ROCKINGHAM — The long-awaited N.C. Festival of Ballooning came to the Richmond County Airport this weekend with thousands attending, including many from out of state.
The weather cooperated most of the weeknd for the Balloon Glow Tour, with the exception of Saturday evening: strong winds kept the balloons from being inflated. However, the sunset provided its own glow.
Tickets for Saturday were honored on Sunday, as well as many tickets from last year, when the event was scheduled to be held at Rockingham Speedway but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hot air balloons that filled the moon-lit sky took many shapes, including cartoon characters Tweety Bird and Sylvester from Looney Toons.
Event Director Richard “Ricky” Garvie has been putting on the Balloon Glow Tour for five years, setting up at around 60 venues per year. Garvie was relieved when the weekend finally came that he could make Richmond county’s event happen.
“There are two things that can make or break an event: the weather and traffic,” Garvie said.
Garvie went on to explain the event was very weather-sensitive and that the wind speeds could be no more than 7 mph. He also mentioned that the company, which sells the event tickets online, has a no-refund policy, but does allow tickets to be used at other events.
This year’s event was supposed to take place the previous weekend, but was postponed because of weather.
“I met Ricky two years ago and have found him to be a man of his word who will go above and beyond,” said Jason Gainey, airport manager and pilot. “He is nothing but honorable. We are looking forward to planning another one for next year around the same time.”
Gainey was instrumental in organizing the event, along with Jimmy Arnold, Caleb Ezzell and Shane Chavis.
Arriving before dark for the Sunday event, one would see a family holding signs up for a marriage proposal. The couple was tethering on one of the balloons at the time and was caught on camera as she was surprised with a Balloon Glow backdrop proposal.
Remax Program Coordinator and pilot Tom Lattin, from Raleigh, had the real estate company’s hot air balloon on display.
Lattin’s boys, Mark and Luke, accompanied him at the event and also have a love for hot air balloons. Lattin mentioned how, on average, one basket in a hot air balloon has around 16,000 horsepower.
“Due to my schedule, I have a waiting list for balloon rides over 23 years,” Lattin said.
Among the many vendors was Bigguns Smoked BBQ, which is owned and operated by Brian and Christine Shenkle from Florida.
Brian Shenkle, who is an Army veteran, left a 29-year career in the medical field three months ago to pursue his love for cooking.
“Bigguns came from a nickname given to me,” Brian Shenkle said.
His wife said they feed all veterans and active military for free.
“This has always been Brian’s dream; he loves to feed people,” Christine Shenkle added.
They travel all over the U..S with several other vendors who were set up at the event; one of whom was Shenkle’s brother Jason, who also had a food truck.
Brothers Jamie and Johnathon Gatewood also had two food trucks set up at the event.
“We all try to travel together, it’s safer that way,” said Jamie Gatewood. “I feel food brings people together.”
Vendor Eddie Butler from Nashville, Tennessee, displayed a tent set up with hot air balloon wind spinners, which he has been doing for five years throughout the Southeast.
Butler was a professional photographer, taking pictures of musicians, for 20 years, having the chance to meet Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown and others.
“I still stay in contact with many of the musicians,” Butler said. “This is a great weekend filler. I’ve done about five shows with Ricky,” said Butler “The next big show will be in Hershey, (Pennsylvania).”
Garvie said the airport was the first choice for the festival.
“I’m so glad it finally worked out,” Garvie said. “Everyone is so friendly; this is such a great community, and we can’t wait to come back. We want to make it bigger and better.”