Balloons and beer bring crowds to Bayfront Festival Park

Hot air balloons haven’t ascended out of Duluth since 1903. Even with great attempts to have the ancient aircrafts take flight last weekend, the Great Lake winds managed to keep the colorful balloons tethered to the ground.

Regardless of the flightless attractions, Le Festival des Montgolfieres had the city crawling with tourists and locals alike Sept. 20 through the 22 for a one-of-a-kind event both balloon enthusiasts and beginners could enjoy.

“There’s no pretense about the event. It is meant to be a family-orientated festival that every city strives for,” said president and founder of Kernz and Kompany, Ryan Kern. “You don’t pay to get in, you come in and enjoy yourself. In my mind it’s the epitome of the family event-- it’s the type of event I would’ve wanted to go to when I was a kid.”

On Saturday, people from all around the Northland came to celebrate picture-perfect weather down at Duluth’s Bayfront Festival. Blue skies without a cloud in sight invited 3,000 kites to take flight while local musicians played acoustic tunes.

“It’s kind of a cool, multi-purpose, multi-function event,” said Jeff Stark, DECC venue operations and Bayfront Park director. “This is technically the last weekend that there can be anything down in Bayfront Park because next week we start setting up for Bentleyville.”

Stark and Kern both said the event was a challenge because there are so many unpredictable factors when dealing with hot air balloons, especially with Minnesota’s unpredictable weather.

“You can only have balloons inflated two hours after sunrise and two hours prior to sunset. It’s based on science when you can launch; it’s based on wind direction and wind speed,” Kern said.

Because the wind was blowing out rather than inland, if the balloons were to lift off they could’ve ended up in Lake Superior.

Luckily for festival-goers, the event offered one of autumn’s most cheered to celebrations: Oktoberfest.

To help showcase some of the midwest’s best craft beer, Kernz and Kompany reached out to the UMD’s women rugby team to pour beer at the Craft Beer Village for the weekend-long event.

“This is a really good fundraiser for our team,” said UMD’s women rugby team captain, Ariana Koras (a.k.a Oreo). “We’re getting our name out there and also raising money,” Koras said, adding that the first night alone the team made about $300 in tips.

The team had done previous volunteer work for Kernz and Kompany at the last two air shows in Duluth, the largest bi-annual event hosted by the company.

Koras said the money raised from the weekend would be put toward ordering new warm-ups and paying for registration and referee fees.

“It’s a lot of fun. We all like beer, and it’s just really relaxed,” Koras said. “People are totally into their craft beer here. I mean, you’ve got Lake Superior, which is like the best water in the world if you ask me, so you might as well make beer with it.”

Lake Superior: bad for hot air balloons, great for craft beer. While the balloons never made it up, spirits were far from down. The event was a balance of excitement and leisure, an atmosphere embodying the best of the Duluthian spirit.

Check out the UMD Statesman Facebook page to see our photo gallery from the weekend.


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