From opening night on Friday July 22, to its closing at 6 pm on Sunday, July 24, the 38th Annual South County Hot Air Balloon Festival packs a lot into the weekend for the enjoyment of all ages. All the activities take place at the University of Rhode Island Athletic Fields on Route 138 in Kingston.
Festival gates open at 4 pm on Friday. At 6 p.m., the legendary East Coast rock ‘n roll group of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band come to the stage for a foot-tapping performance while a spectacular Balloon Glow takes place on the field. Balloonists fire up their burners to light the balloon envelopes on cue to create a brilliant scene against the darkening sky. Tethered rides may be purchased to rise 150 feet above the crowd. Saturday evening’s Balloon Glow will be followed at 9 pm with a dazzling display of fireworks. On Sunday, three local bands perform during the afternoon starting with Narragansett rock group “Squelch” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by the reggae-inspired “Ravers” from Newport from 1 to 3 pm, and closing with their own experimental alternative rock will be “Roz & The Rice Cakes” from 3 to 5 p.m.
All balloon inflations and events are dependent on weather conditions, but organizers are expecting the balloons to inflate four times during the festival, at dusk on Friday and Saturday evenings and at dawn on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Numerous events are scheduled throughout the weekend to keep visitors entertained between the balloon inflations. “The Canon Lady” performs several times each day; also on the field are carnival rides and games, the Airborne Jugglers, arts and crafts vendors, the Rotary Club’s free fishing pond and train rides, the food court with a variety of choices, and more. Saturday will feature “The Chili Cook Off” from 12 to 3 p.m. and interested tasters can make a suggested donation of $5 to vote for their favorite. The 5th Annual Rhode Island BBQ Competition ends on Sunday with the winners announced in four categories, winning cash prizes and trophies. Five award-winning BBQ vendors will be on the field to sell a variety of chicken, pulled pork, ribs, and brisket to hungry patrons.
Over its 38-year history, the South County Hot Air Balloon Festival, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Wakefield, has grown from a small gathering of balloon enthusiasts to a full-fledged Rhode Island summer fair, and has been rated a Top 20 Rhode Island event by Yankee magazine in 2011, 2012, 2013 2014, 2015 and 2016. The event has raised more than $1.7 million over those years and all the net proceeds have gone to support the Rotary’s donations to numerous local charities and annual scholarships in South Kingstown and Narragansett.
Festival hours are Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 14 and under, and $25 for families (two parents and children or one parent and three children). Parking is free, and RV camping is available on site.
For more information and event updates, visit www.southcountyballoonfest.com.