Balloon pilots will take the place of jet pilots to demonstrate their skills this weekend in the skies over Sun ‘n Fun. The three-day Up Up and Away Hot Air Balloon and Music Festival opens Friday and continues through Sunday on the Sun ‘n Fun Expo campus located on the south side of Lakeland Linder International Airport.

During the event’s eight aerial shows, visitors can expect to see pilots performing in five mass launches in the early morning and late afternoon hours, as well as three evening twilight hot air balloon glows. Along with the colorful ascensions, there are balloon races Saturday and Sunday and live bands playing throughout the weekend. (Event schedule)

Communications manager Carol Cali says the Juno Beach non-profit organization Up Up and Away Florida Inc. worked to recruit balloon teams from around the country. The effort attracted pilots with 40 balloons, Cali said.

2020 Balloon Festival
Early morning at the first Lakeland balloon festival, held in February 2020 | Reems Landreth/LkldNow

“Some people who are big in balloon circles say we have ‘unique shapes’ in balloons,” she said, describing product design or brands sold by different participating companies. Wonder Bread is one of the corporate examples, she said.

This is the second balloon festival spearheaded by Ron Clukey, president and executive director of Up Up and Away Florida. Clukey organized the organization’s first festival in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown.

“He skipped 2021 and the group waited,” Cali said. “This year’s [festival] was changed from February to May since the weather is more conducive for ballooning.”

Scenes from the 2020 festival:

Festival organizers want to make it an annual event. In addition to the balloon liftoffs, entertainment and family activities, the organization raises funds for various community programs, Cali said.

The official website,, includes a photo of Clukey in 2020 presenting a check to the Aerospace Center for Excellence for its Project Skylab at the Sun ‘n Fun campus.

One of the groups Up Up and Away plans to donate to after this year’s festival is Flight to Honor, which provides local war veterans with a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit monuments and memorials.

To cover some of the services needed for a large event, such as registration, Cali said the festival relies on several non-profit groups to provide volunteers. In turn, the organization hopes to compensate these participating groups through ticket sales.

As with the annual airshows, hot air balloon shows are required to follow safety guidelines. Up Up and Away will have its own airshow director, a balloonmeister who oversees safety procedures during the weekend. Organizers are projecting attendance to be near 35,000.

The festival has expanded this year to include ten bands and recording artists as well as a car show and family shows. Artists and bands include: Rico Monaco Band; Audio Exchange; Epic Party Band; Damon Fowler; The Gerry Williams Band; Champan D’Barrio; Metro Latino Band; The Franchise Players; Weep; and Stacy Gabel.

Ticket purchases ($20-$25 per day) include a wristband that allows visitors to come and go all day. Children age six and under get in free. The festival officially opens Friday at 3 p.m. and includes a night glow show. Saturday and Sunday morning balloon launch windows are from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

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