Balloon fest glows with good feelings

Balloons light up during The Villages Balloon Festival on Friday at The Villages Polo Club.

Brianna Chambers, 4, was holding a balloon unicorn, her face painted in the style of a princess from the movie “Frozen.” She headed over with her family to watch as the hot-air balloons inflated and turned The Villages Polo Club aglow. While it was too windy Friday to launch balloons into the sky, The Villages Balloon Festival entertained a crowd before the evening’s highlight with live music, a polo match and the troupe of jugglers, acrobats and balloon-twisters from Cirque Bishop dotting the field. Food vendors offered tacos, barbecue and vegetarian fare, includng Contes Concessions, which features unique dishes like shoestring French fries drizzled with mango habanero sauce.

Musical duo Esh x Schief is there this weekend playing standards like “Wagon Wheel” and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”

In the moments before the big balloons began to inflate, Patty and David Chambers, a Virgnia couple visiting parents in the Village of Ashland, led their three children from The Kids’ Zone toward a prime viewing spot on the field.

Brianna and her two brothers all scored characters crafted from small balloons. Evan, 5, was especially proud of his balloon character Pluto, which he specifically asked for.

“We thought it’d be good for the kids,” Patty said of the event. “It’s been great. Evan has been loving the inflatable slides and Brianna likes the face paint.”

As the towering balloons began to inflate for the glow, Janet Gilman posed for a photo in front of one of them, while Paula Gerletti snapped her photo.

“It’s fun to watch,” Gilman said. “I’ve never seen this before.”

Gerletti, of the Village Palo Alto, knew the festival would be a hit with her guest from Georgia.

Gerletti and Gilman eagerly awaited the evening glow, and when the field lit up, both pulled out their smartphones to take photos.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Gerletti said. “We got a lot of cool pictures.”

Gilman had one word to describe it: “Beautiful.”

Perhaps the most eye-catching of the nearly 10 glowing hot-air balloons was a crustacean, which Carson Ginnane, 6, of Palm Coast, identified immediately.

He said he could tell it was a crab “because of his eyes.”

Carson’s grandparents, Dawn and Chris Ginnane, of the Village of Polo Ridge, brought him and their other grandson, 4-year-old Paxton, to the festival because they knew the kids would have fun.

They came earlier in the day to enjoy the children’s activities and then returned in the evening for the glow.

“I think it’s awesome,” Dawn said. “The glow is phenomenal.”

Around 7:30 p.m., before musicians Rocky and the Rollers started playing, one of the big balloons got off the ground, boding well for a full day of festivities for the remainder of the weekend.

Hot-air balloon flights, tethered rides and balloon glows are the highlight of the festival at The Villages Polo Club. 

Activities run from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 9 p.m. today, with a final mass ascension at 7 a.m. Sunday, which is only open to those with a wristband from the previous day.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for those 11 to 17 years old; children 10 and younger are free. They are no longer available at the box office and can be purchased at the gate of the venue.

Staff Writer Julie Butterfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or julie.butterfield@thevillagesmedia.com.