Get out of town Regis & Kathie Lee! Say Goodnight Jay Leno. Party's over Dave Letterman... cause Heeeeeeeerrrrreee's BILL!
Yes, America's newest star of stage and screen is none other than world record balloonist Dr. Bill Bussey of Longview, Texas. Bussey makes his video debut as host of the official video for the 25th Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and a star studded debut it is. Siskell and Eibert would no doubt give it two enthusiastic thumbs up!
Hyperbole aside for the moment, the 25th Fiesta video is quite possibly the best ballooning video produced to date in this modern era of our sport. Having said that, let's examine why...
This 25th Fiesta video is once again produced by Westcom the same folks who did the 1995 video and ESPN special. Like that previous effort, the production quality of the 25th video is extremely high yet this video takes a different approach to Fiesta. Where the 1995 video centered on competition, Westcom's producers obviously listened to and learned from the critics who wanted more of the overall flavor of Fiesta on their official video. The 25th Anniversary video is filled with mass ascensions, balloon glows, competition, food and fun, leaving precious little of the Fiesta unseen.
(To be fair, it was that competition 'angle' that allowed the 95 video to make it to ESPN, giving our sport tremendous exposure. The 96 video airs on the Outdoor Network as the first in a series of five ballooning programs under the title Wind and Fire. In FAA-speak, if ESPN is a congested area, Outdoor Network is not. Bussey was one of the handful of pilots featured in the '95 video and that experience led to his collaboration on this new series.)
>From his opening description of the workings of a modern hot air balloon to the final farewell, Bussey steps into the role of on-camera host with a grace and poise that defies the truth - that he has no professional television training. He is immediately at ease with the camera, talking to it and the viewer as one. Virtually all of his on-camera performance was done live, ad-lib, without a script, and with very little time for rehearsal or retakes.
It is this spontaneity that allows Bussey's enthusiasm and love for the sport to shine through, adding a dimension to this video lacked by most others, no matter how professional the voice-over announcer. In only a rare instant or two does his energy and excitement seem forced and a bit phony.
Yet, it is thanks to his 'come on in, sit down, let me tell you a story' approach that draws you to him as host, thus you cannot help but laugh with him as he (on-camera) coaxes brother Bruce closer and closer to the Sivage Thomas Homes chimney drop target taking a moment to remind the audience, "I taught him (brother Bruce) everything he knows (about flying)!" That moment, for all who know him is vintage Bill Bussey! However, if Bussey is the star of the show then ballooning is the hero that rides off into the sunset. Whether at the height of the key grab competition or in moments spent sharing a radio controlled model with a group of school kids, the magic of our sport is the constant focus of this video. You see it in the awe inspiring yet silent, night launch of the America's Challenge gas balloons. You see it in the eyes of the children as they exclaim their favorite balloon at the balloon glow. You see it in the dance of the Zebras to get everyone launched safely. You see it even as Bussey tastes the culinary delight that is Cajun Charlie's deep-fried turkey ya-ya served up at a post-flight tailgate party.
If I were to suggest that this video falls short of perfection in any way it could only be that perhaps something was left out. No, none of the fiesta activities were missed. But given the significance of a 25th anniversary, I would have liked to have seen it all put into perspective - how we got to this celebration on the high dessert. A brief chat with Sid Cutter beside a newly erected historical marker falls short in the attempt. However, that was the subject of an earlier Fiesta video and perhaps rightly so. Every balloonist, whether pilot, crew, or admirer, should find this video deeply satisfying. It is one to be shown over and over again to those family and friends who just don't quite understand why we do what we do, and the love and enjoyment we derive from it.