when the tourist season ended, business would close. Many workers had to collect unemployment until visitors showed up again in the spring.

The first year of the festival, 16 balloons showed up with 37 taking part last year and 43 this year. In addition, 50 vendors set up booths selling everything from pillows to barbeque chicken on a stick.

“The vendors were extremely satisfied with their sales,” said Dove. “A couple of the food vendors sold out and made plans to show up for the next event.”

She said all the pilots bring crew and family members with them to the festival filling the hotels and motels. “They buy souvenirs, gas and goodies for three days,” said Dove. “It is a good boost to our economy during the slow shoulder season.”

Dove estimated the festival injected $250,000 into the economy. She praised the volunteers who make the event possible and sponsors who support the effort, donating rooms to pilots, along with meals and even propane to fill the massive balloons with the hot air necessary to lift them off the ground.

The drizzly weather did not stop several balloonists from setting up their baskets and burners on Center Street Saturday night turning the town’s main drag into a geyser basin of roaring flames shooting 10 feet into the air.

Among the balloonists taking part in the event was Sheldon Grauberger, who works for Vegas Balloon Rides. He understood why the flying portion of the event was cancelled. “Damage to the balloon from the rain and the wind was a real concern,” he said.

He explained that the average balloon, also referred to as the envelope, needs 150,000 cubic feet of heated air to fly. “That is equivalent to 150,000 basketballs,” he said.

While the typical basket can hold three passengers and the pilot, Grauberger said he occasionally flies a balloon in Las Vegas filled with 310,000 cubic feet of heated air attached to a basket that can hold 16 passengers.

Grauberger said all the pilots are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and their balloons have to be inspected after 100 hours of flight or every year.

Balloonist Tom Crough, who traveled with his balloon to Kanab from Twin Falls, Idaho, and took part in the street event, also agreed with the decision to cancel the flights. He said rain makes a balloon wet and breeds mold that can damage the nylon material it is made with.

Crough said a balloon could be filled in just 15 minutes. Flying can be controlled to a degree by using wind currents and injecting more heated air into the balloon for more altitude or letting air out to descend.

Some of those most excited by the glow display were youngsters, including five-year-old Kanab resident Easton Heyborne. Crough let Heyborne and other children stand on the rim of his basket and pull the lever that shot a flame into the air. When asked what he thought about the experience, Heybourne said: “It made me hot!”

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