LEWISTON — Tens of thousands of people turned out for the Great Falls Balloon Festival Friday evening, but not just for the balloons.

“The excitement, the food,” said Rita Dick of Auburn, as the smell of fried dough and sausages wafted over to the shady spot she shared with her in-laws. “We’ve been eating since we got here.”

Families packed both the Lewiston and Auburn sides of the festival, picnicking on the grass, lining up for games and dancing to the music from the live bands. By dinnertime, lines stretched for yards from the food booths selling French fries, seafood and fried dough.

However, many of the youngest festival goers headed straight to the rides and games.

Luke Lebourdais, 4, favored kiddie bungee jumping. 

“Because I went high,” he said. “Really high.”

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For the adults, the evening weather — mid 70s, slight breeze, little humidity — brought them out. But food, fun and friends, they said, got them to stay.

On the Lewiston side, Linda Boucher bopped to the country music of Cold Blue Steel. Raised in Lewiston and still a resident, she goes to the balloon festival every year.

“The weather’s perfect, the food’s great — and of course, the entertainment!” she said, struggling to be heard over the band playing behind her.

This year’s festival was about more than food and music for her, though. Boucher and other members of the Lewiston High School Class of 1971 hatched a plan on Facebook to meet at the festival. Boucher expected at least seven or eight to show.

“We’ve got people coming from as far away as New Hampshire,” she said. “A mini class reunion.”

Steve Matloff and his family came to the festival from even farther away than Boucher’s classmates. The Matloffs live in L.A. —  California’s L.A.

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Because Matloff’s mother was from Maine, he and his family visit often. Friday marked their second time at the Great Falls Balloon Festival.  

Daughter Isabelle, 7, liked the pizza. Still, she had another favorite part.

“Watching the balloons go up, up and away,” she said.

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