Balloons + Pilots

The Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest brings in 15-18 balloon pilots from all around the world!

Balloon Meister

What’s a balloon meister, you ask?

The Balloon Meister is in charge of and coordinates all of the Balloon Activity at a Balloon Festival. A Balloon Meister also makes sure that all Balloon Pilots meet all FAA requirements. You need to be an FAA certified pilot and then you can branch off to your specific style of aircraft. Balloon Meisters must monitor and follow all weather activity, including wind. Weather plays a primary role in the launching of balloons and lots of effort and work goes into each launch at a festival. While everyone is out on the field getting ready to enjoy some balloon launches, the Balloon Meister is verifying the safety of everyone and monitors all activity through the launches.

Our Balloon Meister

Scott Griswold feat. “Honor” – Above All Balloon Rides

“The Griswold family has been in the ballooning business for 40 years. Since I was born, I have grown up around hot air balloons. Whether it is crewing, chasing, piloting, or just spectating, I have witnessed many amazing aspects and the growth of the sport. My father, Jim Griswold, was a major influence and contributor to hot air ballooning in the Central NY area. He was the co-founder of the well-known Jamesville Balloon Festival and he was responsible for training most of today’s local hot air balloon pilots.”


Scott Griswold - "First in Flight"

Balloon meister, Scott Griswold, will also be bringing this special shape balloon. It is designed to honor the first hot air balloon passengers. Can you guess who they were? Hear the full history behind these first passengers as it is read from the stage at the festival!

Damien Ristaino - "Arizona"

Damien Ristaino is 44 and was born in Raleigh, North Carolina United States. His Mother is a certificated private pilot in the fixed wing category, single engine land. His Father was a expert parachutist, certificated parachute rigger, and commercial pilot in the light than air category hot air balloon. Damien Ristaino is a master parachutist holding two world records and 9 years of competition championships, certificated master parachute rigger, commercial pilot, lighter than air, hot air balloon. Damien Flies for hire part time and usually carriers skydivers and passengers. Damien has a full time career in Electronics and electro-mechanical maintenance servicing in industries such as healthcare and industrial as well as being self employed as Commercial Parachutist and Master Parachute Rigger.

Mark Fritze - "Freedom Flyer"

My first balloon ride was in 1979, where I met my significant other. About 5 years later I helped a balloonist rescue his balloon from a light pole and from then on, I was hooked. He taught me to fly and I got my license in 1993. I am currently enjoying my third balloon and have acquired over 1,000 hours flying. I really love to take people up for their “bucket list” experience. I also enjoy some friendly competition.

Anthony Seeger - "Carolina Twist"

I started flying in 2006, but was volunteer crew before that. I average traveling to about 15 events a year, mainly along the east coast. Ballooning is only part time, I work full time at Carmax in Greenville, SC.

Wayne Fortney - "Rosie"

Wayne has been flying his balloon named Rosie since 1996. His entire family enjoys the sport, and he even met his wife on a balloon ride in Bristol, Virginia. “Miss Independence” joins “Rosie” as Adventure Time Ballooning’s newest addition to the fleet of Hot Air Balloons owned and operated by Wayne and Ann Fortney. Ballooning has taken Wayne and his family on adventures both near and far. Join them by scheduling a flight all year round at

Sean Richardson - "Color Me Badd"

Sean has been around balloons since he was little. His hometown has a balloon rally every year and he would help. As he got older he found other things that preoccupied his time until he met his wife. In 2008 he started helping out as crew for pilot Kenny Shumate. He and his wife helped with several balloon rallies up until 2014 when he bought his first balloon “Sky Candy.” He then focused on getting his commercial license and obtained it in 2016. Since then he has been to several balloon rallies on the east coast including the Lakeside of the Smokies last year. He hopes that everyone that flies in the balloon have a sweet and memorable flight!

Roger Clark - "Ram"

Roger has flown in most of the largest festivals, in many states, and in about every type of balloon. Check out his flying business Palmetto Sun Balloons! He has been a flight instructor, ground instructor, safety seminar instructor, balloon manufacturer worker (HEAD) and is currently a NAFI recognized Elite Balloon Instructor and past FAAST safety ambassador. Roger has flown for the following major sponsors: Ziploc, DIAL Brands, Re/Max, Longhorn Steakhouse, Coors Light, Crafted with Pride/Made in USA (2 balloons), WSPA-TV7, WESC-92.5 FM, Freedom Weekend Aloft, and numerous individual banner events and sponsors. Roger currently owns five balloons and flies as much as possible with multiple students and at festivals all around the Southeast.

2021 will mark 40 years of aviation for him since he started at age 13. He has topped 4,000 hours of flight time in fixed-wing and LTA aircraft.

Ken Leota - "Sir Prize"

My name is Ken Leota and I have been involved in ballooning for 37 years, along with my wife Janet. Our kids, Adam and Katie, have been crewing with us since birth! As things have progressed, Adam’s girlfriend Courtney and Katie’s husband Brandon are now part of the Team. We have been Very Lucky to have had long time friends/crew members, Vince & Patty, John & Rosie, and their families (as well as many others). One of the many things I love about Ballooning is the friends and smiles we have made over the years… looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing – except maybe starting sooner! We are truly Blessed to be able to share this wonderful sport with everyone we have met over the years!

Bob Ward - "Goin' Batty 3"

When I was a child, I was fascinated by flying objects….whether birds, bugs, butterflies, airplanes or rockets! I got my airplane pilots license at age 19 and then family happened, and I had to put aside flying for awhile. In 1986 my neighbor bought a hot air balloon, invited me for a ride, and the rest is history! I have been flying my own balloons since 1990. I love competition and introducing first time passengers to the wonder of a balloon ride! I also enjoy tethering at many festivals. Come out and get introduced to ballooning close up! You won’t regret it!

Will Randell - "Lulu Leopard"

Welcome pilot Will Randell of Pennsylvania. Will is bringing his shape balloon, “Lulu Leopard!” Check out Will’s ballooning website and Facebook Pages.

Charles Blair - "A-Nuther-Star"

Charles Blair has been Ballooning for over 41 years, he has always had a passion for anything that could fly. When his was 7, his uncle built a balloon from scratch, wove the basket, made the burner, and sewed a balloon together and on the very 1st flight, he told Charles to get in. (Charles did not kick and scream he just smiled from ear to ear and obliged). Ever since then, Charles always wanted to be a part of each and every flight from crewing, flying, and even listening in on weather briefings just to be involved somehow some way in ballooning. In 2006 Charles obtained his Private Rating for LTA (thanks to his uncle/instructor), and in 2014 he then became Commercial in LTA. In 2016, he had started his own ride business. Charles loves the comradery with all his fellow balloon pilots at about 10 festivals per year that he attends.

Manning Bowie - "Rising Star"

Welcome Manning Bowie of Martinez, GA. He is bringing his beautiful balloon “Rising Star.”

DJ Stukas - "Mr. Z"

Welcome pilot DJ Stukas. Will is bringing his shape balloon, “Mr. Z!”

Caroline Cating - Bush's Balloon

Welcome pilot Caroline Cating. Caroline will be flying the Bush’s Beans balloon as a thank you to our festival sponsor!

Bob Dicks - "Flecks Folly"

Bob is from Pennsylvania. He and his wife has been flying Balloons all over the United States and now will add Tennessee to that list. He is a commercial pilot and a fixed wing pilot. He enjoys seeing the smiling faces on Kids .

Matt Hurst

John Strauss

Get in Touch

There are so many ways to become involved with the festival. Sign up to be a volunteer, learn about our sponsorship opportunities, or donate to the festival.

295 W. Dumplin Valley Rd
Dandridge, TN 37725