LEWISTON — A lighter-than-air spectacle is poised to return this weekend to Lewiston-Auburn, this time in the shape of Old MacDonald’s Farm.

The specialty balloon and its images of a barn, a silo, a farmer and his pig is a centerpiece of the 18th annual Great Falls Balloon Festival and this year’s theme, Celebrating Maine’s Farms.

The three-day festival that begins Friday will feature a farmers’ market in a tent at Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Memorial Park along with the regular assortment of food and souvenir sellers, games, live performances and, hopefully, launches.

Rain or wind could scrub the twice-a-day scheduled launches. Fewer launches and dour weather would mean fewer visitors.  Yet, the sun and calm winds needed for ballooning could swell the weekend’s crowd well past 100,000.

“The conditions for the pilots have to be perfect,” said Tracey Steuber, the spokeswoman for this year’s festival. “If there’s a little bit too much wind, the pilots won’t launch.”

Last year’s festival — unfortunately themed World of Water — was drenched with rain, fog and wind. Many balloons never launched and the festival lost money, relying on its reserve money to stay afloat.

This year, expenses are being watched more vigilantly.

“We have to be careful about what we spend,” said festival President Ann Dehetre-Arsenault. However, there is enough of a reserve account to be certain that a single rainy weekend will not kill the 18-year-old event. 

As of Tuesday, the weather seemed promising, Dehetre-Arsenault said. Current forecasts call for a possibly wet evening on Thursday into Friday morning. Then, the weather clears with sun.

“We’re watching the weather very carefully,” she said.

If the forecasts hold, the festival plans to launch at least 28 balloons in all. Besides the farm tent, a specialty balloon shaped like a Jack-in-the-box is also scheduled to take flight above Lewiston-Auburn. The two specialty balloons were sponsored by Harvest Hill Farms and Global Metal Fabrication, LLC.

Organizers hope to strike the perfect balance between new attractions and reliable draws.

Many of the regular attractions, including food vendors and a Saturday morning parade featuring floats and balloonists, are scheduled to return. Scheduled performers include Portland-based blues men the Delta Knights, the Dirty McCurdy Band, an Elton John tribute band called Yellow Brick Road and festival regular Robert Washington, an Elvis tribute from Auburn.

This year, the festival has added a Family Fun Day on Sunday. It includes running events — a fun run, a toddler trot and a diaper derby — pottery demonstrations, science demos and a tent devoted to the handheld Nintendo DS XL system and games.

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