The cold temperatures didn’t stop the crowds from forming out at the old golf course on the morning of Saturday 18, 2023. An attendee of that morning’s hot air balloon launch could hear multiple languages spoken by visitors from dozens of different countries and backgrounds - tension was thick in the cold air after the disappointment of the previous morning’s failure to launch due to wind conditions. Balloonmeister Bryan Hill stepped up with mic in hand, citing correspondence with meteorologists, measurements of wind patterns and jet streams, and ultimately explained plenty of information that the balloon pilots logged studiously - but after all that, Hill concluded with the all-important words “alright everyone, enjoy your flights!” Thus the “balloon” half of the Balloons and Tunes festival began in earnest.
From left to right:
Photo by Brooke Knighton
Ty Gant (left) helps hold the balloon open while it fills with hot air. Photo by Brooke Knighton.
Humpty Dumpty is full of air and prepping for liftoff. Photo by Ty Gant.
Spectators stand in awe as the balloons begin to fill with air, preparing for takeoff. Photo by Brooke Knighton.
Photo by Ty Gant
Balloons begin their ascent in front of Kanab’s red rocks. Photo by Jeff Frey.
The festivities on Friday night powered through the cold and the wind, with bands showing up from all over to play for the street fair. According to reports from the county, 46 vendors lined the streets of Kanab, as hundreds of visitors arrived to celebrate and sing along. Saturday saw even more attendance as the balloons successfully launched - 42 balloons flew on Saturday morning, most of which were operating with crews of festival-goers who volunteered on the spot. The morning concluded with a ceremony and barbecue for the sponsors and crews - each balloon has its own traditions upon a safe landing, including traditional toasts, special balloonists’ prayers, storytelling of legendary balloon flights and history of the practice.
Thanks to Saturday’s more forgiving weather, many of the festivities successfully proceeded that night, including the balloon glow and the lantern launch. Seventeen balloons showed up for the glow, warming the cold air and lighting up the night - a night which only got brighter as hundreds of lanterns launched from the streets of Kanab. According to the event organizers with Kane County, they sold over 900 lanterns, whose “funds just go to offset cost - there’s no profit earned for the event, we just hope for local economic impact.” The measure of the event’s success comes from the boon for local businesses and industry, and the good times it brings to the event’s attendees. One such attendee stated, “It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before … it’s pretty much magical!”
The organizers of the event gave special thanks to the hotels that sponsored rooms for the pilots and their crews - Parry Lodge, Aikens Lodge, Canyons Boutique, Best Friends Roadhouse, Zion Stays, Comfort Inn, Sun and Sand and Travelodge - stating, “the event depends a lot on hotels sponsoring rooms. [When] we had to purchase the rooms ourselves … we talk about hosting fewer pilots.” County event organizers also expressed gratitude to Amerigas: “Amerigas is a huge support. They donate all of the pilots’ fuel for launches while they’re here, however many times they fly … they work the whole weekend for those pilots to stay full.”
The Southern Utah News team would also like to thank the county, as well as pilot Rich Lawhorn and his balloon Humpty Dumpty for allowing us to experience the balloon festival firsthand from the air.
Any business or private party wishing to sponsor a balloon for next year can contact the County Department of Tourism for sponsorship details - this year’s sponsorship costs were $1,000 per balloon, and the event organizers offered their sincere gratitude for this year’s sponsors as well.