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Organizer: A good year for Rochesterfest despite the weather

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The Rochesterfest Mayor's Cup Invitational Hot Air Balloon race was canceled Sunday morning due to high winds but that didn't prevent a couple of balloons from launching from Badger Ridge Park in Northwest Rochester.

Dozens of vehicles lined the streets near Badger Ridge Park in Northwest Rochester early Sunday as Rochesterfest floated into history.

People got up early — some as early as 3 a.m. — to make it to the 6 a.m. Mayor's Cup Invitational Hot Air Balloon Race on Sunday. But only two balloons lifted off. The others were grounded by the wind.

It was last weather-related setback for Rochesterfest Executive Director Carol Brown, who said the fest "has gone along very well, despite some little weather problems here and there."

For Friday's parade, she said, "we did have some brief downpours during the parade. But, amazingly, people seemed to still be happy. Many people stayed. They came prepared with umbrellas — many left as well — but the overall feeling was it was still a great parade."

A last-minute cancellation by U2 tribune band Vertigo USA before Saturday's street dance was among the biggest challenges for the fest. The street dance is one of Rochesterfest's major fundraisers.


"We were lucky enough to have Incognito play. … We had a great crowd, so we were very happy with that outcome and certainly appreciate the fact that they were willing to come and play on such short notice," Brown said.

There was also a crowd for Sunday's balloon race.

Four generations of one family, younger ones wrapped in blankets against the chilly morning air, were happy to see two balloons lift off, though they had hoped for more.

"It's a fun activity, and to be able to do it together is fun. We look for activities like this, don't we?" Karen Cocker asked her grandkids.

Karla Cocker and her kids Makayla Sanders, 10, and Devon Sanders, 7, of Rochester, were joined by Karla's parents, Harvey and Karen Cocker, and the kid's great-grandmother, Louise Evenson.

The two balloons lifted off under a waiver that allows them to fly if they're not part of an event. The winds aloft were blowing at 12 knots — higher than the 10-knot limit for an official hot-air balloon event in a residential area.

Even so, Mayor Ardell Brede was pleased that the Invitational had returned to Rochesterfest for the first time since 2008.

"Cars were lined up all the way around, and you could see the excitement in the public," Brede said. "It's like the old Brooklyn Dodgers — 'Wait until next year.'"


"We decided it was time to start this event again," said Mayor's Cup event director Mike Lesmeister. "It's about the passion. You can't put a price on it."

Right now, he said, there are only three or four hot-air balloon pilots in Rochester. But there are two student pilots, rebuilding toward what was once 11 pilots in the area.

He expressed enthusiasm for the Mayor's Cup.

"Really it's about being part of Rochester. You've got such a community here," he said.

Brede said the most who have ever participated in the Mayor's Cup was 26 hot-air balloons. But he has heard that up to 20 balloonists might visit for the 2014 event.

Lesmeister flew one of the two balloons Sunday morning. His went up and he landed soon after in a church parking lot, surprising Brede by returning to the launch site so quickly.

"Heaven didn't want me, and hell's afraid I was going to take over — so they sent me back!" he proclaimed as he jumped into the dewy grass.

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