Countdown to festival fun:

How to Turn an Airport into a Balloon and Music Festival, Day 1:

March 8, 2007

For me, the most important date of this entire year will be Monday, July 23.  Why?  Because that’s the day 51 weeks of preparation start becoming a reality.  It’s the first full day of building the temporary city that will become the Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.  Here’s a brief look at how we do it.

By the time I arrive on site at 7:00 a.m., one of our two tenting companies is already hard at work.  It will take four full days to put up the more than 150 various sized tents that fill the festival grounds.

By 7:30, all manner of men, machines, and trucks will start descending upon Solberg Airport.  A convoy of trucks carrying hundreds of portable toilets will snake down Solberg Road.  And a steady flow of supply trucks carrying equipment for Quick Chek’s 2,700-square-foot convenience store will start beating a path to their compound.

By 8 o’clock our construction crew will be ready for their daily assignments.  Headed by Link Doyle, one of the true heroes of the festival, this crew will put up the nearly 2 1/2 miles of temporary fence needed to define the festival area, cordon off the hospitality village, encircle the concert area, and outline the balloon launch field.

Our attention then focuses on the second tent company.  Their main responsibilities are  the Corporate Hospitality Area as well as support tents for Quick Chek and our balloon operations.  As they’ve been part of the festival for over a dozen years, they pretty much know what they have to do.

The same goes for our landscaping company, which starts amassing a wide variety of machinery, including bulldozers, graders, loaders and backhoes.  This collection of “heavy metal” will fill potholes, grade out ruts, widen roads, lay gravel and stay on-site throughout the weekend and beyond to address any challenges that Mother Nature may throw at us.

Two local farmers (one of whom is ironically also named Ken Staats!) will finish mowing the more than 250 acres that serve as the festival grounds, parking lots and balloon launch area.

Then the first of many temporary office trailers arrive.  These portable buildings serve as working quarters for Quick Chek staff, first aid personnel, our concert stage manager, on-site accounting department and the festival’s balloonmeister.

With no drinkable, running water on-site, we have also arranged for two huge tankers of fresh H2O.  They’re supplied by a family-owned business that is the only source in the entire state that provides this valuable resource.

Usually late in the morning, I’ll sneak out to work with the festival’s graphics firm to put the finishing touches on the festival maps that must be printed and distributed to the police, first aid staff, customer service people and the general public.

Work continues at a frenzied pace until 5:00 p.m.  At that time we’ll take stock of the day’s work to make sure we’re still on the aggressive schedule we set for ourselves.  Then it’s back to the office to plan for the next day’s activities.  After all, we’re still waiting for deliveries of portable construction lights, generators, concert stage, golf carts, walkie talkies, etc., etc.

So if you have nothing to do that day, feel free to join me bright and early on the morning of July 23rd.  Just remember, bring lots of Quick Chek coffee!