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Organizers plan to double the fun
August 26, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Nathan Flowers/Spectrum Photography Last year’s event drew more than 10,000 spectators.

The public is invited to “Come touch the sky” as the second annual Old West Balloon Fest launches over Labor Day weekend at Mitchell Air Field south of town.

Two balloon launches highlight a full weekend of activities. More than 20 pilots will head for the heavens Saturday and Sunday, September 3-4, at about 7 a.m., weather permitting.

Gates at the air field open at 5:30 a.m. both days with free admission and parking. Between 10,000 and 12,000 attended last year’s inaugural event, which featured one launch. Organizers expect another large crowd for this year’s two launches, amid the bustle of several food vendors and a kids’ zone.

Saturday’s launch coincides with the first Nebraska Cornhuskers football team home opener against Fresno State in Lincoln. Attendees are welcome to join in a memorial tribute to the team’s late punter No. 27 Sam Foltz, who died this past summer in a car crash. Prior to the launch, red Husker balloons monogramed with the No. 27 will go for a dollar each, and will be released alongside the larger hot air balloons throughout the day.

“Sam Foltz was an outstanding athlete whose talents were matched equally by his amazing spirit and commitment to his team and his state,” said Balloon Fest Co-Chair Brenda Leisy. “The launch will be an emotional tribute to our state and local heroes.”

Proceeds from the balloon launch will go toward helping Gering business owners Brad and Linda Staman with travel expenses to Denver, Colorado, as Linda undergoes treatment for ovarian cancer.

Among the many weekend activities, a concert series kicks off the Old West Balloon Fest weekend at Five Rocks Amphitheatre south of Gering as gates open at 6 p.m. for two nights of entertainment. On Friday, September 2, veteran country star Rodney Atkins, with 11 hits under his belt, takes the stage at 9:30 p.m. Opening acts include the Shane Rogers Band and Aaron Copeland. Food and beverage services will be provided by the Weborg 21 Centre.

The Amphitheater will rock on Saturday, September 3, as a trio of headliners Lita Ford, Kip Winger, and Jack Russell’s Great White, take the stage.

Beverage services will be provided by Kelly’s Liquor Cabinet.

Tickets for the weekend shows are $25 per night for general admission and $35 for reserve seating. Tickets for both concerts are $40 for general admission and $50 for reserve seating. Tickets are available at Bluffs Broadcasting, Heilbrun’s, and the Steel Grill. The Old West Balloon Fest wraps up on Sunday, September 4. A second balloon launch is scheduled in the morning at the Mitchell Air Field. A balloon glow for pilots at Western Nebraska Regional Airport starts at 5 p.m. Prior to the glow, attendees can browse the many local vendors, and explore the kids’ zone, with booths for kite building, games and face painting. “(People can) walk around the field and talk to the pilots during the night glow,” Leisy said. “Pilots have more time to show off their balloons than during the morning launches. We encourage everyone to attend the sunrise launches both mornings, and you don’t want to miss the unique beauty of the glow on Sunday night.”

Throughout the night glow, the Old West Balloon Fest will be honoring the local police, sheriffs and state patrol officers. “In recognition of law enforcement, attendees will have the opportunity to thank the officers for their commitment and service to keeping our communities safe,” Leisy said.

Sam & Louie’s Restaurant in Scottsbluff has scheduled an “Old West Balloon Fest Fundraising Night” on Tuesday, August 30, from 5-8 p.m. at 1522 Broadway in Downtown Scottsbluff, donating 15 percent of sales for those three hours to Old West Balloon Fest.

For more information, visit www.oldwestballoonfest.com.
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