The New Jersey Festival of Ballooning will return to the Garden State later this month after being canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
What does the executive producer think of the impending festival event, which was postponed and then ultimately canceled last year?
Like those aboard the 100 or so hot air balloons that will take to the sky in a few weeks, he looks up.
“I am extremely excited,” said Howard Freeman, executive producer of the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning. “After the 1918 pandemic, you had the Roaring Twenties, and it looks like it’s happening again. Everyone has cabin fever and everyone is looking for a safe place to go with their family outside.
The 38th Annual New Jersey Hot Air Balloon Lottery Festival will be held at Solberg Airport in Readington Township from July 23-25. Billed by the organizers as the largest summer hot air balloon and music festival in North America, the event features live concerts. and many other activities and entertainment that attract over 165,000 people to the Township of Readington.
And this summer, Solberg Airport could welcome more visitors than ever.
“The potential is there. We’re probably up 20-25% for advance sales, ”Freeman said. “For people who want to distance themselves socially, we have enough space. Our hot air balloon sales are exploding, and for the first time, we will likely be selling hot air balloon flights in advance. “
General admission tickets to the festival can currently be purchased online, with prices ranging from $ 32 per adult (with a service charge of $ 4.50) to $ 12 per child aged 4 and over (with fees service charge of $ 3.50).
Adult ticket prices are slightly higher than two years ago due to inflation and other financial reasons, according to Freeman.
“This is the first time that we have increased prices in eight years,” Freeman said. “The prices of everything have gone up – including human resources and what we have to pay to work – because so many people have been given incentives from the government. And everything costs more, and we spend more on talent, frankly. “
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, Barenaked Ladies and Styx are all star headliners performing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the festival respectively. In addition, Laurie Berkner will headline the children’s concert on Friday afternoon.
This is the first year that Styx will perform at the festival. Freeman recommended that fans interested in seeing the show purchase tickets as soon as possible.
“Styx is a band that we’ve been trying to have for years,” Freeman said. “If our ticket sales are any indication, it’s going to sell. There are still tickets available, but that’s about a 20% to 25% distortion before our Sunday presentation in 2019, which was The Beach Boys. “
But the upcoming performance by a legendary rock band isn’t the festival’s only premiere. In light of the outbreak, organizers have partnered with the New Jersey Department of Health and Wegman’s to offer festival-goers snapshots of the Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at the festival’s main entrance.
People who receive the Pfizer vaccine can work with on-site administrators to schedule their second dose at a Wegman’s pharmacy near them.
Freeman said that “there will be a number of special prizes and incentives” available to those who have their photo taken at the festival. These include discounted general admission tickets; co-branded vaccine card holders courtesy of the state Department of Health and entry into a raffle to win one of the following prizes: a hot air balloon ride for two in one of the balloons of special form of the festival; Meet & Greets with artists or groups who will be performing; VIP concert tickets for that night’s concert; an upgrade to the VIP Blue Sky Club; and a captive hot air balloon ride for two.
Participants will not be required to wear masks during the outdoor festival, but various precautions have been implemented in response to the pandemic.
“Months ago we bought a huge amount of extra masks if people need them and a huge amount of hand sanitizer so you will see more hand sanitizer stations around Porta Johns and in the field. of the festival, ”Freeman said.
This year’s festival is the first in which the New Jersey Lottery will serve as the event’s title sponsor, a role previously served by QuickChek for 26 consecutive years.
“The lottery has taken over,” Freeman said. “The lottery has been an incredible partner with us, given the pandemic and the past year. But we did Facebook Live events with them and they hooked up.
Lottery Land, a spacious entertainment complex, will replace the festival’s “QuickChek imprint”, according to Freeman. The complex includes a stage for musical performances, marking the first time in the history of the festival that more than two concert stages (the main stage and the children’s concert stage) will grace the festival grounds.
“It’s called CASH POP! New Jersey Emerging Artist Stage, ”Freeman said. “We will have eight different emerging New Jersey artists of all different genres playing throughout the weekend, and DJs will be playing when the artists are not playing.”
At Lottery Land, festival-goers aged 18 and over can enjoy the Quick Draw Lounge; buy Quick Draw and CASH POP! Games; and play the giant cornhole game Beanbag Bucks with “pillow-sized bean bags” to win scratch prizes as well as a real cornhole set, Freeman said.
The New Jersey Lottery will also debut Big Jack, its new 12-foot-tall inflatable Fast Play Progressive mascot, at the festival.
“When people say, ‘If I have to meet someone, where do I go? “It’s Lottery Land,” Freeman said.
Competitive-minded participants will find a second set of cornhole and other games in the all-new New Jersey Devils exhibit, a 45-foot trailer where team players will make appearances throughout the festival. .
“You can shoot pucks at a goalie. And you’ll have all kinds of interactive stuff, ”Freeman said. “Team members will be on hand for autographs and photos at certain times throughout the weekend.”
Hot air balloon flights continue as planned, with climbs at 6.30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 6.30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
As in the past, hot air balloon flights cost $ 240 per person in the morning, $ 275 per person in the evening on Friday and Sunday, and $ 295 per person on Saturday evening. Individuals can also purchase tickets for $ 20 on-site for captive rides, which last approximately 5 minutes each.
In addition to the New Jersey Lottery Hot Air Balloon, other new specially shaped balloons include a giant sloth and a bright and colorful unicorn.
While the 4,425-square-foot air-conditioned QuickChek that previously stood on the festival grounds will not be exhibiting this year, Freeman has promised “new surprises” in food and beverage options.
“Our global dealership, which is Greenlight (Food Service), brings in a number of specialty restaurants and food trucks that they continue to enrich day by day … including meatball heroes, different options of steak and all kinds of food … from across the country and around the world, ”he said.
Festival attendees can park at Solberg Airport, where there are over 100 acres of on-site parking, for a fee of $ 10 per day. This year, there is no shuttle to transport festival-goers to the venue from Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg Township.
People traveling to the festival by car can now pay parking staff with credit cards, whereas previously only cash was accepted in the parking lot and those with a card had to pay at the gate. Entrance.
“We are using a new cashless, contactless system… to help people who want to pay by credit card in the parking lot,” Freeman said.
If travelers prefer to take the bus, they can use NJ Transit’s route planner and enter 39 Thor Solberg Road, Whitehouse Station, NJ 08889 as the destination. Those arriving by train should get off at the Raritan Borough stop.
To stay up to date with the latest information on the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, individuals can download the NJ Lottery Balloon Festival app and follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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Caroline Fassett can be reached at [email protected].