This story is over 5 years old.


Meet the Guy Who Goes to Every Major Music Festival with Balloons Strapped to His Back for Art

His name is Robert, he's 44, he's The Balloon Guy, and I've decided to interview him about his balloons.

The Balloon Guy. Photo by the author.

Balloons make everything better. Are you having a bad day? Have a balloon. Is it your birthday? Have a balloon. Did you just have surgery? Have a balloon. There’s a weird inherent childlike awe when it comes to balloons and the idea of balloons; they aways inspire your imagination to think of the strangest things it possibly can. Remember Up? That guy made his whole house fly, just with balloons! Remember that song “99 Red Balloons”? Nobody knows what it’s about, but it’s really fun to sing when you’re drunk. “Balloon” is even a funny word to say, annunciating it to give a certain comedic affect. I love bah-loons. I love bah-loons. Or just simply, I love balloons!


What’s more is that there probably isn’t anything more indicative of the simple joys of music festival culture than these dumb little orbs full of helium, capturing the silliness and absurdity of shoving hundreds of thousands of people into open fields so they can get hammered and do drugs and let music wash away all of the pains in life. And that’s where I found myself, staring at the multiple balloon lines floating across Randall’s Island for Governors Ball, New York City’s attempt at being a hippy. And then I noticed someone was holding the balloons. So I asked them about their balloons. Turns out, there’s a whole balloon world I didn’t know about.

Moments later I’ve found myself walking backstage at the festival behind a man with a clover of red balloons strapped to his back. His name is Robert, he’s 44, he’s The Balloon Guy, and I’ve decided to interview him about his balloons. When we sit down at some open rocks to have our conversation, one of the balloons strapped to his back pops.

“It’s OK,” he tells me. “That happens all the time.”

The Balloon Guy is part of Balloon Chain, a traveling art installation run by Robert Bose (The Balloon Guy) and his co-artist Michael Cha. They’ve been doing it since 2006, and have been at Governors Ball every year since the festival’s inception. It might seem silly—a whole crew of 10-20 people dedicated to holding lines of balloons at festivals—but it’s taken the Balloon Guy all over the world. One time, they even held balloons at Anne Hathaway’s wedding. The Balloon Guy has another part time job and is a musician, but balloons seem to be the primary source of his income.


During our chat, which lasts maybe 30 or so minutes, he tells me about his world of balloons. About halfway through, he gets a call. Pete needs relief on the white line. Pete's been standing there too long. The Balloon Guy springs into action. We head to The Balloon Van. He talks for a minute on the Balloon Walkie Talkie: "Yes. No. It's OK. He's good? He's good." He hangs up The Balloon Walkie Talkie. We head back to the rocks. "Where were we? Oh, yes, yes. The technical aspects…"

All in the day of the life of The Balloon Guy.

Continued below.

Noisey: What is this that you’re doing?
The Balloon Guy: It’s an installation or sculpture or whatever you want to call it called Balloon Chain and it’s a bunch of helium filled balloons attached to high strength line at regular intervals. It goes anywhere from a couple hundred feet to a thousand feet or more. It’s interactive. People can hold onto it. And it can go way high up in the sky. And we light it up at night.

Do you let them go at night? I thought I saw one floating away on Saturday.
We can let an end go but we still have to stay attached to it. If it gets away from us, it’s a hazard. There’s air traffic near by. Eventually, it’ll land somewhere. We’ve learned from experience how to keep from losing it.

How long have you been the Balloon Guy?
Since 2006. I accidentally came up with the idea when I was at Burning Man. I went to ride my bicycle out to the far reaches of the desert there. And I didn’t wanna lose my friend. So I put some balloons on my bike and she put some balloons on hers, and we just had them spaced out; you know, just so we could see each other. And then that morning, as sunrise happens, your shadow is like two hundred feet long. And I remember seeing my shadow and then balloons going up as far as I could see. There was no wind that morning, so they were a good 50 to 60 feet in the air. But it was like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool looking. I wonder how far I could get this to go.”


One of the holders told me that you guys do this every other weekend?
We have a busy season, yes. We’re doing a lot of music festivals now. Some international ones, but mostly in the States. We did one celebrity wedding—Anne Hathaway invited us to do her wedding.

That’s amazing.
Yeah. It was one of those things where they didn’t tell us who she was when she called, just that it was a special client.

So you showed up and it was Anne Hathaway’s wedding?
Yep. They were like, “We can’t tell you who this is,” so we figured that was a good thing and then we showed up and it was her wedding. It’s great. Something so simple like balloons has become something like a career. I’m traveling the world and meeting people from all over the place.

It’s incredible.
Yeah. And it’s kind of this random mistake I accidentally came up with.

I saw the balloons get tangled earlier. Is it code red when that happens?
[Laughs.] Yeah, that can be a disaster, or a near disaster. We’re dealing with stages, lamp posts, lights, one time they got tangled in the bridge—we got them out though. The practicality of it is that you can see what the wind is doing. On the surface, it might be doing something like this, but you go up a few hundred feet and it’s doing something else, and then you go up a few more hundred feet and it’s doing something else. Sometimes I’ll get one that’s a thousand feet long—when I’m allowed to go up that high—and you’ll literally see them go crazy opposite directions. It’s unique in that way, and I don’t think there’s any other way—in layman’s knowledge—to see what the wind is doing at different altitudes.


Let’s talk about the technical aspects. What’s the longest balloon line you’ve ever done?|
The longest was six thousand feet. We ended up doing it at Burning Man; it’s a big open area and we had a lot of help. But it can be kind of scary when the lines are that long because you never really know what the wind is going to do. Sometimes, it can drag you. The more balloons we have, the more tug the wind will pull.

Have you ever had an “oh shit” moment?
Yeah. We did it on a boat once and because the boat is low to the ground, you got sail boats going by and you can snag a sailboat. We’ve also been near highways… We’ve been able to take care of all the situations before they’ve gotten dangerous. Some of the events we do have carnival rides like Ferris wheels, so you have to be really conscious because if the wind changes at the last minute, you gotta be ready because it could tangle with a moving structure. We get low-flying helicopters—sometimes they’re aware and sometimes they’re not. We actually deal with the Federal Aviation Administration about all of our displays, and they give us permission so we know how high we can go, and they’ll also issue a warning to pilots. Right now, there’s a warning out for this area. Unfortunately, because we’re so close to La Guardia Airport, we can only go about 300 feet in the air. The lines here are about a thousand feet long, but because of the wind, it only gets up to about 300 feet. You can kind of guesstimate from the length between balloons about how high you’re going. We’re well below the 300 feet. There are ways of managing it to keep it lower. But really, the fun thing is interacting with people.


It’s funny how much people get into it, like, “Oh my god! I get to hold the balloon!”
It’s a good photo op, too. I think we had Paris Hilton stop by at Coachella this year. She held up some perfume and took some photos or something, whatever. [Laughs.] Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips came by once. It’s really cool meeting all these people, and the public in general. At the same time though, some people get drunk or wasted or the festival lineup attracts a crowd that might not be the nicest, so then people try to sabotage the balloons. They’ll try to cut the line or something.

Balloons at sunset.

Have you ever had that happen?
We’ve had that happen, yeah, years ago when I first started. But now we have some methods—I don’t want to reveal them—of preventing things like that from happening. It’s a lot more difficult now to cut the line.

Will it electrocute someone or something?
It’s something like that. We do light it up at night. And that’s another fun thing. In a really dark environment, with the lights on it and you’re really far away, you might not realize it’s balloons and might think it’s a constellation or something in the sky, and it’s moving. The funny thing that happens at Burning Man is that because there are so many people there who are doing psychedelics, they’ll have a moment and they’re seeing the line and in their brain they’re like, something’s not right. But they’re going for it.


That’s hilarious.
Yeah, people tripping and they’re having a great time and everything makes sense to them. That’s a very entertaining part of it as well.

So this is your fulltime job?
I do this and I’m a musician. I’m also in the Army National Guard.

A great American, serving our country and our festival attendees. Tell me more about you.
I’m from Texas and I’m a musician. I play in some jazz projects. I used to be in a DEVO cover band calla DIVA that was fronted by two women.

Something else I wanted to say—I’m just thinking about balloon things you should know—is that it’s a simple idea, like the concept is simple, but what the wind does completely changes all the time. So you look at it at one moment and it’s doing something, and then at another moment it’s doing something else. You see it and you think it’s just a strain of balloons in the sky but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll tangle up or whatever. It’s really easy for it to go from a lovely thing to a disaster.

Tell me about a disaster.
Well, at Burning Man they have all those mutant vehicles—like sailboats or whatever—and the drivers, despite the vehicle being like 50 or 60 feet tall, might not be paying attention and they’ll snag a line and end up dragging someone.

Has that happened?
Yep. But luckily someone was watching and stopped it right away. You just gotta keep your eye out.

What’d you think of Drake?
I don’t really have anything positive to say. I’m not a big fan—but just in general, not knowing his music and seeing him perform, I wasn’t impressed. Whoever’s consulting him isn’t doing a very good job, because he’s not making many new fans with these festivals.

Eric Sundermann loves balloons. Follow him on Twitter.