Family fun for the young and young at heart at Kanab Balloons and Tunes Roundup

ST. GEORGE — Dozens of hot air balloons took to the airway over Kanab Friday morning to kick off the sixth “Kanab Balloons and Tunes Roundup Festival.”

Kanab Balloons and Tunes Roundup Festival, Kanab, Utah, Feb. 14, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The event, held annually on President’s Day weekend, features almost 40 hot air balloons, a battle of the bands, a street vendor fair and a world-class night glow and wishing lantern event.

It’s a family-friendly affair where children, parents and grandparents can gawk in awe of the towering balloons as their pilots deftly fly them along Kanab’s magical landscape.

“I just love Balloons and Tunes. It is such a fun way to get the whole family out,” Josie Sprecher, event, public relations and advertising coordinator for Kane County Tourism, said.

The focus on family fun is much like ballooning itself.

Pilot John Leisek of Tooele has been flying hot air balloons since 1980, he said. A hobby, and sometimes profession, that he got started in because of his dad.

“He called one day and said he saw a balloon and he wants to learn how to fly it,” Leisek said of his father.

Leisek’s mom laughed out loud at the thought, thinking her husband was telling a joke, Leisek said.

But his dad was serious, so he asked his son to come along and learn to fly with him.

A hot air balloon named “Strawberry Heights” makes a neighborhood landing during the Kanab Balloons and Tunes Roundup Festival, Kanab, Utah, Feb. 14, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Leisek’s only knowledge of a hot air balloon at that time had come from a brochure his father sent him depicting a dapper man and a beautiful woman in a white dress flying low over a tree in a hot air balloon. But that was all it took for Leisek.

“I fell in love with ballooning right there. I said ‘I don’t know what this is all about, but I’m interested,’” Leisek said.

The next weekend he was in Las Vegas training to become a pilot. It was an overwhelming experience for Leisek who said the first time he saw the balloon open and inflate, he thought for sure elephants were going to come running out of it, it was so huge and exciting.

Leisek’s excitement continues to this day.

“Every flight is a new adventure,” he said. “Every single flight has something new.”

Throughout his years, Leisek has flown many balloons, including a three-year stint piloting the National Guard hot air balloon which was flown as part of their recruiting efforts as well as to honor the sacrifices that National Guard families made, Leisek said.

Today Leisek and his wife Kimberly, with their son Elijah in tow, pilot and crew a 70-foot balloon known as “Strawberry Heights.” And it is exactly as its name suggests — a giant flying strawberry.

Though Elijah is just 5-years-old, he is already learning the ropes of how to crew and how a hot air balloon works so that someday, before Leisek retires, he said, he will be able to pass on his skills to his son.

“We’re seeing multiple multigenerational pilots at this point,” Leisek said, adding that it truly is a family passion.

The Kanab Balloons and Tunes Festival continues into Friday evening with the street vendor fair and the battle of the bands on Main Street until 8 p.m.

Kanab Balloons and Tunes Roundup Festival, Kanab, Utah, Feb. 14, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Saturday at 7:30 a.m., balloons will launch from the former Coral Cliffs Golf Course, 755 Fairway Drive, Kanab.

The vendor fair and battle of the bands will continue Saturday on Main Street until 9 p.m.

The Balloon Glow will take place on Center Street from 7-8 p.m. and the wishing lantern launch will take place on Main Street from 8-9 p.m.

Balloons will launch one last time Sunday at 7:30 a.m.

All balloon and lantern launches are weather permitting. A full schedule of events can be found here.

“We love this event every year,” Sprecher said. “We hold it over the long weekend so families can come enjoy the balloons and then stay and see all that Kanab has to offer.”

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