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Pellissippi balloon festival this weekend

Come to Pellissippi State’s Fourth Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and you’ll find 25 of the fabulous flying machines.

Hot air balloons are the center attraction, and visitors can get up close and personal by boarding a tethered balloon or simply admiring one with both feet planted firmly on the ground.

You’ve heard about the notorious “800-pound gorilla” in the room — the one that dominates because of its great size or power.

Well, the 800-pound gorilla at this year’s festival is actually a dragon.

Oggy the Friendly Dragon is a giant among balloons: he really does weigh 800 pounds, and that’s without the basket, burners, tanks and passengers.

And in fact, his name comes from the legendary lake monster sighted in Lake Okanogan in the interior of British Columbia. Known as “Oggopoggo” in that region of Canada, the mythological monster’s name was already copyrighted, but pilot Ron Martin got permission to use the name “Oggy” for his balloon.

“I’m looking forward to introducing Oggy to Knoxville,” Martin said. Already this year Oggy has flown at balloon rallies in Newfoundland, New York and South Carolina.

Martin, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada, said what he enjoys most about flying the 14-story dragon is “the way children love Oggy and the comments and applause as he takes off into flight.”

The balloons are scheduled to lift off from the campus Saturday morning at 7:30 and again Saturday afternoon at 5:30. Times are approximate, as all launches depend on weather.

Some balloonists will stay on campus Saturday, offering tethered balloon rides from 7:30 to noon and from 4 to 9 p.m. at $10 per person (with 36 inches the minimum height for riding). Again, rides are weather permitting.

Tom Roush, the festival’s flight director, has piloted balloons for many years and flies in rallies and festivals across the country.

“The Pellissippi State campus is a perfect location for an event like this,” he said. “When my fellow balloonists and I realized we could use our hobby to benefit the college, we decided to partner with them to help raise funds for the Pellissippi State Foundation to use for scholarships for deserving students.”

Knoxville-based musicians Scott Miller and the Commonwealth head up a pre-festival celebration with a performance at 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27, in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets, priced separately at $20 each for reserved seats, are available by calling 865-694-6528.

On Friday, the festival really gets underway, running from 4 to 9 p.m. “American Idol” finalist and country music newcomer Carmen Rasmusen takes the stage at 7 p.m., Friday, followed by the spectacular “balloon glow” at 8:15 p.m.

On Saturday, events kick off with a 7:30 a.m. balloon liftoff and tethered balloon rides from 7:30 a.m. to noon. Starting at 11 a.m. and continuing through 9 p.m., festival-goers can take advantage of a ton o’ fun activities and an array of food, original arts and crafts, and music.

The diverse musical lineup Saturday includes Four Leaf Peat (Celtic/Irish) at 3 p.m., followed by the Tennessee Sheiks (acoustic swing) at 4:15 p.m., Christabel and the Jons (jazz/’40s) at 5:30 p.m. and Pine Mountain Railroad (bluegrass) at 6:45 p.m.

Then at 8 p.m., the Warriors of AniKituhwa, a traditional dance group representing the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, will perform, illuminating the campus pond with glowing torches.

Entertainment headquarters for children can be found at the KidZone, where inflatables, kiddie rides, games and hands-on activities await youngsters at a cost of only $5 for a full day.

Festival admission is $10 per vehicle for a weekend pass, which includes parking. Additional donations are appreciated, especially for large-capacity vehicles such as vans or buses.

“We’ve got more crowd-pleasers than ever at this year’s festival,” Pat Myers, director of alumni relations and fund-raising events, said. “We look forward to the community coming out to share in the fun.”

Visitors can purchase limited edition T-shirts and other balloon merchandise.


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