ASHLAND — I’m no stranger to air vehicle-themed festivals.

After all, I grew up in Dayton, the birthplace of flight. Every year, community members and companies worked together to put on a two-day Dayton Air Show (July 30 and 31 this year), featuring airplanes from throughout the history of flight. The highlight most years is the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in their fighter jets.

Nathan Hart mug

Aside from watching airplanes and skydivers, attendees could also inspect aircraft on display and even tour some of them. Like any fair, there were ample opportunities to buy lemonade, hot dogs, and funnel cake. 

So when I arrived at BalloonFest on Thursday and saw much of the same foods on offer and a crowd enraptured by aircraft, it felt familiar. 

There was one glaring difference between my two air festival experiences. In Dayton, I (sadly) never had the opportunity to fly in a fighter jet or in a World War II plane. But at Balloon Fest, I did have the chance to take to the skies in a hot-air balloon.

The scale of Balloon Fest was also smaller than Dayton’s air show, which I enjoyed. Walking to the restroom and back at the Dayton Air Show felt like you had just spent months trekking the Sahara desert. Whereas a journey across BalloonFest was a breeze.

BalloonFest also had a strong sense of community that the Dayton Air Show lacks, probably due to its sheer size.

But BalloonFest felt like an outpouring of everything that makes Ashland unique. To me, the Dayton Air Show feels more removed from the Dayton community.

Overall, I had a great time.

I’ll have to recommend BalloonFest to some of my Dayton friends that have a craving for air spectacle but don’t want to spend a fortune on admissions or embark on a hero’s journey every time they want something to drink.

This is a local festival, with local folks embracing visitors to their locale.

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