Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival leaves families feeling deflated and angry

A new two-day hot-air balloon festival in Exeter has been branded a "shambles" and a "glorified funfair" by families who claim they left feeling upset and disappointed. The organiser of the Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival has denied that visitors were misled by its advertising but conceded that the site of the event was too small and that the weather had an impact on the event.

On Saturday, The Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival saw around 3,500 people descend upon Exeter Racecourse for the first day of the event, its debut in the region. Attendees over the two days had been promised up to 30 hot-air balloons, stunt shows, wrestling shows, live animal shows and some of the UK's leading tribute artists.

Due to weather conditions, however, organisers announced on Saturday evening at around 6.20pm on its Facebook page that its Balloon Launch and Night Glow show had been cancelled. Organisers said that hot-air balloons were able to fly early yesterday morning and today at 5.30am but with a Met Office yellow weather warning for thunderstorms in place until 7pm today, it is not yet known what impact conditions will have on the rest of the schedule.

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However, it is not just the lack of hot-air balloon flights that is causing widespread anger to be shared on social media by those who attended the first day of the event. Some people are demanding that refunds should be issued.

Nina Matthews, who attended the event on Saturday with her two children, aged four and two, her partner and other members of her family, told DevonLive: "I paid £40 for my partner and children to go into the grounds. The entertainment was horrendous with not a balloon in sight. The food and drink were overpriced with only four stalls with rubbish on.

The Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival site from a funfair ride
The Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival site from a funfair ride -Credit:Kelly Pate

"There was no space to move, let alone sit down. The tent with entertainment was that small that no one could see anything and the stage was too small.

"There was nothing else put in place despite them knowing half the balloons wouldn’t be flying. There are a lot of angry people demanding their money back. The whole thing was a shambles and a waste of time.

"We got there at 11.40am and left by about 4pm because it was just a glorified funfair. I understand the balloons couldn't fly because of the weather but nothing else was put in place. It was the same bike show three times and the wrestling was horrendous, as were the toilets."

Crowds gathered inside the big top tent at Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival
Crowds gathered inside the big top tent at Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival -Credit:Kelly Pate

The festival, organised by Extreme Events Team and originally meant to be held at Newton Abbot Racecourse, has received such a backlash that a Facebook page called Devonshire Balloon Festival Misrepresentation 2024 was set up yesterday, Saturday, May 25. It already has 600 members.

Extreme Events Ltd, whose director is listed as 25-year-old David John Rowland, describes itself as a "professional team who strive to deliver family entertainment like never seen before". Its forthcoming events include a hot-air balloon festival in Wales and Somerset Big Weekend.

Events organiser Jess Manhire has explained to DevonLive why she believes there has been some confusion over what people expected to be included on the bill at the Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival.

She said: "We have seen comments from people saying they felt 'ripped off' but on the Ticket Source website for Extreme Events there is a general write-up about what our events offer and then under Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival it lists what is happening there.

"We have never advertised monster trucks on there or the event's Facebook page. We did say there were fireworks [on Saturday] but we admit that was a mistake. Everything we advertised did go ahead.

"As with all these kinds of festivals, you always get people unhappy about something and that spirals. Yes, it's a small site. We really did our best with the room we had.

"The Safety Advisory Group for Events (SAGE) visited on Saturday morning and were happy with what we had done with the space and even though it was tight they were happy with the amount of tickets we sold.

"When you pay for festivals you do pay an entry price no matter what. When you have music and other costs it costs thousands and thousands to put on an event. Ticket prices were £10 for adults and £7.50 for children to cover that. I understand it adds up if you're a family but it's not as if we were charging £20 a ticket."

A balloon in flight at Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival
A balloon in flight at Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival -Credit:Extreme Events Ltd

Responding to criticisms about a lack of hot-air balloons being seen in flight and timings, Jess stated they were at the mercy of the weather and advice from the balloon team experts and that they never guarantee they will fly or are able to give definite flight times.

She said: "Yesterday morning, more than 25 balloons went up from the site and we had one big balloon up yesterday afternoon. We didn't know until 6.30pm last night if there would be a night glow show but that's the nature of hot-air balloons.

"This morning we allowed free entry and free parking to see the balloons going off at 5.30am and another 25 went up and a good crowd watched it."

Upset by the comments on Facebook about peoples' experiences of the festival, Jess said they had been taken on board and they will look to 'improve' following feedback, but feels that many are opinion as opposed to fact.

She said: "I have seen comments from a lady who I spoke to on site who said in her comment she had only been there for 20 minutes but I spoke to her for longer than 20 minutes and I saw her an hour later enjoying the music. I offered her 10 free ride tickets and refunded her for a carer ticket that she misunderstood was free.

"Regarding complaints about the toilets being blocked up, we had around 30 toilets and yes, some were full, but that's to be expected at a festival and a lot of others were clear. They were all cleaned overnight."

When asked if Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival would be making a return next year, Jess said: "It is too soon to say if we will do it again as it's all still very fresh. We genuinely care about everyone who comes through the gates. We will unfortunately not be issuing refunds because in terms of people feeling like they were not given the service they bought, it's not true.

"As much as I would love to reply to everyone, what they are saying is really based on opinion rather than the facts. I would understand if we didn't have the bikes, music or the big top tent. That would be misleading but as far as we are concerned, everything went ahead as we advertised.

"We are people at the end of the day, and we do have feelings, and put so much effort and work into these festivals. It's really hard to hear what is being said but we will just keep on. I know we have done well with what we have got but we won't be coming back to this festival location as the ground was not big enough."

The Facebook page Devonshire Balloon Festival Misrepresentation 2024 was set up by a Newton Abbot woman, after returning home from the festival yesterday with her husband and their three children, aged five, three and one.

Crowds arriving at the Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival on Saturday
Crowds arriving at the Devonshire Balloon and Music Festival on Saturday -Credit:Extreme Events Ltd

She said: "My husband booked it as a surprise but it was an absolutely horrendous experience. We paid almost £50 for tickets, plus £15 for parking online, and spent around £70 on rides and food but it was just an overpriced funfair, not a festival.

"For the price of entry, inside the festival it was expensive and you got absolutely nothing for your ticket price apart from a couple of singers. There were no monster trucks or fireworks as advertised.

"The field was not big enough and accessibility was not good for pushchairs or wheelchair users. It was not easy to navigate because of the terrain.

"We got there at noon and left at 3pm because there was no point trying to drag it out anymore for the kids. I get the event was weather dependent but when there's that element to it, the organisers needed to make sure there were backups to make it worth the entry fee.

"People are absolutely fuming and now the company are turning off the comments on its Facebook because so many people are upset and disappointed about the day. That's why I set up the Facebook page."