Dansville Festival of Balloons lifts off to successful return

After a year hiatus due to COVID, the 40th annual event returned to strong crowds

Chris Potter
The Dansville Online
A special birthday balloon reads "Happy 40th" as the Dansville Festival of Balloons marked its 40th anniversary over the weekend.

DANSVILLE — The Dansville Festival of Balloons made a triumphant return to the Dansville Municipal Airport over the weekend, with three successful launches and big crowds visiting the village to watch the balloons go up, up and away. 

Hot air balloons were able to lift off into the sky on Friday and Saturday. Poor weather kept the balloons grounded on Sunday and Monday, though a number of baskets were on display and festival guests were able to interact with pilots and crew Sunday evening. 

While the final numbers were not yet in, Festival President Dorothy Hotchkiss said visitor turnout was strong, particularly on Friday and Saturday when the weather cooperated. 

“It was a good, healthy, family atmosphere,” said Hotchkiss. “That was a great way for families to start their school year.” 

The 2021 event marked the 40th anniversary of the Dansville Festival of Balloons, which was originally known as the Greit Balloon Rallye with its origins as an addition to the Jackson Hose Oktoberfest. Since 1997, Dansville’s event has had the distinction of being officially designated as the New York State Festival of Balloons.

A group of festival guests lift into the air for a ride in the sky during the Dansville Festival of Balloons over the weekend.

Last year’s event was blown away by COVID-19, and the pandemic continued to impact the 2021 festival. Hotchkiss said many of the festival’s traditional vendors had gone out of business since the 2019 event, and this year’s balloon count was low due to a variety of factors. Ten normal balloons were on hand, flanked by five special “character” balloons. Most of the pilots come from out of state, with COVID and poor weather on the east coast keeping many home. 

“Our number of hot air balloons was lower than we wanted and we anticipated,” said Hotchkiss. “Some of that was due to last minute cancelations by pilots because those that were down in the New Jersey and Maryland areas were affected by the tropical storm and had to stay home. Another pilot didn’t make it due to COVID.” 

Nevertheless, the show went on. 

“We’re rebuilding. Many of our longtime pilots have retired,” said Hotchkiss. “Between retirement and just poor health, some haven’t been able to participate. We look forward to some new pilots, new blood, new things. We still provided all of the music and entertainment. The food and art and craft vendors were there. We gave visitors the full picture of what we’ve had in the past.

"There were many people there. Friday night was very good. Saturday was higher than average. Sunday was low because of weather. The sun did come out but the wind was too strong and they couldn’t fly.” 

Live music drew steady crowds throughout the weekend, and a recent addition to the festival, the Second Annual Car Show, featured over 70 cars despite rain on Sunday morning. 

A number of balloons were in character over the weekend as the Festival of Balloons returned to Dansville after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19.

Hotchkiss commended a surge in volunteer interest at this year’s event. 

“Overall the entire festival from the gate on in was a good experience,” said Hotchkiss. “One of the positive things is we’ve had so many community volunteers step up and help us this year during setup and cleanup, and also crew for the shaped balloons. That takes a lot of extra people. We were just so thankful we had those extra people step up kind of at the last minute. It made such a big difference in how quickly and easily things came together, and also the support for crewing. Crewing is very important, so the volunteers were very helpful. 

“Those were major positives. That’s encouraging to the committee. We look forward to another year. There’s just so many good things that come out of this community event. It’s a year-long event. January is the only month we don’t meet. It’s worthwhile when you see smiling faces and laughing and families having a good time.” 

A hot air balloon lifts into the sky over Dansville at the 40th annual Festival of Balloons over the weekend.

Hotchkiss said the festival committee is always open to new volunteers. 

“We always invite new committee members. If someone feels like they would like to come and contribute, we would like them to feel free to do so,” said Hotchkiss. “We work together as a committee and make decisions as a committee.

“It’s good to work together and see that positive community support. The committee itself works well together. It’s a good time.”