Balloon festival ends on high note despite rain

LEWISTON — Balloon meister John Reeder laughed as the clouds darkened Sunday evening, bringing with them an off-and-on drizzle.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Dick Varney, top, pilots "Destiny" as Victoria Ingrassia, bottom, floats up from beneath in "Wandering Winds" during the Great Falls Balloon Festival on Sunday morning. With virtually no wind, balloonists were able to keep their balloons close to downtown, pleasing the crowd who showed up to watch the fourth launch of the festival.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Balloonist William Colyer of Fairfield, CT, flies "Last Penny" along the Androscoggin River during the Great Falls Balloon Festival on Sunday morning.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Volunteers collect rubber ducks following the completion of the 18th annual Auburn-Lewiston Rotary Breakfast Club Rubber Duck race on the Lewiston canal on Sunday. Approximately 1850 ducks competed during the fund raising event, said "duckmeister" Bill Hunter of Turner. The money raised benefits local charities that focus on children. Pictured from top are: Eric Joy of Auburn, Heather Spaulding of Lewiston, Jan Wiegman of Leeds and Wiegman's son Harry, also of Leeds. Jennifer Sewell of Lewiston won $1000 when her duck crossed the finish line first. Cindy Leblanc of Sabattus will get a free duck during next year's race since her duck came in dead last.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Olivia Pfaff, 9, of Portland carries her 4-month-old sister Zoey during Family Fun Day at the Great Falls Balloon Festival on Sunday afternoon. Pfaff's mother, Elania, painted children's faces nearby as an employee of Party Palooga, a children's party entertainment company.

"We call that 'Scud,'" the meister said. "It comes and goes."

Pilots began driving the uninflated balloons into the Simard-Payne Memorial Park, where the 18th annual Great Falls Balloon Festival hoped to see a triumphant fifth launch of the three-day event.

Then, the wind picked up. The drizzle thickened and stayed.

Reeder still smiled, talking with folks who lined up for refunds on their rides. He looked to a nearby row of food stands, all run by groups who serve Lewiston-Auburn: churches, schools, veterans organizations and people who build affordable homes.

"The nonprofits are saying that their sales are up over any other year," Reeder said. "That's a success."

In all, festival leaders say the weekend surpasses all recent numbers for attendance and spending, with an estimated 130,000 people attending on Saturday evening alone.

"We won't know how we did financially until we tally up at the end," said Tracey Steuber, a spokeswoman for the festival. The anecdotal evidence suggests an unqualified success, she said.

In Auburn, police reported that every available parking space in the downtown was taken, she said. At the park in Lewiston, the crowd was shoulder to shoulder.

"You literally couldn't move," Steuber said.

Nor could you buy an onion without a long wait.

At the Habitat for Humanity booth, the lines were unbroken on both Friday and Saturday nights from about 4:30 p.m. until 9:45 p.m., said Deb Leonard of Lewiston, who worked the booth all weekend.

They started with 25 bags of onions, each holding 40 or 50 fist-sized unions.

"It's a huge bag," she said.

On Sunday at 5:15 p.m. she had only three onions left.

She has helped run the booth for three years and this year easily surpassed the others, she said.

"We try to prep ahead and do our best," she said. There were moments when the line turned long, though. Her 15 to 20 volunteers managed to coordinate their work and keep focused, she said.

The ballooning also surpassed last year, which saw blowing winds and torrential rain. That event was too appropriately themed, "World of Water." None of the scheduled launches made it. And on that Monday morning, a few balloons managed to go up, but they were the exception.

This year saw launches on Friday morning, Saturday morning and evening and on Sunday morning.

The weather seemed to toy with spectators Sunday morning, raining lightly until just minutes before the launch time.

And with little wind, the balloons lifted straight up rather than taking off toward Turner or Lisbon, Steuber said.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Balloons pass over the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn as people watch from the Longley Bridge during the Great Falls Balloon Festival on Sunday morning. With virtually no wind, balloonists were able to keep their balloons close to downtown, pleasing the crowd who showed up to watch the fourth launch of the festival.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Bill Hamilton, right, his daughter-in-law Dede Ouellette and granddaughter Ella Hamilton watch as Honi Glover pilots "His Amazing Grace" over Hamilton's house on Goff Hill in Auburn on Sunday morning. "This has been an excellent weekend for the grandkids," said Hamilton.

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 's picture

Enoyed it

Did enjoy the festival for the most part despite the earlier negative posts. It was discomforting that one older officer decided to eject us despite the fact a younger patrol officer had told us if he was not there that would not have happened. Looking forward to going next year and hopefully fortunately not meeting the older officer.

 's picture

We love the balloon festival, cobbguy!

We have gone to them since the mid-90's and still love going. Local artisans are able to buy a tent or booth just as easily as any other vendor; maybe we should make it more affordable somehow for them to afford to do so. There were some great bands for all ages this year, so I don't know what you are talking about in that regard. The food was terrific too. We are definitely NOT sick of the balloon festival but you can always opt to stay away if you are. :o)

 's picture

Am I the only one

who is thoroughly bored by the balloon festival? How many years do we have to suffer through the same cover bands and Elvis impersonators? Why don't we make room for some local artisans to sell their wares rather than the same asinine Bathfitter and Joe Bornstein booths?

 's picture

More Pictures

A local Photographer has a slide show that you can see more pics at and click on "L/A Balloon Festival". Turn the sound on your computer on.


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