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Gristle, grounded balloons: Attendees irate after Hill Country festival fails to meet expectations

Event organizers defend three-day event hampered by bad weather

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas – Organizers of a hot air balloon and polo festival held in Fredericksburg this weekend are defending their handling of the event, after complaints from attendees and vendors continued to pile up Monday.

The Victory Cup Fredericksburg Hot Air Balloon Festival & Cowboy Polo Match, held southeast of Fredericksburg on Friday through Sunday, was hampered by poor weather, including winds that prevented the balloons from being launched.

"Nobody's more disappointed than us that due to safety, we weren't able to activate those balloons," said Greg Ball, CEO of Black Stone, the event management company that ran the event.

Ball said two balloons were briefly up in the air Friday, but were quickly grounded after the wind caused them to bump into each other.

He said festivalgoers who purchased balloon ride tickets were automatically upgraded to tickets for a VIP dinner, his company's standard policy for these events.

Ball added that besides the canceled balloon rides, the main components of the festival Friday and Saturday took place as scheduled.

Ball conceded that the Sunday portion of the event, which was free and open to the public, was called off because of poor weather forecast for the area.

"Both the lunch and dinner were fully executed. We fed over 1,500 people, including the upgrades," Ball said.

A Facebook page created Saturday for people to post reviews of the festival continued to catalog complaints Monday night from people who attended the event as well as those who worked at it as a vendor.

"Our impression upon arrival was that of a flea market. It was not the environment I had expected to encounter at a polo match. Nor did we actually see a polo match. A few fellows would come out and bat the ball around occasionally, but then returned to their trailers to warm up. I hope they had fun at least," Dorothy Immel wrote.

"This was an absolute embarrassment. Ive (sic) never worked with this company before and never will again," Kenny Garner wrote.

"My pregnant wife and I ate every meal standing up... in the freezing cold... I am not blaming the weather. Heaters are available for indoors and out," another man wrote.

Posters on Facebook also questioned whether event organizers were also deceptive in how they sold tickets to the event, claiming that tickets for balloon rides continued to be sold Saturday, even after organizers knew winds were too strong to launch the balloons.

Additionally, an organizer Monday posted on Facebook that 20 balloons and pilots were on site ready to be launched.

However, the outside vendor who handled the hot air balloon portion of the event confirmed to KSAT 12 that those numbers were exaggerated and there were only ever 14 balloons on site.

"Just nothing else to do at this event. It was a mess, it was miserable. It was cold and there was nothing provided to compensate for that," said Shirley Parodi, who attended the event Saturday after paying for entry tickets, balloon rides, parking and food and drink tickets.

Parodi said she asked for a refund on site, only to have what she described as an "incredibly offensive" encounter with Ball himself.

Parodi said Ball refused to refund her money and then said, "It's a privilege to be here. There are people who have paid $500 plus to be here, and this is obviously not your kind of event."

Ball did not respond to a follow-up question sent via email about the encounter.

One woman from Houston who emailed KSAT 12 said she spent $800 for her and her family to attend the event, not including the cost to rent a home for the weekend, only to be served a meal on a paper plate in the VIP area that consisted of steak with so much gristle that the plastic knife she was given could not cut through it.

Organizers said Monday that they would not be offering refunds for tickets, but instead would provide complimentary tickets to a future Victory Cup event.

Attendees are asked to email polo@victorycup.org.

Ball sent KSAT 12 a handful of emails Monday from attendees asking for complimentary tickets to a future event.


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