Launch crew helps make event a success

DANSVILLE — As people from all over the world gather for the biggest festival of the year in a small valley of Livingston County, not many know what goes on behind the curtain.

The New York State Festival of Balloons is by far the biggest festival for Dansville and its surrounding communities. It brings in tourism, business, pilots, and culture. 

The unsung heroes of the festival are the Dansville Balloon Launch Crew. Brenda Robinson has been the fearless leader since 2004. She has seen a lot of the passion that goes on that field for the last 15 years. She has spoken to the pilots from all over the country and knows them all very well. The crew that has been under her watch over the last decade has become a family, and this year she added a few more.

Many community members were concerned with the famous Dansville Balloon Glow not being at Brae Burn this year, but it all went smoothly at the Dansville Airport on Friday night. There were about 13 balloons that stayed on the field to do the time-honored tradition. Among them were the much-anticipated Pig and shining in his debut was Billy the Kid.

Robinson said she had a lot more control of the crowd by having the glow at the airport this year.

“I love having the glow here this year. I can control the crowds more here. In the past you had kids running all around the field. It is a lot safer having it at the airport,” she said. “I have five new crew members this year. I want to give a shout out to Gina Rockcastle, who has always been here for me since 2006. She had to be in the hospital this time, so I want her to know that Brenda and the crew miss her. We want her to get better soon.”

Robinson said the Dansville Central students helped with setting up the field. The Livingston County Sheriff Department has been very helpful in mowing the grass and getting the electronics set up.

“I think it will be the new norm to have the balloon glow at the airport on Friday nights, and I really love that,” she said. “We have the crowd come and help the pilots with their crew, and they get their money back. They need to sign a waiver to be on the field and to help with the crew. For our balloon launch crew, you need to be 18 or older to help. That is what our insurance will cover. For the pilots it is different.”

Randi Bates, Balloon Launch Crew member, said this is her second time doing it. She worked with Robinson, and that is how she found out about it.

“I always loved hot air balloons ever since I was a little girl. I remember one landed in my neighbor’s lawn, and the pilot let me go on a tethered ride when I was little. That is the only time I have been in a balloon. I am excited to do the glow this year, since I always missed it when they had it on Thursday nights. My favorite thing about being on the crew is getting close to the balloons on the field, and I get to watch them go up,” she said.

Pamela Gleason, Balloon Launch Crew member, is new this year and found out from Bates.

“My friend Randi got me interested in being part of the crew. I am amazed being this close to the balloons. This is not only my first time on crew, but my first year coming to the festival. I love it so much I want to come back next year. I am moving back to Florida, but I told them I will come back for this. My favorite balloon is the Peg Leg Pete,” she said.

Karen DeCaro, Balloon Launch Crew member, said she had always been the person watching behind the fence, and for the first time she is on crew.

“This is awesome to be this close to the balloons. The pilots are all so friendly and knowledgeable. They all have such a unique way of life. Peg Leg Pete is so magnificent and is my favorite balloon. Brenda recruited me at the nursing home when I was having dinner there with my mom. I decided I wanted to help. It is perfect night for the glow,” she said. “I have never been in a balloon but being on this field surrounded by all of them is amazing on its own. I am moving next year, so I am so happy I had the chance to do this.”

The NYS Festival of Balloons goes all weekend until Monday’s morning launch at 6 a.m.

For more photos, visit https://www.eveningtribune.com/photogallery/NE/20190830/NEWS/830009998/PH/1