The 30th Annual Quick Chek New Jersey Festival Ballooning took place at the Solberg Airport in Readington, New Jersey situated on 725 wide open acres in Readington Township, NJ. The event was held on July 27th through the 29th and was a huge success, not only for the estimated 165,000 attendees but for the charities the festival supports each year.
Although we weren’t going to attend their 3rd Annual Trinitas Regional Medical Center “Running with the Balloons“ 5K race, my wife Gladys and our little Georgie a Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix did attend all the other activities and festivities at the event.
Sponsored by Quick Check and PNC Bank this event has been touted as the largest event of its kind in New Jersey and has even made the list of the “Top 100 Events In North America” and the Number One Thing To Do In New Jersey By New Jersey Monthly Magazine.
Although I have lived in New Jersey for over 30 years and usually cover events in New York for IPA and IMPress magazine, my wife and I decided to attend the festival this year. Frankly, I never realized what a huge event this was nor did I realize that I would have the time of my life going to the festival.
The media information stated that we could go to a special press preview that was actually opened to camera clubs and the media to get some images of the balloons that would be participating in the festival. It meant I would have to get up at 5:00 AM, drive to the Solberg Airport and get ready to start shooting my photos and videos for the 6:30 AM “Inflation” and “Ascension” of a select group of the balloons.
[box_light]Hot Air Balloons[/box_light]
I have never covered a Hot Air Balloon show and was looking forward to it. After reading IPA and IMPress Magazines, Dominique Schreckling’s article on the 34th Annual Balloon Festival in Château-d’Oex, a beautiful Swiss Alpine Valley, near Lake Geneva, I understood this was one event I simply had to attend.
Knowing I would have tons of photo ops, I decided to put my Tamron AF18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD AF Lens, All-In-One Zoom to the test. I would use this lens only for the event. Nice to only have to carry my Nikon D7000, the one lens, a Manfrotto LED light for some of my video work and a RODE Videomic Pro. Of course I packed my Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod as well.
On arrival at Solberg Airport which is a small regional airport in Readington, New Jersey, we began to trek over the the balloon area. Just walking through the huge field and seeing an assortment of traditional and special shaped balloons got us excited. They seemed much larger then I had imagined and were so beautiful. The balloons came from around the world and I knew that this was going to be a great week-end. The preview enabled us to get a feel for the event, learn how to shoot the balloons properly and give us an education on how they actually get blown up and into the air.
I never realized that they have to use huge, gas operated fans to inflate the balloons. Nor did I realize that the balloons are opened at their tops and have a cover that covers the opening. When the balloons have to descend the pilot can release some of the hot air by opening the top cover from the air. The hot flames you see in my photos and video heat the trapped air and as we all know from high school science, hot air is lighter then cool air and the balloons will of course ascend when that air is heated.
I suppose being a technical guy (I did go to Brooklyn Technical High School, in New York) I was intrigued by the science as I watched the balloons prepare for their first flight that morning. The America One, also known as, the U.S. Flag Balloon piloted by Barry DiLibero. He told us that this balloon was built soon after 9/11 and was 53′ tall, 78′ wide and 29′ front to back. It weighs 530 pounds, so inflating this monster of a balloon is no easy task and takes a team to get it in the air.
The balloons follow the air flow, the pilots have very little control over where the balloons actually take them once they are airborne. They are in constant communication with their ground team who will follow the balloons to their final destination. On landing they deflate the balloons and pack them up for transport back to the festival grounds. The balloon rides can take 20-40 minutes and guests are invited to join the pilot for the flights. At a cost of $200 during the day and $225 in the evening flights, one can fly with the hundreds of balloons that took the air each day of the event.
Unfortunately Saturday’s evening flights were cancelled due to weather conditions, but Sunday turned out to be another grand day and over 200 passengers boarded the balloons for the evening flights. Some of the smaller balloons were able to take 2-3 passengers with the pilot, while some of the larger balloons were able to take as many as 8 passengers. Did you ever see a T-Rex fly? Well we did at the festival, watch our video and you will see all the balloons. Over 100 balloons in the sky from Darth Vader to Nelly B the elephant and so many others that were truly breathtaking to watch in the skies as the sun set.
[box_light]Entertainment For The Entire Family[/box_light]
Although this event is all about ballooning, it has become so much more. Each day was filled with family entertainment.
Their were concerts, either on the main stage or smaller performances in smaller stages and outdoor theaters scattered around the grounds. We saw a Magic Show, a “Sway Pole” show, on Sunday we attended an incredible concert with Bret Michaels performing some of his best “Poison” hits and even a fireworks display on Friday night. So much do do for the entire family.
There were rides for the family, lots of things to do for the children including Slim Harrison and his Sunnyland Band. Slim invites all the children in the audience to play along with him and provides them with spoons, jugs, washboards and other household items to become part of his band. Of course the kids had a great time as the beat the juggs, scratched on the washboards in in general made a racket as Slim sang his favorite kid songs. It was a grand time seeing all the children having so much fun and watching the smiling faces of their parents.
Let me not forget to mention the Red Bull Air Force Wingsuit Demonstration. They demonstrated their skills twice each day and I set up in what I thought was a great spot to get my photos. I never realized that I was in the direct path for their landing. Watch the video and see one of the team members coming straight at me from the air. Close call, but it was so well worth it.
[box_light]Food, Hospitality and FREE Stuff[/box_light]
The event attracted a large list of sponsoring companies. Starting at Title Sponsors, down to Marquee Sponsors, there were lots. Each one had a tent, booth or display at the event and many were offering a taste or sample of their products.
Quick Chek had a hospitality tent and provided music and activities each day. A great place to relax, sit down and rest while munching on some of the incredible food offered by the many food vendors at the show. Quick Chek even set up their own super store on site. I was amazed at this facility. It was a huge tent, you enter through a pair of doors and the air conditioning cools you off from the blistering heat outside.
There are stainless steel counters, computer touch screen ordering devises so you can order your own subs. Best part of their festival store is that you pay the same prices you would pay at a Quick Chek store. Now at a festival when a sausage sandwich costs $8 and a hot dog sells for $4, it is nice for a family to be able to afford feeding their family wholesome food at Quick Chek, we even stopped in to cool off and share a sub sandwich.
Now if you are really on a budget, all you have to do is pack a few sandwiches or snacks and walk around the exhibitors section of the festival. There were so many companies offering attendees everything from free containers of Stonyfield Farms Yogurt to every type of soft drink including Coke, Pepsi, Monster Energy, Snapple, Vita CoCo and others. But that wasn’t all, Wise was handing out bags of three types of chips and you could take as many as you wanted. TastyKake, Turkey Hill, Heinz, Slim Jim, Welch’s Fruit Snacks were equally generous.
If you wanted to take a chance on winning a prize, there were many opportunities. Some of the corporate exhibitors or sponsors had game wheels to spin and no matter what you landed on, you won a prize. We stopped by some and at the New Jersey Lottery booth we snagged a great embroidered baseball cap an ID neck strap and a key chain. Others gave us candy, gum and at Johnson & Johnson, we picked up goody bags filled with samples of their popular products like a full box of children’s band-aids, Pepcid and other items for the medicine chest in our home.
[box_light]Watch Our Video Now[/box_light]
The economy is tough, people are out of work, we worry every day what will become of us or our country. There aren’t many ways for us to simply relax, get away from our worries and enjoy some shear fun and excitement and do it at an affordable cost. Well, no need to board a plane and travel to Disneyland with the family, you can get into your car and head for the Balloon Festival and leave all your worries at home.
No reason to fight the heavy traffic to the Jersey Shore in the summer and then look for parking either. At a cost of only $17-$30 for the day per person, this festival is a bargain. Ordering your tickets early means you can save $13 on the$30 full ticket price and I believe discount tickets were available through PNC Banks and Quick Chek, so be sure to check next year.
Now remember, your $17 advance purchase ticket also included the concerts and all the events at the festival. You do not have to pay for anything else, except the rides, some of the food and souvenirs. Getting there was easy, highway most of the way and we hit no traffic at any of the three times we went. The roads were clear and there were no tie-ups as we got closer to the festival. Plenty of parking too, these guys really knew what they were doing, lots of security, plenty of friendly staff to help you and people walking around happy and with smiles on their faces. What a glorious event.
The proceeds of the tickets are for the benefit of the Children’s Miracle Network and the event has raised millions of dollars for charities over the years. So mark it on your calendar now for next years event. Visit their site to see photos, balloon information and lots more and by all means watch our video. We hope it will convey the excitement we and others felt attending this years event.
I want to personally thank the staff at the festival who gave us the access we needed to write this article and take our photos and videos. Special thanks to Russ Mensch in Public Relations who handles the media and Larry Konash their Balloonmeister who appears in our video. Thanks to all the others we interviewed on camera for the production of our video too. We are looking forward to next year, but next time, we intend on taking a balloon ride ourselves. Hope to see you all there…