Freedom Weekend Aloft, the annual hot-air balloon and concert festival, kicks off this afternoon to start Memorial Day weekend with a blend of music, food, rides and activities at Heritage Park in Simpsonville.
The 28th annual festival returns to its roots this year with general admission prices that open up concerts in the Heritage Park Amphitheater to all comers and an expansion back to four days of one of the Upstate’s largest festivals.
Activities kick off from 3 p.m.-11 p.m. today and continue each day through the weekend.
And in a move to show appreciation to the community, the festival turned over an entire day to Bi-Lo, which erased admission costs for Memorial Day on Monday and stocked the day full of patriotic and beach-themed concerts and a giant cookout.
When FWA first started at the Donaldson Center in Greenville, it charged a single admission price, which allowed customers to attend all concerts and activities. Once again, the festival will charge general admission but will open up the expanded concert schedule to all comers at no additional cost.
FWA executive director Keri Hall said it was time for changes to put a new face on the festival and to keep it relevant as one of the Upstate’s premier events.
“Due to the event itself and the signature attractions – concerts, hot-air balloons, the Family Fun Zone, disc dogs – coupled with incredible support from sponsors, necessitated that we return to four days,” Hall said. “We just couldn’t fit it all into three days.”
The festival runs from 3-11 p.m. today; noon-11 p.m. Saturday; noon-11 p.m. Sunday; and noon-8 p.m. Monday at Heritage Park, 861 S.E. Main St., Simpsonville.
Organizers expanded the concert schedule to take full advantage of the Heritage Park Amphitheater and to bring more musical flavor to the public.
“Two years ago we had three nights of concerts, or about nine hours,” Hall said. “Last year we had two nights, or about six hours. And you look at the venue, and it’s just an incredible resource and we said ‘Wow, we need to use this part of the event as much as possible.’ ”
Hall said the music will run “nonstop” throughout the weekend, with performers Corey Smith, The Voltage Brothers, Mothers Finest, Outlaws, Firefall, Crossroads, Sister Hazel, Foghat, the Catelinas, Gavin Degraw and Green River Ordinance on the amphitheater stage.
Memorial Day will offer a giant outdoor cookout at the amphitheater sponsored and run by Bi-Lo. Concerts will kick off at 1 p.m. with Four Star – the Navy Rock Band, followed by General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board and ending with the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band.
And of course the hot-air balloons will be back in town, with about 80 balloonists competing in morning competitions and launching each evening from Heritage Park with rides, tethered rides and a new “walk balloon” set up inside the park.
“That’s a balloon that they can’t fly anymore but they can cold-inflate it on the ground, and they’re going to let the kids run in it and play in it,” said Cindy Nelson, FWA associate director.
The popular U.S. Disc Dog Freedom Weekend Nationals qualifying tournament will return this year with a twist that spectators haven’t seen before. Following the regular choreographed freestyle and distance toss and fetch competitions May 23-24, two former national champions from Atlanta will present dog agility shows for the first time at FWA.
Dogs from Woof Sports, an Atlanta business run by Melissa Heeter and featuring other Greater Atlanta Dog and Disc Club members, will demonstrate speed and agility as they run a course with jumps, tunnels, weave poles and other obstacles.
“They’ll get to see dogs doing agility courses, and they’ll get to see different breeds of dogs,” Heeter said. “Agility is very popular in competitions, but it’s not seen very much in demonstrations. So they’ll be able to see some fun demonstrations.”
The healthy theme started last year with the addition of Greenville Hospital Systems as presenting sponsor will continue and expand this year, with healthy food and active events throughout the weekend.Local and national food and merchandise vendors will set up shop throughout the park, along with amusement rides and the Family Fun Zone, featuring comedy, magic, music and activities throughout the weekend. Label: News Report