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Duluth balloon enthusiast bask in Bayfront glow

Asked what makes Duluth a difficult place for balloons, pilot Steve Sinnen simply pointed beyond the Bayfront Festival Park stage. "The lake!" the gregarious 66-year-old Kenny Rogers look-a-like from Shakopee, Minn., said. Then he repeated himsel...

Fire by music
Le Festival des Montgolfières a Duluth (Duluth Hot Air Balloon Festival) kicked off Friday night with balloonists firing their burners in conjunction with a concert performed by the DSSO brass and percussion at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. The festival continues through Sunday. Weather conditions did not allow for the hot-air balloons to be inflated. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Asked what makes Duluth a difficult place for balloons, pilot Steve Sinnen simply pointed beyond the Bayfront Festival Park stage.

"The lake!" the gregarious 66-year-old Kenny Rogers look-a-like from Shakopee, Minn., said.

Then he repeated himself: "The lake! We don't want to go on the lake."

Balloons hadn't been expected to float during Friday's opening of Duluth's first balloon festival. But as it turned out, a light but persistent breeze made it impossible for the balloons even to be inflated.

What "Le Festival des Montgolfieres a Duluth" organizer Ryan Kern had envisioned as balloons glowing in the dark as the brass and percussion sections of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra performed from the stage turned to Plan B: The 11 aeronauts pumped flames through the burners above their baskets in unison at the conclusion of each piece, producing a ring of fire that made the festival grounds brighter than daylight.

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Hundreds of people who arrived at the festival grounds on a pleasant September evening seemed satisfied.

"It's like 'The Wizard of Oz,'" said Marsha Burdick of Maple.

Burdick had just taken pictures of her daughter Bobbie Gross and 8-year-old grandson Braedon Gross posing in Sinnen's Re/Max balloon with his girlfriend, Debbie Snyder. Braedon said he hadn't expected that would be part of his visit to the balloon festival.

"I just thought it was fun," Braedon said.

"It was hot!" his mom added, laughing.

Scenes like that made the first day of the festival a success even without billowing balloons, Kern said. Children and adults were getting to experience what it's like inside the baskets of balloons, gracious pilots were sharing their knowledge, people were enjoying live music -- and it was all free.

But he's hoping for more as the festival continues today and Sunday.

"The big thing for me is to get the balloons inflated," Kern said.

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Festival balloonmeister Ed Chapman said he thinks weather conditions will allow the balloons to be inflated today. In fact, he said he thinks by late this afternoon they may even soar into the Duluth skies -- away from the lake.

Feeling the heat
Braedon Gross, 8, and his mother Bobbie Gross, both of Maple, are illuminated by the glow of a balloon burner at Le Festival des Montgolfières a Duluth (Duluth Hot Air Balloon Festival) Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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