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Broccoli Balloonist

  The chance to fly high above the state in the Touchstone Energy(r) balloon
lost a little allure when co-workers tried to scare me by telling me I could crash-land
and become a vegetable. They pointed at me, smiled, and said, “Broccoli.”

  Undaunted, but fazed, I still wanted to fly in the Touchstone Energy balloon
during the 2000 Derby Festival. Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives sponsored
the crew from Cooperative Balloon Associates for the big race.

  When I met our pilot, I knew I was in good hands. Cheri White, the sport’s
current National Women’s Division Champion, has flown balloons more than 20 years.
Last year, she finished 10th overall in the nationals. If attorneys granted permission
for me to ride, my fate rested with one of the nation’s best pilots.

  “The balloon gets the name Touchstone Energy out in communities,” said
Cheri, who is a customer of Fayette Electric Cooperative in LaGrange, Texas. “We
promote Touchstone Energy’s values of integrity, accountability, innovation, and
commitment to their local communities.”

  At nightfall before the race, 80,000 people marched onto a field at the
state fairgrounds for the balloon glow, when the balloons are inflated and lit
up, but stay tethered to the ground. Cheri funneled hot air into the balloon,
and then jumped in the basket and fired 12-foot flames of propane inside. The
72-foot-tall Touchstone Energy balloon rolled upright.

  Late that night, I learned that a small army of lawyers had finally approved
me going along. After four hours of sleep, I met Cheri to sign the releases, which
said, essentially: if I become a vegetable, it’s my fault.

  On race day, red light licked the eastern horizon as 49 pilots filled their
balloons. The Energizer Bunny stood larger than the Statue of Liberty. The Early
Times balloon, shaped like a bottle of bourbon, read “3,398,022 Liters.”

  One by one, they floated away. I climbed aboard. As we took off, I spotted
friends and family below. They yelled, “Broccoli, broccoli, broccoli!” laughing
deliriously.

  For an hour and a half, Louisville spread before our eyes. We hovered over
Bashford Manor Mall, rolling back and forth, but poor winds made it impossible
for Cheri to maneuver toward the “hare” balloon that marked the end of the race.

Sirens wailed, causing us to look for an accident or fire. We learned later that
the sirens were rushing to John E’s restaurant, where the Fast Signs balloon,
built in the shape of a cake, had draped itself over utility wires. No one was
hurt.

  Finally, Cheri radioed her crew chief and said, “We’re going to find a
place to land.”

  Our balloon descended directly over Delaware Street. People waved. Cheri
spotted a man looking up at us and asked him to help us land. “Bend your knees!”
she yelled at me.

  We bounced once. The bystander pulled us back to the street. We were home.

  Flying in the balloon, floating with the wind 2,000 feet above the earth,
was one of the most peaceful, thrilling experiences in my life. I may never feel
the same way about broccoli ever again.

-Kevin Osbourn, corporate communications coordinator at East Kentucky Power
Cooperative in Winchester

The Two Who Do the Bluegrass Fest

  Bob and Jean Cornett of Georgetown have been putting on the Festival of
the Bluegrass since 1974, and it has consistently been one of the most respected
and popular festivals in the country. Held at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington
in June each year, it fills the entire campground, drawing as many as 16,000 people
on Saturday afternoons, the busiest time. The festival adheres to aims established
in the beginning: a clean, safe environment in which families can have fun and
enjoy top-notch bluegrass music.

Festival goers themselves, the Cornetts keep their audience in mind at all times.

  “We have made it a point,” Jean Cornett says, “to ask people to fill out
questionnaires. I read and study every one. They tell us about problems they’ve
had, or ask to move a site (camping sites are reserved by some people year after
year, so their friends know their ‘address’) or offer praise for our children’s
programs. If they suggest performers, Bob and I will go and see what they are
like.”

This year’s festival will be held June 7-11, and in addition to traditional bluegrass,
there will be a second stage devoted to “the old way of picking” or prebluegrass
music, and time for young people to perform a more progressive style of bluegrass
music. “We want to keep the young people interested as best we can,” Jean Cornett
says.

  For information on the Festival of the Bluegrass call (606) 846-4995.

-Marty Godbey

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