You can’t steer a hot air balloon, and you certainly can’t plan for a storm. As dark clouds and bolts of lightning filled the sky Saturday afternoon over Neahwa Park, the second night of the Susquehanna Balloon Glow Festival almost did not happen.
But by 6 p.m., the rain had been replaced by bursts of fire from propane tanks and colorful nylon balloons, and the park began to fill with people. Food vendors selling Italian ice, French fries and fried dough set up near the City of the Hills stage, where Riverside Theory kicked off a free concert featuring local bands.
The festival is in its sixth year in Oneonta. Mike Ranieri, “Balloon Meister” of the event, said after managing similar balloon festivals in Greene County, he moved back to the area and decided Oneonta would be a nice place to start one.
“I love it,” Ranieri said of his vocation. “You get to travel and meet some really nice people.”
Ten hot air balloon pilots, from New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere, set up around the lawn on Saturday, answering questions and letting children climb into the hanging baskets, called gondolas, that carry riders below the balloons.
The “balloon glow” began around 8 p.m., when four brightly colored balloons were inflated and lit up by flaming jets. Spectators watched as the tethered colorful orbs swayed back and forth, lighting up the darkness. Large colorful puppets were paraded around by volunteers from the Phoenix House, who can be found at many First Night Oneonta events.
Carol Mandigo, co-chairwoman of First Night Oneonta and employee at LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions, was heavily involved in the planning of the two day event. She said Friday night’s activities went well, which included live string-band music, family activities by Body by Stacy, as well as balloon rides and food vendors.