Feature Article - March 2008
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The Main Event

Pulling It Off Without a Hitch

By Kelli Anderson

That's entertainment

What also makes for a great event is great entertainment. Whether it's clogging at a county fair or a nighttime parade of 80-foot specialty-shape balloons glowing in the night sky, making sure there's something for everyone—and knowing what that something should be—is important.

"There's something magical about balloons," said Kathy Leyendecker, media relations director for the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. "It's clean, fun, and interactive—all the elements for a great event. It's like a giant tailgate party, but extra-special in that it is interactive. You don't stand behind and watch—you walk amongst the balloons. People even help!"

With more than a million visitors to the weeklong ballooning event, entertainment obviously centers on the balloons, but also includes car shows, chainsaw sawing contests, air shows, fireworks and arts and crafts. It's an all-around family affair.

Also ensuring that there's something for everyone, the city of Geneva provides for its family-oriented visitors with lots of variety, but recognizes that some of their festivals cater to one group more than another.

"Festival of the Vine is more adult," Gaines said. "All our festivals have something for everyone, but at the Vine we focus on wine tasting and food. It's a favorite because we feature Geneva restaurants—it's a year younger than the Taste of Chicago. We offer carriage rides and have a trolley ride. It has a nice fall feeling to it."

Professional equipment also makes a world of difference. When the Central Iowa Fair began using a newly purchased mobile sound stage, quality acts were more eager to participate, while crowds were impressed with what they saw.

"It's been unbelievable. The band shell is flat awesome." Grabenbauer said. "People call me to use it. It shows professionalism in what we're trying to do."

But not all attractions will be hot. Even some that used to be a surefire thing may eventually lose their sizzle. Being willing to change what doesn't work and adding new ideas that do will keep interest alive and well from year to year. One source of new ideas is simply to look around and see what is getting attention at other venues or to tap into the resource information provided by festival groups like IFEA.

"Do your homework and ask what is it that will bring people. We take a look at other communities, and our staff is very creative, too," Cotta said. "We look at how the community and the world are changing. Take a look and see what makes sense."