The Bluegrass Balloon Festival originated as a charitable event to benefit the community in both entertainment value and by raising funds for charity. It began as the Adam Matthews Balloon Festival in 1999 and was renamed the Bluegrass Balloon Festival in 2007 after the Spirit of Kentucky Foundation acquired the event. This organization has built upon the charitable nature of the event to create a celebration that showcases the wonderful qualities of our great Kentucky home.
1999: The first Adam Matthews Balloon Festival was launched. On the last weekend in September, 52 hot air balloons gathered at Bowman Field to take place in a historical moment. The festival became a part of Kentucky’s aviation legacy. Bowman Field, the oldest continually operating airport in the United States, gave flight to a new type of air show as the home of the event.
2000: The second year of the Adam Matthews Balloon Festival experienced rapid growth with attendance of 70 balloons from across the United States.
2001: In 2001, due to the tragic events of September 11, flight at the festival was in doubt. Due to the petitioning of the festival, the National Safety Council and the FAA decided to allow the flight of hot air balloons two days prior to the opening of the festival. Approximately 75 balloons attended, making this the largest balloon festival held in Kentucky’s history. Over $20,000 was given in prize money! Pilots came from as far away as Canada and the western United States.
2002: Eighty five balloon pilots participated to compete for $27,500 in prize money. Pilots came from as far as New Zealand, Canada and the Western United States. Over $35,000 was raised for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Louisville Zoo and the WHAS Crusade for Children.
2003: One hundred balloons participated with $40,000 in prizes awarded, six hours of live TV coverage, and over 75,000 people attended the three day event. Portions of the parking fees benefited the WHAS Crusade for Children, along with contributions to the Louisville Zoo and several other local non-profit groups.
2004: The field was limited to 90 Balloons, but expanded children’s activities and the addition of a beer garden made this the largest festival to date. Money from the parking proceeds went to the restoration of the historic Louisville Clock.
2005: The field was limited to 90 balloons, yet over 100 balloons registered for the 2005 festival. There were two spectacular races and two fabulous glows. Attendance was record breaking, exceeding well over 100,000 people during the festival.
2006: 90 balloons kicked off the 8th year of the Festival on Friday morning with a beautiful flight. The weekend was filled with magnificent balloon activities and lots of family fun.
2007: The Spirit of Kentucky Foundation purchased the Adam Matthews Balloon Festival for $1 five weeks before the 2007 event. Volunteers, old and new, came together to deliver a nearly flawless event with over 90 balloons and the largest attendance ever. The Bluegrass Balloon Festival was named a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society.
2008: 10 years of celebrating aviation with a Kentucky spirit! Pilots from around the country competed for up to $40,000 in cash prizes. The festival expanded to include an art festival(sponsors are everywhere offering cheap wall art), charity walk, volleyball tournament and breakfast with the balloons. The charitable impact of this event was magnified with profits pledged to area children’s charities including Kosair Children’s Hospital, Down Syndrome of Louisville and others.