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Annual balloonfest is led by none other than a hare.

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Many outsiders have thought of this weekend's Hot Air Balloon Rally in Madison as nothing more than a minor blip on Northeast Ohio's cultural radar. Natch, it would stun the naysayers that the 26th annual fly-by attracts an average of 5,000 spectators each year. "It's a surprise to most people that our tiny town operates an outdoor, recreational sporting event like this," says Beth Debevc, who helps run the Chalet Debonné Vineyards. "Most are used to bigger cities hosting these things, but we love being identified with it."Each show starts with a "hare" balloon taking off from a launch pad in one of the nearby fields. A group of "hound" balloons then chases after the first helium-filled inflatable to dot the Lake County sky. Meantime, patrons can either hop into tethered balloons for short rides or listen to music by the Castaways and Andy's Last Band while snacking on sandwiches, apps, wine, and soft drinks. And at this time of year, the weather often cooperates for the balloonists. "Being seven miles off the lake, the cool and light conditions are usually ideal," says Debevc. "And it's amazing howe we pull this off with little promotion. This is an event we don't have to advertise." Fly up, up, and away at the Hot Air Balloon Rally from noon to midnight today and noon to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Chalet Debonné Vineyards, 7743 Doty Road in Madison. Admission is $4. Call 440-466-3485 or visit www.debonne.com.
June 6-7, 12-8 p.m., 2008

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