Your guide to this weekend's hot air balloon festival

Experience in 360 degrees the Freedom Balloon Fest

Experience in a 360 degree video as balloons light up the skies in May 2017 during the Freedom Balloon Fest at Fleming Loop Park in Fuquay-Varina, NC
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Experience in a 360 degree video as balloons light up the skies in May 2017 during the Freedom Balloon Fest at Fleming Loop Park in Fuquay-Varina, NC

In what's become an annual Memorial Day tradition, the fourth Freedom Balloon Fest sees thousands of people come to Fuquay-Varina as hot air balloons ascend in the skies.

The festival features hot air balloon rides, "glows," live music, arts and crafts and more.

"We'll have 32 registered balloons at the festival," said Brian Hoyle, the president of the board of Project Uplift USA, the all-volunteer nonprofit that organizes the event.

All events will be held in Fleming Loop Park. Admission is free, but rides and food have fees.

All balloon events are subject to weather conditions and wind.

For more details, go to freedomballoonfest.com or download the Project Uplift app.

Here are the highlights.

Balloon Festival hours

The festival is open Friday, 2 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; and Monday, 6 a.m. to noon.

The balloons

Pilots have come from all across the country — the farthest traveled this year is from Austin, Hoyle said — to share their love of hot air balloons.

About 6:30 p.m. on Friday, hot air balloons will rise into the sky for the mass ascension, which will be repeated Saturday and Sunday evenings.

A crowd favorite is the hot air balloon glow, Hoyle said. Using the balloon's internal heaters, pilots will illuminate the artwork on the balloon's fabric as sun sets.

The glows will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights about 8:30 p.m.

Tethered hot air balloon flights are available "for those who may not be ready to commit to their full bucket list experience," Hoyle said.

Instead of being 1,000 or 4,000 feet in the air, you can rise 40 to 50 feet in the air in a balloon that is tethered to the ground. Rides are $20, cash only. A portion of proceeds from tethered rides benefit the year round outreach programs of Project Uplift USA.

Traditional rides and prices are coordinated with individual pilots. More information on pilots and different balloons can be found at freedomballoonfest.com.

On Monday at 6:15 a.m. the state championship hot air competition flight will take place. Top-notch pilots have come to win their chance of competing at the national and international level.


The entertainment

Throughout the weekend there will also be musical acts. On Friday at 6 p.m., singer-songwriter Danny Perdieu will take the stage. Then at 7 p.m. Walking April, the Indie synthpop band from Raleigh, will go on.

On Saturday, musical highlights include the rock band the Mirage Band at 3:30, and Johnny Orr at 6 p.m.

Sunday will have more performances, including sets by the School of Rock (Cary) at 3 p.m., and country artist Tim Cifers at 7:15 p.m.

What else is there?

A Merchant, Arts & Crafts Vendor Village, kids zone, a car show and Frisbee-catching dogs. A non-denominational church service is at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Food trucks, including breakfast trucks in the morning.

And the Field of Flags, which honors veterans and service members. The goal is to sell and display 10,000 flags. Flags are $3 each. On Monday, flags will be taken to cemeteries, military monuments and VA nursing facilities. Proceeds go to the AMVETS Service Foundation.


Fleming Loop Road nearest to the entrance of Fleming Loop Park will be closed to thru traffic.

There's no parking at Fleming Loop Park, but there are public and private parking lots not far from the entrance. Public parking is handicapped accessible. Plan to walk, though, as you would at any major concert or sporting event.

Parking information, including prices and addresses, are available on the festival website under the FAQs.

What can you bring, and what should you leave at home?

That walking we mentioned? Wear comfortable shoes. Organizers note the park is 25 acres of open land. Bring sunscreen, hats, folding chairs and picnic blankets. Strollers are allowed.

What's not allowed? Coolers, smoking or vaping on grounds, drones, pets, tents and weapons. No outside alcohol is allowed. Alcohol is allowed in designated areas. Bikes can't be parked on park grounds.

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