LEWISTON — Thousands of people celebrated the Fourth of July at the Liberty Festival, braving hot, humid weather to enjoy the fireworks, food and entertainment Thursday.

Vendors, bands and amusement workers had to contend with temperatures near 90 degrees.

“I feel sorry for the vendors setting up in that heat,” festival President Cathy McDonald said.

At Belly Busters Concessions in Great Falls Plaza, Bob Guptill and his crew were battling the temps. Luckily, they were setting up next to an ice cream stand.

Guptill, from Mechanic Falls, is running stands for his parents in Auburn, and Springfield, Mass., as well as at Bath Heritage Days.

Ice cream in hand, he shrugged off the heat, saying his only injury was a pulled muscle from wrangling a propane tank. After being plugged in for three hours, his soda cooler still couldn’t keep up with the heat.

With two fryers and a three-foot grill, Guptill said his truck will be better able to handle the crowds lining up for his deep-fried macaroni and cheese.

Two years ago, Guptill said, his line stretched across the Great Falls parking lot and up to the KeyBank building.

A racing fanatic and North East Mini Stock Tour promoter, Guptill said, “Racing is my passion — vending is my livelihood.”

In Veterans Memorial Park, Adriane Kramer of Sabattus rallied her Zumba crew to get ready for a performance.

Kramer, Zumba instructor for Girl Power Fitness in Lewiston, said the crew planned on a demonstration, followed by an invitation to spectators to shake it in the heat.

“We have about 25 on the dance team,” she said, adding that fellow instructors would teach Zumba to those willing to take part.

Greeting people arriving with chairs, Kramer said she has regulars who show up at events to watch, sort of Zumba groupies.

Among those maintaining the peace at the festival were members of the Lewiston High School Army Cadets.

Owen Murray, 14, and Ryan Allen, 13, worked the crowd, keeping dogs and booze out of the lower half of Veterans Memorial Park.

The two said they enjoy the discipline and the physicality of the Cadets — drilling constantly and keeping school hours that range from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We do service around big events,” Murray said.

While answering questions, the cadets constantly scanned the crowd and surrounding sidewalk, already showing the discipline of their early training.

Promoters stood on the sidewalk beside Veterans Memorial Park, handing out free soda to passers-by, including a shirtless man with a corn snake wrapped around his forearm.

Sitting by the sidewalk watching the bands was Lionel Bergeron of Lewiston. “They make a lot of noise,” he said, adding the new music isn’t quite to his liking.

But the bands weren’t the only thing Bergeron was watching. The young ladies were perhaps more of an attraction, he said.

Bergeron’s wife, Jeannette, wasn’t concerned, though. After 63 years together, she reminded him, he wasn’t running off any time soon.

The couple said they have lived in Lewiston all their lives and always make it out for the Fourth of July celebrations.

Festival President McDonald said budget woes in Auburn put the entire celebration in jeopardy and her volunteers were “panicking until Friday afternoon,” when word was received that Goff Hill would be made available, as well as in-kind support from the Auburn Police Department.

“I’ve been involved a very, very long time,” she said.

McDonald said the Liberty Festival, which operates as a nonprofit, receives sponsorship each year from the Twin Cities, fundraisers and sponsorships.

Vendors also contribute to the event.

The $20,000 fireworks show Thursday night at Great Falls on the Androscoggin River was orchestrated by Central Maine Pyrotechnics.

Pulling off the annual celebration is challenging, McDonald admitted, but “I can’t give it up.”

“We start again tomorrow — planning for next year.”

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Roger Caron of Lewiston sat on the hill with wife, Debra, and son, Jon. “We were a little bit concerned (about the possible closure),” Roger said.

Caron, who is returning to Goff Hill for only the second time, said his family enjoyed the vantage point the closed section of Court Street offered.

“I’m glad to hear they decided to fund it,” Caron said.

Earlier this week the City Council voted to provide funds for the police to close off an area of the street.

Although Goff Hill had been open for viewing for quite some time, Caron said he’s afraid the new publicity may bring bigger crowds.

“We were very happy that they decided to put it back in the budget,” Beth LeBlanc of Auburn.

Leigha Pelkey, 4, of Auburn ran in circles before shouting out, “Best party ever!”

Christina Patrick of Lewiston said she didn’t know the hill may have been closed this year, but she’s glad Auburn chose to keep it open. She said people don’t have to fight the crowds like they do near the Longley Bridge.

Tammy Rodrigue sat among children, fully equipped for an evening of fireworks. She had folding chairs, a blanket and refreshments.

Rodrigue said her three children, along with those of family and close friends, brought an entourage to 15 kids, all of whom had just spent the day at a barbecue and birthday party.

Rodrigue said Goff Hill is a better place to come with small children. She said she appreciates the number of families who show up each year.

As the fireworks commenced, loud applause roared up from the hill. Children ran around with morning glories and sparklers. People sat on blankets and lawns.

The occasional cry from a parent of, “Stop watching that video and look at the fireworks,” was heard. Phones and iPads were held aloft to capture the moment as a constant stream of onlookers could be seen from the top of Goff Hill in Auburn to Oak Street in Lewiston.


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