American flags, grilled meat, fireworks and fireflies all comprise a proper Fourth of July. This year, however, I’ve had enough of the usual pyrotechnics. So Emily and I opted for a different kind of light show—glowing hot air balloons at the Eyes to the Skies festival in Lisle, IL. We parked our car at a satellite parking lot for $5 and took a bus shuttle over to the activities. This fest is one of the better known Independence Day events in the western suburbs and it was crowded.
When we arrived we were disappointed that the planned 6:30 p.m. balloon flight was delayed and then later canceled on account of the light wind. The balloons won’t fly unless the weather is perfect. In the meantime we got some delicious chicken kebabs with rice for dinner at the food concourse, which was packed with booths offering fare such as barbecued pork chops, funnel cake, cheese-and-bacon-covered potato chips, pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. I regretted lugging along my camp chair because of the crowds (a small lightweight picnic blanket would’ve been better). We walked by bands on sound stages and through a crafts fair, but avoided the carnival.
We pressed through the crowds and found a spot up front along the orange plastic fencing to watch a checkered balloon take people on tethered rides ($20 a person for five minutes). Men holding long ropes held the balloon in position. We later found a quieter spot on the east side of the balloon field. We sat down there, sipped our iced teas, and enjoyed watching the sun set and the balloons get set up for the 8:30 p.m. Glow, where the balloons remain on the ground and glow from within. As the unfurled fabrics became strange clumsy shapes we called out what they were to each other: “An elephant! Pepé Le Pew! An alligator! A pirate parrot!” And then Emily and I both remarked, “what the heck is that?” The balloon in question we later found out was called ‘Purple People Eater.’ It’s large and purple with bulging eyes, many arms and a sinister smile. I liked it. There were many classic-looking balloons, too.
After the sky was mostly dark and the balloons were inflated we were surprised to see that the public was allowed onto the field. We milled about by the wicker baskets while looking up at the buoyant balloon behemoths floating above. Every now and then a balloonist would let loose his aircraft’s burner. A tall blue-yellow flame would spit out in a loud WOOOSH, illuminating everything nearby in bright light and heat. When this happened, the balloon shells glowed radiantly against the night sky like giant Chinese lanterns.
Occasionally an announcer would count down to a Glow and all the balloons would fire up and glow simultaneously. After about a half hour the Glow was over. We didn’t stay for the fireworks show at the end of the night because we wanted to beat the crowds leaving. Luckily for us, we got treated to all the suburban firework shows along the expressway on the drive home.
Eyes to the Skies Festival
Lisle Community Park, 1825 Short St., Lisle, IL 60532
around 4th of July each year
$5 per car to park; $5 an adult for festival