After being grounded for two years, Pittsfield Balloon Rally is returning 

  • A hot-air balloon piloted by Rick Jones of Concord is seen in Pittsfield on Friday morning, August 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • The hot air balloon Heaven, piloted by Mike Olin takes guests on a flight early Thursday morning, August 1, 2019 over the Suncook River in downtown Pittsfield. The 38th Annual Suncook Valley Rotary Hot Air Balloon Rally starts Friday night at Drake Field with midway rides at 3 p.m. and night glow flight at 8:30 p.m. The rally features 19 balloons and runs through Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER

  • ">

    The hot air balloon "Wild Ride" floats above the Suncook River in Pittsfield on Friday morning, August 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Linda Rackley looks up as Joe Caputo fills his ballon at the 33rd Suncook Valley Rotary Club Hot Air Balloon Rally in Pittsfield Friday night at Drake Field. Although the balloons did not launch because of tricky winds, the balloonists did a Nightglow for the crowd. The rally continues today with a sunrise and sunset launch and a 5:30 a.m. launch on Sunday. Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 2/21/2022 5:06:26 PM
Modified: 2/21/2022 5:06:06 PM

The past two years have been rough on people like Stan Bailey and Louie Houle.

COVID meant no annual Pittsfield Hot Air Balloon Rally, and that disrupted their records of, essentially, never missing a rally. They’ll pick up where they left off, after town officials said recently that the festival will return this summer.

The first weekend in August, of course.

“It was a sad time for everybody,” said Bailey, president of the Suncook Valley Rotary Club. “That was our biggest fundraiser and it was hard on the club and we lost a lot of members.”

Bailey missed a rally a few years ago. Instead, he flew to Japan with his son, who was in the Air Force, and helped his family settle into their new way of life.

But that’s it. Beyond COVID, of course.

“This is great,” Bailey proclaimed. “Just great .”

This is the 40th year since the event began, but the 38th actual rally. Bailey is calling it the 40th Annual Rally anyway.

“It sounds better,” he said.

The 40th is scheduled for the first weekend in August at Drake Field. Just like always.

Back in pre-COVID days, the Balloon Rally featured those colorful, picturesque, people-carrying balloons, 13 of them, that, weather permitting, sometimes included nifty maneuvering by skilled pilots who descended far enough to skim the Suncook River with their baskets.

Houle is a vital cog in the balloon machine. He managed a bank in town that sponsored the event for nearly 20 years. He lit the annual fireworks on rally nights. He befriended pilots, had them sleep in his house when they were in town.

Host families are necessary and a normal part of the terrain. Houle, who has been going to the festival since 7th grade, said one balloonist stayed at his and returned for 25 years.

“We’ve gone to their places to visit, and we see them at other rallies,” Houle said.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Cedric Dustin III, a retired dentist and the president of the Suncook Valley Rotary Club, has been volunteering at the rally since the start.

His philosophy in life?

“Everyone should arrive in a hot air balloon once in their life. A cool, great thing.”

He ran the food tent for what seemed like forever. He cooked hamburgers and hot dogs.

“I ran the day shift because I was always with a balloonist early in the morning and at night,” Dustin said.

The familiar cast of characters is returning. That, of course, is a big part of the tradition here, the tight alliance that has evolved between balloonists and the Suncook Valley Rotary Club.

Dustin has made as many as 50 flights. He was asked if the scenery and experience had dulled his senses and appreciation for what’s been unfolding in front of him for 38 years.

“No,” he said. “Balloon flights will never get old.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy