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Patty Loveless: Professionally – and Literally – Flying High (1994)

Originally published in the Dec. 6, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Over the roar of propane heaters, Patty Loveless’ hot-air balloon filled and rose until its huge bulb of colored fabric strained against the ropes that lashed it to earth.

“Last night I was dreaming I was up in it and it seemed like the dream was pretty good,’’ said Patty as she climbed into the wicker basket that soon would take her more than 500 feet high. “I hope the real thing turns out like the dream.’’

On one of her rare days off, the singer of “I Try to Think About Elvis’’ tried something new: a hot-air balloon ride over the Nashville countryside. Country Weekly went along for the ride.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,’’ Patty said just before the balloon left the ground and soared skyward. “I almost backed out. But it’s such a beautiful day and everything. So I’ve decided to go on with the show.’’

Patty’s blossoming career could easily be compared to a balloon taking flight. In a little over a year, she has gone from standing on the ground to soaring way above the clouds. With her singing voice stronger than ever—thanks to a successful vocal cord operation nearly two years ago—Patty is clearly flying high, taking it all in and enjoying every minute of it.

Her first Epic album, 1993’s Only What I Feel, is almost at platinum status, while her latest, When Fallen Angels Fly, released in August, has already sold 500,000 records.

“This is the quickest I’ve ever had a record go gold,’’ she said happily. When she decided to tackle a new challenge—ballooning—calm weather and a beautiful setting made it easier for Patty to demonstrate her go-for-it pluck.

With eight balloons in tow, Patty and her group gathered at Riverstone Farms, 120 acres of rolling hills and open space owned by singer Amy Grant and her husband, contemporary Christian singer Gary Chapman. Once the signal was given, the balloons floated gracefully into the atmosphere. “Where are we going?’’ one of the pilots was asked. “Wherever the wind takes us,’’ he answered.

As Patty’s balloon rose, fresh flowers and ribbon streamers attached to her basket laced the sky behind her. All was quiet. The only sound was the occasional blast of the burners heating the air to keep the craft aloft. Each of eight balloons in the pack carried a pilot and a passenger. The pilots used walkie-talkies for air traffic control, but Country Weekly preferred the bellow-over-the-side method of communication.

“How do you like it?’’ we called to Patty from our balloon, a few yards over and 300 feet from the ground. “I love it,’’ she answered, having left hesitation at the launching pad. Across fields we went, over pastures, cows in mid-graze, children playing and rivers running. Soon, a wide-open field beckoned the flying caravan to land. The baskets skipped across the damp earth, rocks and shrubs before settling down for the final rest.

As everyone climbed from their baskets and got their earth legs back, Patty wished for the sky. “That was so wonderful, I wish we could have stayed up longer. It was great to be up there. I thought, ‘Wow, nobody can bother me now. No phones . . . If only we could throw out the radio.’”

Once the balloons were tucked into their bags and the baskets strapped to the backs of the chase vehicles, the company assembled for a picnic of fruit, cheese, French rolls and champagne.

They toasted Patty’s first hot-air balloon flight. Raising her glass, she shared a story she learned aloft.

“[My pilot, David Eastland] told me the champagne tradition began in France. And it was because years ago when balloons would land in the French fields, the farmers wouldn’t know what they were and they’d go at them with their pitchforks, causing holes in the balloon. So the pilots would offer a bottle of champagne to the farmer as a gesture of friendship and peace,’’ she said.

During the ride home aboard Patty’s bus, she was still dreaming of the clouds.

“You know how people are always saying that we have angels above us, watching over us? In a way, being in the balloon made me feel like what an angel must feel like,’’ she said. “It’s just this great feeling to think you’re flying above other people.

“It made me feel like I was watching over the world. There was a calmness to it. The world doesn’t seem as tragic up there. Up there, in that balloon, there was such a calmness over the houses and fields. I saw cattle and horses and deer, and they didn’t even know there was anything above them. They weren’t afraid.

“In a way, that’s what an angel is. People don’t really know they’re up there, but they are. And that’s what I felt like.’’

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