The life of a promoter hasn’t been easy since the pandemic crushed live events more than a year ago.
Limits and often outright bans on crowds made it pretty difficult for promoters like Tim Matykiewicz of Ahwatukee, especially since a lot of what his company does is organize events for big crowds.
That’s why Matykiewicz is especially psyched right now as he gets down to the final days of planning the 10th annual Arizona Balloon Classic, which will run April 30-May 2 at the Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 S Ballpark Way, Goodyear – or, as he likes to say for the benefit of his neighbors, a mere 20-minute ride from Ahwatukee.
And even though the balloon festival is coming a little later than usual so that he has to worry about high winds and even though Goodyear’s virus mitigation plan required him to cut the number of participating balloonists from 35 to 15, Matykiewicz is as psyched as a kid on Christmas morning.
Judging by the pace of advance ticket sales, he may not be alone.
“Ticket sales have never been like this before,” he said. “We got a report from our ticket vendor out of Chicago and she asked, ‘What are you guys doing down there? Your tickets are like we’ve never seen before.’
“I think its timing and I think it’s cabin fever," Matykiewicz continued. “Everybody wants to get out... I think we’re going to be the first big festival in Goodyear. We’re going to be the first big festival in the West Valley – probably the metro area with the exception of Barrett-Jackson and the Phoenix Open. We’re the only big thing happening to kind of kick off the summer.”
And it’s a more welcomed summer than 2020 was.
His company, Arizona Events Group, naturally took a big hit.
“I mean we survived, but it’s been a tough 14 months for us,” he said, noting that one of the few bright spots was a three-weekend fall festival his company produced at Wild Horse Pass that drew 1,000 people – and no COVID-19 cases.
Matykiewicz is making sure the Arizona Balloon Classic is as safe from COVID-19 as possible as well – and not just because he was down with the virus, “sick as a dog" throughout the Christmas holidays.
“The numbers are looking good but we’re still going to be vigilant,” he said. “We don’t have to require masks now, but we recommend it. We don’t have to require and enforce distancing but we’re going to recommend it and then hand sanitizer – we have a good hand sanitizer sponsor. So they’re providing a couple hundred gallons of the stuff and the hands-free equipment to dispense it.”
All this so people can watch the spectacle Matykiewicz and his team have prepared.
Gates open at 6 a.m. April 30 and May 1 and stay open till 9 p.m. On Sunday – a free admission day – gates open at 6 a.m. and close at noon. Tickets can be purchased at abcfest.com and kids 12 and under are free – as are veterans and active military.
The gates open so early because some of the cool stuff occurs around that time – and not just the free admission from 6 a.m.-noon April 30.
Around 6 a.m. April 30 and May 1, brilliantly colored balloons will fly in as their operators compete in the Hare & Hound Race, vying to get as close as they can to snatch a set of keys from atop a balloon about 50 feet above the ground. The keys will give them a free year’s lease on a pickup truck while there also will be a small balloon to grab that contains $2,400 in cash.
“Those two big prizes – the pilots go nuts over that stuff, they really do,” Matykiewicz said. “You have to start a mile away from the site and you have to fly in and grab without touching the ground.
There also are other cash prizes for the balloonists who come closest to landing on a target painted on the ground.
Spectators can walk on the field right next to the balloons and experience the inflation and lift off.
New this year is the Desert Winds Kite Festival from My Wind Stuff, which will fly kites large than semi-trucks, windsocks the size of motorhomes and a 50-foot Mega Fish Kite that will be flying above the festival grounds April 30 and May 1.
Kites for all ages and abilities will be on hand for sale – including single line, dual line sport kites and quad line stunt kites. Kite show times will be based on weather conditions.
On both evenings, attendees can wander around the field full of tethered, illuminated, hot air balloons glowing in time to music.
Saturday night will feature a Pilots Parade with a constant burn of purple, green, red and yellow flames from the balloons. A fireworks show will precede the AlaskaUSA Federal Credit Union Desert Glow.
An assortment of other activities includes hot air balloon rides and tethered rides, inflatable games, stunt bike shows, live entertainment, sampling, and retail shopping and commercial exhibits for purchasing or browsing. Matykiewicz said that even though he had to pare back the number of vendors, there will still be dozens, ranging from original jewelry to home improvement items.
There will also be candy canons, paper rocket making and launching, and parachute racing for all ages.
And there is a food fest that includes beer gardens, food trucks and festival food favorites throughout all two and a half days of the festival.
From the beverage and ticket sales, Matykiewicz donates a portion to a charity and this year’s partner is Valley of the Sun United Way. One dollar from each ticket sold will be dedicated to United Way’s COVID Relief and Rebuilding Program in Maricopa County. Last year’s Arizona Balloon Classic raised $7,500 for United Way, funding 1,072 food bags for students.
Given that the event is being held several months later than he usually holds it, Matykiewicz naturally is concerned about the weather. Obviously, it will be warmer than February when it usually is held, so he advises guests to dress appropriately and bring sun protection.
He also is mindful that this time of year can get windy – posing a threat to balloonists. That’s why balloon events’ schedule depends on wind conditions, particularly because “hot air balloons don’t like working in weather hotter than 70 degrees – it’s just hard on the equipment.”
But Matykiewicz thinks people will know how to prepare for warm weather and that they’ll be chomping at the bit for some spectacle and the feeling of being part of a crowd.
“I think people are used to it,” he said. “We’ll be all right.”