With gas prices skyrocketing, inflation at its highest level in 40 years, and everything from steak to socks becoming unaffordable, we all wish our financial troubles could just fly away.
At the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning, North America’s largest summer balloon and music festival returning to Solberg Airport in Readington for the 39e from July 29 to 31, it will almost look like they can.
The festival, known for its twice-daily 100-balloon ascents, is a summer attraction whose cost has not increased. General admission tickets are still $12 to $15 per child and $32 to $40 per adult, just like last year.
“We’re very aware of the current economic situation and wanted to keep prices the same so families could afford to have a great day out with the kids,” said Howard Freeman, the festival’s executive producer.
Due to fuel prices, airline woes and predictions that New Jerseyans will take more day trips this summerFreeman anticipates at least the normal turnout this year, which is between 150,000 and 175,000 throughout the weekend.
“More people understand that it’s summer for vacations,” Freeman said. “We are right in the middle of everything and with petrol prices many people prefer to drive an hour to a family festival where the average stay is seven and a half hours. It’s probably not the year to go to Williamsburg or Myrtle Beach.
With former headliners including the Beach Boys and Third Eye Blind, as well as newcomers Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato, the concert lawn seats, which are included with every ticket, have long attracted those considering spend a few hours in Readington on the last weekend of July — no matter their age or favorite musical genre, thanks to the festival’s three stages. Reserved seating for all concerts requires additional purchase.
Laurie Berkner, a popular children’s musical artist, will headline the main stage at 1:30 p.m. Friday, followed by Collective Soul that evening at 8 p.m. Todd Rundgren, musical artist and producer known for hits like “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw The Light,” will headline Saturday at 8 p.m. Kansas will then wrap up the weekend’s headlines at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
However, this year the Cash Pop Summer Stage, an addition from the New Jersey Lottery which became the festival’s new main sponsor last year, will also be getting a revamp. While last year the stage welcomed emerging local artists, this year eight tribute bands will perform. These include Minikiss, a tribute band of little people that was featured at the Super Bowl, as well as bands paying tribute to the Spice Girls, Meatloaf, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bruce Springsteen and more.
The tunes wouldn’t be the same without the backdrop of 100 balloons hitting the sky. As always, the climbs, depending on the weather, are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, and at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
New special-shaped balloons include Billy The Kid, a flying saucer, a “Dazmanian” devil, an alien rocket and a tiger. The signature balloon remains the 135-foot-tall New Jersey Lottery Yellow Sunny Days Solar Balloon, while visitors can also expect to see favorites such as the 110-foot-tall Unique Photo Panda, the 80-foot-tall Pepsi football and a pink Unicorn.
Those who want to get up close and personal with hot air balloons can do so by booking a hot air balloon ride, which costs between $250 and $315. Advance reservations are recommended as they often sell out. Or, tethered balloon rides, where a balloon is tethered to the ground and rise 75 to 100 feet, are also available for $20.
Visitors who prefer to see balloons from afar will also find other festival attractions including a fireworks display, a hot air balloon night glow, kiddie rides, a 5k race, and a human cannonball.
But some of those highlights are also getting an overhaul. This year, human cannonball David “The Bullet” Smith, Jr., who is the “starting gun” for the 5K race, will attempt to set a world record by being the first human cannonball to make a scratch ticket in the air. Anything he wins will be shared with a member of the public.
Smith’s ticket will be a Ballooning Bucks scratch off ticket, which is on sale for $2 at the festival’s Lottery Land. Winnings can be up to $10,000. At Lottery Land, an entertainment component of the festival for 18+ that was added last year, other lottery-themed features will also be in play.
These include the Quick Draw Lounge, a modern two-level lounge for Lottery VIP Club members and guests featuring Quick Draw and Cash Pop games; the Cash Pop summer scene; and the giant Beanbag Bucks cornhole game where participants have the chance to win scratch prizes as well as a cornhole set. Plus, those who have already purchased winning Big $pin scratch tickets will spin the Big $pin prize wheel here and are guaranteed to win $50,000 to $300,000.
However, according to Freeman, everyone feels a winner when the balloons fly, regardless of the political and economic turmoil we all face at home.
“It’s all bad news right now, whether it’s Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a school shooting or a controversial Supreme Court ruling. It’s time to have some fun after the past two years,” Freeman said. “On every climb, I look at the line of flight and see adults and children of all ages smiling. Forget your worries, leave them behind, watch the colors of the sky and get away for a day.
Go: July 29-31 at Solberg Airport at 39 Thor-Solberg Rd, Whitehouse Station section of Readington; tickets range from $12 to $15 for children and $32 to $40 for adults; ballonfestival.com.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member of the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, having become a blogger-turned-journalist after founding her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her food, drink and fun stories, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: JIntersimone@Gannett.com Where @JIntersimone.