September 2022 - FEATURES: Tom Garrity on celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is celebrating a milestone - it turns the big 5-0. This global event has created memories for many, especially the organization's spokesperson, Tom Garrity. We spoke with him to learn what's in store for the 50th Anniversary event.
How does it feel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the largest annual event in New Mexico?
It feels great! So many people have given so much to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and the sport of ballooning! Pilots, board members, staff, sponsors, volunteers, guest...the list goes on! Remembering all who have come before us, to get this event to where it is today, and celebrating those who will move it forward will be a highlight of the 50th event.
Why has the event continued to be a must-go-to after all these years?
The professional approach of the staff and volunteer board of directors has elevated the event's success and provided a world-class platform for its pilots. Coupling the event with the weather phenomenon known as the Albuquerque Box (which allows balloons the potential of launching and landing from the same place) and you have all of the elements that create a great spot for pilots and spectators.
When did you begin your collaboration with the event?
My first connection with the Balloon Fiesta was through covering the event as a member of the media. I was a producer with KOAT-TV (Albuquerque ABC affiliate) and won an Emmy for a half-hour program I produced. Those relationships helped to solidify a collaboration between the event and my firm to provide media relations support in the mid-90s. The rest, as they say, is history. It is a great event to promote, with so many great people and pilots.
What is your favorite memory of working with the Fiesta?
So many! The opening morning of the 48th event was a challenge but also provided a great memory. The dawn patrol was in the air, lighting up the pre-dawn sky when low clouds (a.k.a. fog) over the Rio Grande started to expand to the east and Balloon Fiesta Park. Thinking it would stop with the sunrise, the inflation continued with more than 500 hot air balloons getting ready for launch. With the first wave fully inflated the fog enveloped Balloon Fiesta Park and provided a very surreal look with fog and grounded balloons. The fog eventually burned off but a little later in the day. That next morning, Sunday, was one of the nicest launch days I remember at Balloon Fiesta.
What is in store for this year's celebration?
The 50th event will include so much! In conjunction with Albuquerque Aloft, there will be a reenactment of the 1972 launch of 13 hot air balloons from Coronado Center. Each of the balloons will carry a special gondola banner representing the original balloon they are flying for, it all starts September 30th, 7 am on the south side of Coronado Center. The same 13 balloons will be among the first to launch during Saturday's Mass Ascension, which will also include a flyover us the United States Air Force Jets.
The 50th event will feature more than 640 hot air balloons during the nine-day-event, with pilots representing 22 countries. We have nine teams participating in the American Challenge Gas Balloon Race, celebrating its 25th anniversary, a distance competition that has seen balloons fly to the east coast and into the far reaches of Canada.
Special shapes are always popular and fly throughout the nine days. Thursday and Friday of Balloon Fiesta will have all 120 special shape balloons (20 of which are flying at Balloon Fiesta for the first time)!
We have the return of Music Fiesta with Cole Swindell, Lainey Wilson, and Restless Road. The Balloon Discovery Center returns to the event. It is a wonderful place for children and their parents to learn more about the science of ballooning and flight.
So much! Visit balloonfiesta.com for all of the events.
The Fiesta’s mission statement is clear and direct. Do you feel it has fulfilled the mission, or is there more to accomplish after 50 years?
The Balloon Fiesta's mission is "To conduct the world's premier ballooning event while renewing friendships and promoting camaraderie among all participants and promoting the sport of ballooning, the City of Albuquerque and the State of New Mexico, nationally and internationally." Can we ever have enough friendship and camaraderie?
Tom Garrity is the spokesperson for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Tom is a 30-year resident of Albuquerque. His team, The Garrity Group Public Relations, started working with the event in 1997.
Author: Teresa Robinson