Night Glow draws enthusiastic crowds to Cook Park
While the crowds that packed into Tigard's Cook Park Friday evening snacked on food booth fare, listened to popular local bands and watched as their children squealed in delight aboard an assortment of carnival rides, most were biding their time for the evening's star attraction – Night Glow.
The annual event attracts hundreds of balloon aficionados and the general public to a colorful spectacle where hot-air balloons are illuminated after sunset to the thrill of onlookers.
But that was for later Friday evening with pre-show activities keeping those in attendance busy as the evening wore on.
As people slung paper boomerangs into the air at the park, Geno Michaels & SoulCity sang Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" on the main stage. Nearby, a little girl hugged a turtle balloon to her chest while three boys bounced around, trailing kangaroo, Tyrannosaurus Rex and giraffe balloons behind them.
At the same time, festival-goers flocked to vendor booths for an assortment of food offerings or to find a special gift or present.
Among those vendors was Brandi Coffman whose wares featuring walking balloon pets drew a steady stream of customers.
Coffman, a Tigard resident, said while dog balloons are usually the most popular request, giraffe balloons dominated the night. She pointed out, however, that T-Rex balloons were catching up.
For Coffman, it was the sixth year her family-run business has made an appearance at the festival.
"It's local, so it's fun to be in our community and seeing people we know," she said. "It's a family business to teach our kids how to manage money."
Nearby, fuzzy striped socks shaped like bunnies, cats, dogs and more, hung on clotheslines at the Adoptasock Puppet vendor.
Owner Kellie Webb, who recently retired after more than 25 years of running her own daycare business, said her creations were the result of children who she cared for over the years falling in love with the sock puppets she made.
Webb first started making the puppets using recycled items from her home including old squeeze-cap bottles from baby food pouches. Not only did the students at the daycare love the puppets but their parents as well.
"Families started asking me to make more sock puppets for their family members," Webb said.
Perfecting her craft and building a business meant using half a styrofoam ball for the puppet's head, foam shapes for the noses and tongues, and the backs of plastic spoons for eye shapes.
"I buy lots and lots of fuzzy socks," Webb said.
She said she came to the festival excited for local recognition, but the most exciting part was facetiming her family at the hospital as they awaited the birth of her "one and only grandson."
"I was bawling in my booth when the baby was born," she said, as a smile spread across her face.
VENDOR BOOTHS ADDED
Kristin Romelhardt, program director for the Tigard Festival of Balloons, said the festival included 13 food vendors and over 100 craft or other booths. In fact so popular were booth requests this year that two more rows of booths were added, a first during her tenure as director.
Romelhardt said the first day of the event was busy, noting that years where the temperatures are in the 70s or 80s are generally the best for attendance.
"In a good year, like a weekend like we're experiencing now, we can expect 20,000," she said.
Over at the carnival midway, Conor Bensinger, 8, said he had fun riding the Tigard Express – a seven-car roller coaster complete with an elaborate plastic tiger's head in the lead car.
While the ride was fun, it wasn't quite as fun as the attraction next to it, Barn Dance Tonight, which included a funhouse mirror and moving stairs.
Conor's mother Jodie said the family has been coming to the Tigard Festival of Balloons for 12 years.
"If the weather is nice, it's awesome," she said of the event.
At another nearby ride, Jenni Lemusu of Hillsboro watched her two daughters, Ezra, 4, and Zion, 2, enjoy riding in toy cars that were lifted into the air. Lemusu said it was the family's first venture to the balloon festival.
"We love it," she said. "It's nice and clean. It's good for little kids because it's not too big."
Lemusu, who said they learned of the event on Facebook, said they planned on staying for Night Glow because "that's the reason we came."
Ezra said she liked going around in a circle but was hoping her car would go up in the air.
Munching on pink cotton candy, Ezra's sister Zion seemed to enjoy the ride as well.
"It was her first ride ever," her mother pointed out.
Among those enjoying the activities were former Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen (who is now on the Metro Council) and his family.
"It's fun this is a great community event," said Dirksen, whose wife Jackie said they've been attending the event since 1995.
Around 8:30 p.m., still munching on their leftover fair food, strawberry ice cream cones and slushies, festival-goers made their way across the road from the main field to the Night Glow launch site.
Six balloons were scheduled to go up in the air for the event, but due to light winds none were launched and only two were blown up. Still, all six pilots set up their baskets while a massive crowd counted down from 10, the pilots lighting their burners as soon as everyone screamed "one"!
(A few pilots were local while others were from Seattle, Texas, Florida and Idaho.)
At the same time, a small crowd of children huddled near a caution tape border, screaming in delight as the burners erupted with towering flames.
As a light breeze hit, the RE/MAX balloon began to tip and nearly pulled the basket sideways until six people pushed the basket toward the ground while four weighted the basket from the inside and others rushed to help level it out.
Both Jennifer Orr and her 8-year-old daughter Emma Haas (who was wearing a hot-air balloon shirt), sat on a yellow blanket, watching in awe. Although the Vancouver, Wash., residents had been to the event previously, it was the first time Emma had seen a hot-air balloon in person.
Jennifer Orr said they were a little disappointed that none of the balloons launched. Still, she said both planned on returning early Saturday morning, hoping to catch a tethered ride.
Emma said she hoped to get a tethered ride with her mom in the morning because "it would feel like you were flying."
Jennifer Orr said a hot-air balloon tour has always been on her bucket list.
"A few years ago, when I went on a tethered ride, it was magical," she said. "It's whimsical."
The festival continues Saturday (with the final Night Glow at dusk) and Sunday (with balloon liftoffs set for 5:45 a.m., weather permitting.)
Times reporter Ray Pitz also contributed to this story.