On September 27, 1986, Cleveland hosted an event called Balloonfest ’86. The large-scale happening had noble aspirations: to raise funds for the United Way, set a world record by releasing nearly 1.5 million helium-filled latex balloons into the air, and restore Cleveland’s reputation as a world class city at long last. It was a disaster.
The stunt caused traffic accidents, airport delays, injuries to horses, and incalculable water pollution that extended from Northeast Ohio to parts of Canada. The hundreds of thousands of balloons that landed in Lake Erie also disrupted the Coast Guard’s search for two missing fisherman, who were later found dead. Between the operational expenses and settlements from the various lawsuits, the Balloonfest ’86 fundraiser actually lost money. Oh, and the folks at Guinness Book didn’t even recognize it as a world record.
If you weren’t alive for this infamous incident or you simply weren’t aware of it, Dinner Set Gang features some highlights—or lowlights, more accurately—from that fateful day in Cleveland in its new music video. Today, the Milwaukee project of Josh Evert and Derek De Vinney (both of The Fatty Acids) released a video for “Ceiling Fan.” The standout track from the group’s recent La Fata Turchina EP is paired with footage from Balloonfest ’86.
“Conceptually, I was just super drawn to pairing the chorus, ‘Everything is on fire,’ with the beautiful and terrifying footage,” Evert tells Milwaukee Record. “I also loved pitting the blissful audience reaction against the ecological disaster. Intentional or not, I think the video ended up being a metaphor for climate change.”
While the imagery employed in the video is from an event that occurred in Ohio more than 35 years ago, Evert sees some similarities between that ill-fated fundraiser and the campaign in the not-so-distant past to blow up a car in Milwaukee in order to draw attention from Hollywood filmmakers.
“They’re both rust belt cities and they’re both dealing with inferiority complexes. In some of the archival footage, you can hear one of anchors screaming, ‘No more mistake on the lake! Cleveland is a world class city!’ as this monstrosity is released into the sky,” Evert says. “I think that any city hellbent on proving itself in the shadow of larger cultural hubs is bound to make similar mistakes.”
Relive the hope and the horror of Cleveland’s Balloonfest ’86 and watch Dinner Set Gang’s “Ceiling Fan” music video below.