© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hot air balloons lift off at Wytheville arts festival

Two hot air balloons are standing, just above ground, as workers hold them down with strings to keep them from taking off. One of the balloons has the design of a frog in it. Both have multi-colored diagonal stripes around the balloons. The mountains are visible in the background.
Roxy Todd
The balloon glow on Friday, June 14, the first of three days of hot air balloon events at Wytheville's Chautauqua festival.

If you’ve ever driven on Interstate 81 in Southwest Virginia, you may have noticed a water tower with hot air balloons painted on it. The reason is because the town of Wytheville hosts an annual balloon festival, part of an eight-day event called the Chautauqua festival.

Fred Brown grew up on a dairy farm and began flying a hot air balloon as a hobby. In the early 80s, he helped get the Wytheville balloon festival started.

Four decades later, he’s standing beside a rainbow-striped balloon, as a handful of people fill it with hot air. He describes the process of how they have to aim gas so as not to burn a hole in the fabric of the balloon.

“Now watch. And it’s gonna come up fairly slowly,” Brown says.

More balloons lift gently, glowing in the darkening sky. This is the first of three days of balloon events, called the “balloon glow.”

Bill Scarberry is one of the balloonists. “I got into it because it’s probably the most peaceful getaway that I could ever ask for, when I was going through a really bad time in my life,” Scarberry explains.

Scarberry lives in Tennessee, but he’s been coming to Wytheville for decades to fly his balloon, which he named “Cool Change,” after the song from the 70s.

He’s flown all over the country, and in Africa. Like many of the pilots, Wytheville’s event is one of his favorites, partly because of the way the mountains are shaped, and how the wind helps drive the balloons.

This balloon event lasts three days, and is part of a larger music and arts festival in Wytheville, called the Chautauqua festival, which runs through Saturday, June 22.

A hot air balloon rests on the ground as the glow from the gas lights up the darkening sky
Roxy Todd


Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.