After a 37-year history and a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spiedie Fest has returned for the first time ever in the month of October. Traditionally scheduled for a weekend in August, Spiedie Fest was held on the weekend of Oct. 8 through Oct. 10 at Otsiningo Park in Binghamton, featuring celebrity meet and greets, live music performances, food and craft vendors, a car show, a spiedie cook-off contest and more.

According to its website, Spiedie Fest is considered one of the “top hot air balloon rallies in the country” and brings over 100,000 people throughout the weekend. Due to its new October date, Binghamton University students were now able to attend the festival while school is in session, with particular thanks to a coordinated effort between Off Campus College Transport (OCCT), Student Association (SA) President David Hatami, and the Spiedie Fest. OCCT offered an hourly Spiedie Fest Shuttle leaving from the University Union, which could be tracked as the ITC Shuttle on the SPOT app.

Hatami said his own personal favorite part of the festival was watching the hot air balloon flights, which was something he had never seen before.

“Being from down state, I’ve honestly never seen a hot air balloon before this weekend,” Hatami wrote in an email. “Seeing the variety of colors, shapes and patterns of the balloons was really incredible. Even more fun was getting to speak to the pilots and individuals who prepare and take care of the balloons; we really do have some unique communities in our local area that you never really get to tap into unless going to an event like Spiedie Fest.”

Emily Schieber, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law in an accelerated MBA program, said she enjoyed the festival.

“It was nice to spend some time outside with friends, watch the balloons blow up and just walk through and see what it was about,” Schieber said.

The Balloon Rally is a classic part of Spiedie Fest, being one of the first components of the festival in its early years. According to Dave Pessagno, event coordinator for Spiedie Fest, the festival started out back in 1983 just with a live band, a few balloons and some children’s activities. By the 1990s, Pessagno and other organizers had attended similar balloon rallies and festivals throughout the country, finding inspiration to expand on Spiedie Fest.

“In 1990, we decided to step it up,” Pessagno said. “That started the explosion — we had 121,000 [attendees] over three days, our record.”

The hot air balloons were flown twice per day on Saturday and Sunday, with the “morning flight” occurring at 7 a.m. and the “evening flight” at 4 p.m. Balloons were not flown on Friday night, but were rather showcased in the “Balloon Glow” event, where the balloons were inflated with lights and a fireworks show took place.

With a newly constructed concert stage, Spiedie Fest brought in three live performances — Barenaked Ladies on Friday at 6 p.m., Billy Currington on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Martina McBride on Sunday at 5 p.m. Concert tickets cost $25 — including fair admission — when purchased in advance at Wegmans, the Visions Veterans Memorial Arena Mirabito box office or online at Prices were raised to $40 per ticket on the day of each concert.

Pessagno said the lineup generated excitement among the community, especially with the new concert venue at Otsiningo Park and a lineup with three well-known artists. According to Pessagno, the Barenaked Ladies have a large following in the New York and Pennsylvania areas.

“Most people who follow music know you can’t get $25 tickets anywhere else in the country,” Pessagno said.

Due to vocal issues, Currington’s Saturday concert was canceled, but according to Spiedie Fest’s website, will be made up with a new date for ticketholders.

There were also two celebrity meet and greets at the festival — actresses Miranda May and Peyton List. May, 25, is an actress in Disney Channel shows such as “Bunk’d” and “Liv and Maddie.” List, 23, is known for her roles in “Cobra Kai,” “Jessie,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and more. The meet and greets were held on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., featuring May on Saturday and List on Sunday.

No fair or festival is complete without fried foods, carnival rides and craft vendors — and Spiedie Fest was no exception. According to Pessagno, Spiedie Fest organizers brought in vendors from all across the country to provide its vast variety of foods and goods. By simply walking through the festival grounds one could see just how much food was available: fresh-cooked spiedies, corn dogs, blooming onions, fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, pumpkin funnel cake and even fried cheese on a stick! The two main spiedie vendors, The Rob Salamida Co. and Lupo’s Original Spiedies, had the longest lines of fairgoers waiting for French fries and lamb, chicken, pork or tofu spiedies fresh off the grill.

This first return of Spiedie Fest since the pandemic brought lots to offer its attendees. Pessagno said organizing around this time of year, while school is back in session, sometimes presented unique challenges compared to past years. He said his organizing team consists of roughly 40 to 50 members, including local committees and Broome County Parks and Recreation staff, and the event takes significant time and money to plan. However, he said the local community came through time and time again to donate light towers and volunteer efforts.

Hatami said he hopes Spiedie Fest and the SA will continue to coordinate in the future

“It is my hope that Spiedie Fest continues to be held during a time of the year that all members of our community, both student and non-student, are able to enjoy the event,” Hatami wrote in an email. “I think that this year we set a pretty strong foundation for future SA collaboration and partnerships, but it will ultimately be up to future generations of student leaders to continue to cultivate a healthy relationship with our greater off-campus local community.”

As Spiedie Fest 2021 wraps up, students and local community members can look forward to next year’s events, which are to be announced at this point in time. According to Robin Alpaugh, event coordinator for Spiedie Fest and director of operations for State Sen. Fred Akshar, festival organizers are hoping to possibly schedule the event for September — another date where students will be able to attend during the fall semester.

“I think we are working to identify a weekend in September for 2022, but it’s very early on in the process and I’m only speaking as one member of the board and committee,” Alpaugh wrote. “Stay tuned …”