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Dancing kites fill the sky above Antelope Island

Published August 31, 2013 8:52 pm

Stampede Festival • What started as a hot air balloon event has become much more.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Antelope Island • The Antelope Island Stampede Festival started seven years ago with just hot air balloons that filled the sky.

But hot air balloons are fickle. If the temperatures are not just right, or if the winds are blowing too hard, the balloons can't fly.

About five years ago, when all of the balloons were grounded during the festival, Kevin Bayless — then just a spectator — went into the middle of the field in the festival grounds and threw the biggest kite he owned into the air.

It sparked an idea: If the balloons couldn't sail through the whole event, why should the skies above Antelope Island's White Rock Bay be empty?

That winter, Bayless joined the festival's planning committee, and ever since, colorful kites have marked the skies at every festival.

"The kite piece has just grown every year by leaps and bounds," said festival chairwoman Barbara Riddle on Saturday. "It's just bringing all these people with love of things in the air and bringing them together in a festival."

So, what started as a balloon festival has now morphed into a playground of kites flying, BMX bikers performing tricks, a Frisbee golf course, live music and a kid zone full of games and crafts.

Bayless said that though the winds can often be erratic on Antelope Island, the festival is still a hot spot for kite fliers. Fliers from across the country, and from Mexico, Canada and Denmark, all made the journey to the island to fly kites. Bayless said there are two reasons why the island is so attractive to kite fliers: the people they meet and the beautiful landscape.

"There are very few venues as beautiful [as Antelope Island,]" he said Saturday.

For John Baressi, the leader of stunt kite group iQuad, the island provided the perfect backdrop for the group to perform its last show. After seven years of flying synchronized kites, the group — whose members originate from Oregon, Washington and Canada — is calling it quits so the members can pursue flying kites individually.

"It's people coming together to do what they love to do," Baressi said about Antelope Island's festival. "It's a great place to connect with other people."

Baressi's group coordinates six quad-line kites and performs routines to music. On Saturday, crosswinds cut their performance short, but the crowd was still awed by how synchronized six separate kite fliers could be.

"We enjoy when you can feel the audience pushed to a peak," Baressi said. "They are either completely quiet or [cheering.]"

The Antelope Island Stampede Festival continues Sunday. It costs $10 a car load to enter the island, then an additional $15 to enter the festival grounds. The hot air balloons are scheduled to launch at 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., with festival activities and kite fliers in between.

jmiller@sltrib.com