Saratoga County

6th annual Saratoga Balloon and BBQ Festival offers more than hot air

Soaring spirits, satisfying the soul - and palate
The Saratoga Balloon and BBQ Festival takes flight this weekend at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.
The Saratoga Balloon and BBQ Festival takes flight this weekend at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.

There will be balloons in the air and barbecue on the ground at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds this weekend. 

The Saratoga Balloon and BBQ festival, organized by Tim Cianciola of Craftproducers in Vermont, has grown the last few years in size and offerings. 

“We added a barbecue component last year,” Cianciola said. 

Since the hot air balloon rides are weather dependent, adding the sweet and sometimes spicy summer food gives people more to enjoy, no matter the weather.

Several thousand people come out to the festival each year, and last year, the festival also became the location for a Harper’s Bazaar fashion editorial shoot. Featuring flowing sundresses and belted looks in bright hues, the photo spread had model Mayowa Nicholas exploring the inside of a balloon and posing with several floating in the air behind her. The magazine feature was shot by photographer Alexi Lubomirski and printed in the November 2018 edition. 

“They did the whole thing in one day,” Cianciola said.

Though there’s no fashion shoot planned for this year’s festival, there’s still plenty of other enticing attractions. Thirty balloons will be heading to the festival, ranging from the classically shaped hot air balloons to the eccentric special characters. “Humpty,” who takes after the nursery rhyme in his bright bow tie and checkered waistcoat, and “Snowbird,” a penguin decked out in typical tourist gear; sunglasses, camera and Hawaiian shirt are the main special characters this time around.

On Friday evening, the fairgrounds will be lit up for the annual Balloon Glow. Approximately 15 of the festival’s balloons will be tethered and lit from within, as the burners are ignited. 

“It’s magic, just pure magic,” Cianciola said. 

Also starting Friday evening — weather permitting — people can get a bird’s eye view of Saratoga county, taking a hot air balloon ride in one of the classically-shaped balloons or one of the special characters. Attendees can also stay closer to the fairgrounds and take a tethered balloon ride about 50 feet off the ground.  The rides are offered at sunrise and sunset because it makes for optimal conditions; it’s less likely to be windy and there’s a lesser chance of thermal activity. 

Enlisting several national barbecue vendors, including Dre’s Place, Uncle Rick’s Briskets, Smoke Shack BBQ and the Corner Grill, the festival will have plenty of food to go around while the hot air balloons are grounded. New Belgian beers are on tap, from Fat Tire and Voodoo Ranger, among others. 

Besides the balloons and BBQ, the festival offers up an expanded live music lineup. From the funk/rock band Oobleck to the jukebox throwbacks with The Oldies Show, there’s plenty to hear. 

There’s now more for youngsters to do as well. 

“We’ve expanded the Kids Zone,” Cianciola said. 

Kids can walk inside an inflated balloon, get their faces painted or take a ride on a replica of an American 4-4-0 replica train. If another form of transportation is their style, they can take a pony ride.

Sean “The Prankster” Magician will be performing free shows and Crazy Christine Balloons will be creating animals, hats, and sculptures out of balloons throughout the festival. 

Festival-goers can also head to the marketplace, which has expanded into another building this year and includes a range of local and not so local artisans and businesses, from Florian Jewelry to Garrison Creative Glassworks to Hand Forged Damascus Knives. 

Saratoga Balloon and BBQ Festival 

WHERE: Saratoga County Fairgrounds, 162 Prospect St., Ballston Spa
WHEN: Friday-Sunday
TICKETS: Day passes $5 for ages 3-15, $12 for adults. Weekend Passes $7 for ages 3-15 and $15 for adults. Children 2 and under are free. 

Categories: Life and Arts

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