Soaring To New Heights

Balloon Festival Soaring to New Heights
The Re-engineered Freedom Weekend Aloft
by Margaret Burnquist

Simpsonville, SC — In the hot air ballooning community, Simpsonville is known as a mecca for pilots and fans of ballooning because of Freedom Weekend Aloft. But this year, that 32 year old event is undergoing a major transformation that will make Simpsonville a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts, live music fans and thrill-seekers alike.

Now simply called Aloft, the re-engineered festival of flight, music and community will offer adventurous attractions that will forever change people's expectations for Memorial Day Weekend. Organizers are going above and beyond the standard balloon festival with new additions like a craft beer biergarten, a zipline adventure, aerobatic demonstrations, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding demonstrations and other unique experiences.

"You can't keep offering the same things and expect people to keep coming back," explains Aloft Associate Director Frank Skorzewski who's also the CFO of Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Georgia. "We want this to be a festival to be full of action and experiences, not just exhibits for people to see."

Festival-goers will be able to move through Simpsonville's Heritage Park enjoying live music at one stage and a stand-up comedian at the next before sitting down to paint their own masterpiece in the beer-themed "craft with draft" tent. "If we do our job well, attendees will have a hard time taking in all the attractions in one day," says Skorzewski.

Cindy Nelson, who started volunteering for the festival as a college intern in 1988, is Aloft's new Executive Director. She says the level of enthusiasm among organizers and sponsors is like nothing she's ever experienced. "People are excited to be involved in Aloft during this time of historic change," says Nelson, "With a re-energized board, professional volunteers and eager event coordinators we feel like anything is possible this year."

Plans for the re-engineered festival have garnered a lot of media attention including accolades from the newspaper staff at the Greenville News in an editorial that proclaimed, "Thumbs Up to the organizers and leaders of Freedom Weekend Aloft for making some exciting changes to ensure this event stays fresh and inviting at a time when many people have many more entertainment options than they did 30 years ago."

Organizers are quick to point out the festival's time-honored traditions aren't going anywhere. Patriotic ceremonies and military tributes will be a major focus along with the big concerts, competitive balloon races and festival foods visitors have come to expect. "We're just taking fun to a new level," says Nelson, "and we want people to start marking their calendars to make Aloft at Heritage Park a Memorial Day Weekend destination."

Aloft presented by Greenville Hospital System is a 501c3 non-profit that gives back to charitable organizations, it's been ranked as one of the Southeast's Best Events by Southern Living Magazine and it has hit audience levels of more than 200,000 people.