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READINGTON, NJ — At the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America, even the balloons rock!
Each summer the skies over Central New Jersey are filled with the magic of ballooning as gigantic, colorful balloons take flight, with beautiful early morning ascensions as well as spectacular sunset launches.
The 31st annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Association with PNC Bank took off July 26-27-28 from Solberg Airport in Readington, NJ, 30 minutes west of Metuchen. It is the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in the country, featuring more than 100 hot air balloons from around the world, a hugely popular live concert series, and affordable family entertainment.
This year’s Festival has been named one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association’s 3,800 tour and motor coach operators in the U.S. and Canada, the sixth time it has received this honor. Further testament that it’s a must on everyone’s summer calendar: upwards of 165,000 people and media outlets from around the world are expected.
Festival Executive Producer Howard Freeman calls it “Balloons, Tunes and Booms” – mass ascensions of more than 100 balloons, a live concert series featuring Grammy Award winners and the latest teen sensations, and nightly entertainment including a fireworks display. Adding even more pop this year: they’re going to shoot a blonde out of a cannon.
Pilots from 20 states and two countries will take flight twice a day over the scenic Hunterdon County countryside in balloons Dorothy and Toto never imagined.
The new signature balloon from title sponsor QuickChek stores is the Flighthouse, a 115-foot-tall flying lighthouse that pays respects to Restore the Shore efforts as so many of us were affected by Hurricane Sandy last October.
The Festival also pays tribute to the King; Elvis was larger than life and so is this new 105-foot-tall balloon from Brazil, complete with 40-foot-wide sunglasses and a sparkling white sequined jump-suit.
Eight special shaped balloons in all will be taking to the skies including the PNC American Flag balloon, a crowd favorite. Five stories tall, it was created following 9/11 and has flown at the Festival every year since. New this year is an 85-foot-tall Fireman, whose helmet shield pays tribute to those bravest at the World Trade Center.
Other new shapes include Pea-Nut, a 100-foot-tall inverted flying elephant; an Off the Wall Humpty Dumpty; and a new football-shaped balloon from Pepsi. A returning Festival favorite is the Unique Photo SnoBird, a 110-foot-tall tourist penguin.
This “love at first flight” extends to the nearly 1,000 adventurers and romantics who will take a hot air balloon ride at the Festival, with one or two engagements taking place and rides being crossed off many bucket lists ($200 per person mornings, $225 per person evenings).
But this is more than just a lot of hot air; think “state fair” with balloons. The premier family entertainment event in the Northeast offers affordable value with 39 hours of morning-through-night entertainment and attractions.
Concerts include ‘80s super band REO Speedwagon, country superstars Big & Rich, Princeton’s own Blues Traveler, and teen sensations R5 featuring Ross Lynch from the Disney’s Austin & Ally and Teen Beach Movie.
There’s fireworks; the “Greatest Glow on Earth” nighttime balloon glow where balloons are inflated and lit up like giant lanterns; children’s amusement rides; the Hunterdon Healthcare “Running with the Bulloons” 5K Race; and death-defying stunts from female human cannonball Jennifer “The Cannon Lady” Smith, who will be shot out of a 27-foot-long cannon and fly 125 feet through the air three times a day. She’ll also be the starting gun for the 5K!
QuickChek offers both food and comfort on-site with a 2,700 square foot air conditioned store and a huge hospitality tent. There are hundreds of arts, crafters and food vendors, many of whom will be giving out free samples.
The Festival plays a large role in the state and in the community. It has an economic impact of more than $42.7 million on the region (more than 900 people will be employed) and has raised more than $2.1 million for local charities and non-profits over the past 20 years.
It is also a boon for the state’s travel and tourism, recognized by Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno flying out in the first balloon each of the last two years.
“One constant throughout the years is that we offer a great experience and a great value,” said Freeman. “We’re hoping everyone comes out to enjoy the magic of ballooning and the biggest party of the summer.”
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Elvis Presley was bigger than life, so it’s only fitting that a special shaped balloon made in his honor is too.

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