Eyes To The Skies Balloonfest
July 3-6, 1998, Lisle IL
This is the first of two reports in this month’s issue about non-traditional kite events. The Eyes To The Skies fest is a monstrous affair, with attendance topping 250,000. Kites are a booked-in part of the show, partnering 80 hot air balloons, a huge craft fair, midway rides, and national-caliber musical entertainment.
Every year since 1994, Captain Eddie’s Flying Circus has been contracted to provide the kiteshows for this prestigious festival, which is ranked in the Top 100 destinations for the American Tour Bus Operators Association. Since the beginning, they have been ably supported by Chicago Fire, St. Elmo’s Fire Drill, team Pegasus, and other noteworthy kite personalities from the area. With the balloons, fireworks, Jefferson Starship, Louise Mandrell, the Marshall Tucker band, and a great kiteshow, what more could spectators ask for?
Apparently, they want more! The kite show shared the large (20 acre) field during the festival with two different types of entertainment, with two different impacts on the kite shows. Friday and Saturday, we shared the field with the “Chicago Aeromodelers”, the area model airplane club. What a great synergism! The kite performers would finish a show, and immediately following, the model airplane club put on a great aerial display of their expensive toys. Much like a good kite show, they showed different types of aircraft and flying styles, capped by a freestyle aerobatics show by a very accomplished flier, done to the tune “Danger Zone” from the movie “Top Gun”, provided by the kite DJ, Scott Nuss. The aeromodelers eyes were opened….by the last show, the moves were choreographed to the music, like a good kite ballet.
The kiters enjoyed the interaction with the airplane folks. As part of their show, the modelers gave Scott Nuss of Captain Eddie’s a lesson on flying a radio-controlled plane. Scott did the kiters proud, quickly picking up on the technique. Those planes are kind of hard to axel, though, right Scott? Of course, the kiters retaliated, making the leader of the modelers learn to fly a sportkite in front of a large crowd of spectators. He actually did really well!
Earlier, I mentioned that there were two acts that we shared the field with. The second was the “National Lawn Mower Racing Association”….yup, you read that right. We were finally paired with a sport that makes less sense to the average Joe than kiting does! The mower folks stage a series of races for riding lawn mowers, in different classes, from “stock” (yawn) to “Factory Experimental” (mildly amusing). As you may have experienced at your own flying field, kites and lawn mowers do not have an easy co-existence. Besides the noise and stink, we lost some equipment when an out-of-control lawn mower ran over a team kite’s lines, causing it to launch and do a high-speed ground smash. Lines and kite lost this battle. The good news is that the wind was horrid that day, so it was not a huge loss that we could not do the full slate of shows. This sport is funny, in a perverse way, check their website at http://www.letsmow.com. But, they probably think kiters are funny, in a perverse way.
Kiteshows are scheduled for each afternoon of the event, at noon, 2, and 4 p.m., with an optional show in the evening if the wind is too high for the balloons to launch. That situation occured on Saturday night, and we performed a kiteshow before a huge crowd, certainly over 10,000 people surrounding the field. We fielded questions from spectators long into the evening, leading us to believe that this type of event can only be good for the sport.
Every year, local fliers host a party for all the participants. For the first three years, the host was Jerry Elkerton of the Chicago Fire. As most of you know, Jerry left us last year. This made the weekend bittersweet, as Jerry was always the first one at the field, and the last one to leave in the evening, bringing his brand of humor and humanity to the weekend. Bob and Karen Roehl, along with Jerry’s sweetheart Kathy Brinnehl, hosted this year’s party. Featuring lots of toasts to Jerry, it was the “Kite Party of the Year” in my book. Jerry, we miss you, bud.
If your travel plans take you anywhere near the Chicago area next July 4 weekend, contact me for more information about “Eyes To The Skies”. Come and show off for large crowds, eat and drink well, and have a great time!
**Captain Eddie’s Flying Circus wishes to thank the following for their friendship – Bob and Karen Roehl, Eric Wolff, Dan Brinnehl, Kathy Brinnehl, Russ “Haybale” Faulk, Bob and Wilma Neiman, John Cosby, Elaine DeRoover (and kids!), Herb Schultz and anyone we might have forgotten!
Captain Eddie’s members performing at the event were: Vern Balodis, Mike Gillard, Terry Thurston, Ed Hayman, Scott Nuss, and Evan Gillard.