How did it all start...?
In 1989, New Jersey entrepreneurs Howard Freeman and John Korff decided to put their extensive experience at organizing and promoting world class events to work for the state of New Jersey. Their goal was to develop a festival where New Jersey was the star attraction and would be showcased in a positive light.
In 1992, they met Bill Lewis of Stanton, New Jersey who had owned and organized the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning for nine years. In 1983, working with Malcolm Forbes and Tom Curley from USA Today, Mr. Lewis brought approximately ten hot air balloons to the Union 76 Truck Stop on Route 78 in New Jersey for his event. After two years they moved the festival to is current site at Solberg Airport in Readington, New Jersey where it grew to 40-50 balloons and 30,000-40,000 attendees. However, Lewis was looking to sell the festival to someone with the wherewithal to take it to the next level.
Korff and Freeman, whose only previous experience with balloons was watching the movie "The Wizard of Oz," decided to attend the Thunderbird Balloon Classic in Arizona to see what the "hot air" was all about. Both entrepreneurs were immediately impressed by the amount of traffic and the number of people who appeared "spellbound" by the sight of dozens of hot air balloons in the sky.
In 1993, Freeman and Korff acquired the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning and signed a long term deal with Solberg Airport. That same year also marked the beginning of a long running partnership with the sponsor Quick Chek that is now in its 30th year. In that time, Freeman and Korff have grown the festival not only into the largest event in New Jersey, but into the largest summertime balloon festival in North America. Now, backed by more than fifty corporate partners, including title sponsor Quick Chek Food Stores, the festival has grown in stature both nationally and internationally. Recently the festival was designated for the fifth time as one of the top one hundred events in North America by the American Bus Association and also was the recipient of the Governor's award for the Best Special Event in New Jersey.
In 2000, to keep with their philosophy of differentiating the festival from other balloon festival by promoting "more than just hot air," the two entrepeneurs introduced major concerts to the festival with their presentation of the legendary band, The Beach Boys. Each subsequent festival now includes three major concerts. Recent headliners include Meat Loaf, Barenaked Ladies, The Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates, Styx, Foreigner, Jonas Brothers, KC & the Sunshine Band, and numerous others.
This year's 31st Annual Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning will attract more than 175,000 people from all over the United States. In fact, the festival is only 35 miles from New York City, Philadelphia and Bethlehem, PA; 30 miles from Newark and 25 miles from Trenton.
While the Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning is designed to offer fun for people of all ages, Freeman and Korff have also dedicated their efforts, through the festival, to helping the community. A portion of all proceeds from the festival are donated to the Children's Miracle Network, which funds three pediatric hospitals in New Jersey. Last year, more than $175,000 was raised by the festival for local charities bringing the total contribution for the 19 years of Freeman and Korff's management to over 2 million dollars returned to local and regional non-profits.
All told, The Festival Group has now produced fourty-seven hot air balloon and music festivals including festivals in Columbus, Ohio; South Weymouth, MA; Brookhaven, NY; Burlington, VT; Syracuse, NY; Jersey City, NJ, Springfield, MA and Inner Mongolia, China!