A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


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Pocono Balloon Festival, 2002

You could call it the Shawnee Fall Foliage Festival – we’ve been calling it that for 18 years now, so it works for us, the hills alive with red and gold and green and orange and yellow, along the banks of the Delaware River, just below the Delaware Water Gap – or you can call it the Pocono Balloon Festival (it’s even got a website, at Whichever one you call it, it’s a magical weekend at home or in the near place for New Jersey vacationers, squeezing the last drop of Indian Summer out of the year.

This time around, we had other things to do this weekend, the Poconos being what they are, so regrettably we missed not only the red-hot McWilliams Brothers and Bill Haley’s Comets (now led by his drummer, John "Bam Bam" Lane) on Saturday – not to mention the "Balloon Glow" (is that a name for a Friday get-together?) – we even found ourselves kicking ourselves on Sunday afternoon, missing Fedelmia Gallagher’s School on Irish Dance, over on the River Dance Stage, due to a scheduling conflict with the Juggernaut String Band – Pete doing his "Appalachian Juju," hollering along on "Goin’ Back to Mali," Joy leaning into the bass that’s almost as big as she is, Mike Cooke and Bert Walker thundering away on twin djembes, Janet with a big grin swinging into the fiddle. Oh well. It’s the nature of festivals, of course – there’s always something else you wanted to see.
At least we got to see and hear Holly Avila, introduced in Spanish by Elisa Rosario, a volunteer with the event staff, with Holly’s swinging new band, featuring Mark Hamsa – a David Crosby look-alike, if ever there was one – doing amazing things to his accordion, with Mike and Bert back on the djembes plus various Latin-American rhythm instruments, on a set of rumbas and cumbias, plus the music on her newly-released, self-titled EP/CD, Beatles tunes too, to get the crowd foot-tapping along – and one of Holly’s signature pieces, the lovely Linda Rondstadt, "Blue Bayou," soaring over the crowd.

Janet Bregman Taney and Joy Taney
Peter Taney
Bert Walker, Michael Cooke and Holly Avila
Lehigh Valley Cloggers
Mark Hamsa
Holly Avila

And then we got to tap our feet to the Lehigh Valley Cloggers, an amazing family-team, from grandmothers thro mothers to kids to grandkids, whirling away in various costumes and ensembles, doing things like Little Eva’s "Locomotion," white jingle-tap shoes and petticoats flashing. The crowd that had followed them up from Musikfest filled the main-stage tent to capacity, all the way back to the Barley Creek Brewery counter, flaps pulled back for the crowd strolling the midway, enjoying the pony-rides and the tilt-a-whirl and the brightly-painted oil-barrel train winding its way among the people down by the river, listening to the Lost Rambler troubadours who were wandering the grounds.
Then it was time for us to wander the crowded grounds of Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort – it’s gonna take them a couple of weeks to restore the first green – munching on Lemoine’s apple cinnamon crepes and sipping that delicious Honey Barley Oktoberfest beer – little sips, of course – til time for the undoubted main event of the afternoon.
They put the balloons – more than a dozen of these gigantic hot-air bags, with people in the baskets, waving to the mortals below – up in the air twice a day, 7:30 AM, for the really hardy souls who love the morning mists on the Delaware River, and 4:30 PM for us normal people. We found a spot along the orange snow-fence at the edge of the balloon launching field, Snake Oil Willie booming Buck Owens tunes from the Main Tent behind us, and watched the huge jets of flame blowing hot-air from their propane tanks deep into the rolling silks, as the gigantic balloons slowly filled, one by one, following the lead of the great brown Liberty Bell balloon, and jostled gently on the ground, getting into position to follow Miss Liberty south across the Kittatiny Ridge over the Delaware River into New Jersey. Then they started to rise on their tiptoes, straining at the hawsers, their handlers moving them back and forth, ass the hot air filled them and filled them.

Liberty Bell Balloon

Kids on Ride
Golden Wings Balloon


Soon the launching field was filled, the baskets slowly sliding across the ground, one by one, as Wings of Gold and the lovely tulip-decorated Bloomin’ Balloon started rising up in the air, along with the dozen or more other gorgeously-striped and decorated balloons following the lead of Liberty Bell – one trailing the American flag got a warm round of applause as it soared over the tall old trees surrounding the launching field. This was a race for points, the Great Eastern Balloon Association’s GEBA Cup renamed the Ray Horan Trophy this year in honor of the recently-departed "weather meister" for the event (the Pocono Mtns are no area for amateurs, especially in the tricky hills and hollows surrounding Shawnee-on-Delaware). Up and up they went, the nearer balloons temporarily obscuring the farther away, and then the pack drifting apart as it soared. Two balloons broke away, heading for the nearby river in a "splash and dash" maneuver that had people with cameras scrambling for the banks of the river. They dipped behind a stand of trees, and emerged a few moments later, lifting steadily over the opposing riverbank, clearing the slanting ridge on the other side, and up they rose into the evening sky. The launch field had emptied of pursuit vans and trailers by now, and the crowd drifted back thro the midway, watching the balloons rise up and over the mountains, gently disappearing somewhere on the other side. The evening mist started to rise along the Delaware. Time for us to head home.