NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — If you’re going to the Nashville Fair next week, one person you’ll see decorating and entertaining fairgoers is Sam Cremeens.
Better known as Sam the Balloon Man, Cremeens has been a balloon artist for two decades, creating fun and elaborate sculptures with twisted and tied balloons for private parties, corporate events and more. He initially stumbled upon a bag of balloons in a Walmart in June of 2003 and thought to himself, “That looks like fun,” he told News 2. From then on, he decided to make balloons his career—and he had never seen a balloon animal before.
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“I’d never seen anything like it before, except on TV,” he said.
He grabbed a bag of 20 balloons and ended up popping 18 of them. Rather than take the loss on the attempts, however, Cremeens said he took each popped balloon personally and wanted to conquer them. So he bought more balloons and started coming up with his own ideas for balloon creations.
When he first started out, he had no help from the balloon community, just by virtue of starting on his own. For the first few years, he had to “come up with my own bad ideas,” before landing on ideas for projects that did well and looked amazing.
His first successful project was a balloon R2-D2, he said, made up of some round balloons surrounded by twisty balloons with some inkwork from a Sharpie.
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“I was excited by that,” he said of the Star Wars creation.
When it comes to the size of his balloon creations, Sam can do them all, he said.
“‘Big’ is a relative term,” he said, noting he’s made balloon penguins that fit in the hand as well as 20-foot balloon dragons.
He’s also created full-fledged balloon hot rods, gardenscapes, forests, and more. There are no limits to the ideas he comes up with.
“I’m what my friends refer to as a ‘general practitioner,'” he said. “I can make anything and I can fit any theme.”
Building the balloons is akin to creating with LEGO, he said.
“There’s about eight, maybe, different twists I can put in a balloon. You’re just going to use the same eight twists over and over again,” he said. “The key is to put them in the right order and stack them up into something that’s a different shape completely. It’s just like playing with LEGO.”
While there is no such thing as an “average” work day for him, Cremeens says he does anywhere from two to six large-scale structure pieces for businesses a month, with more private events sprinkled throughout depending on the month of the year.
“It’s feast or famine with us,” he said, though he recently figured out about how many appearances he’s made in the last 12 years since he’s been in Nashville.
“On average, over the past 12 years, since I’ve moved to Nashville, I make about 330 personal appearances a year,” he said, adding some of those could be four in one Saturday with a few days off during the week.
Many of those appearances are with his wife, Angela, a balloon artist and face painter herself. The pair first met on a “big build” in Las Vegas years ago and have collaborated professionally and personally ever since, thanks to some matchmaking from his now-step-daughter.
“My stepdaughter was my wingman,” Cremeens joked.
Throughout his 20-year balloon career, Cremeens said the best part of the job has always been the interactions he has with people. While the money has gotten better the better he’s gotten at his craft, the people are the most rewarding aspect.
“Sure, they tip me; they pay me to come to their events, but they also treat me like I’m an uncle or something—a part of their family,” he said.
Additionally, the opportunities he’s had to travel the world have been a rewarding aspect of his career.
“I literally have friends in probably 30 different countries around the world,” he said. “If I need a place to stay while I’m traveling, I can go to their house. And our house is the same. We jokingly call it an Airbnb for a balloon artist. We have two spare bedrooms in our house that we keep open for anybody traveling through town.”
Cremeens has taught balloons in the Netherlands, Germany, England, and Australia, as well as 37 states in the continental U.S. He’s also done balloons in Mexico, Canada, and Turkey, he added.
On his list travel bucket list are Dubai and China, as they both have large-scale balloon builds he’d like to participate in. They haven’t worked out for scheduling reasons in the past, but they’re both on his list. He would also like to travel to an event in Russia that, due to current world events, prevent international participation.
“If that ever clears up, I would like to visit friends in Russia and visit one of their conventions, as well,” he said.
Coming up for Cremeens are, of course, the Nashville Fair, followed by a Halloween build in New York with a space theme he’s excited to take part in.