Everybody, let’s rock!

The king of rock ‘n’ roll will appear at the 26th annual Great Falls Balloon Festival as both a performer and as a hot air balloon, along with other throwbacks to the music and culture of the past, with a focus on the 1960s and ’70s.

The theme of this year’s festival: “Rock Around the Park.”

The festival will be held Aug. 17 to 19 on the Lewiston-Auburn riverfront. Balloons will launch at about 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. all three days, weather permitting, from Simard-Payne Memorial Park off Oxford Street in Lewiston, with other festivities throughout each of the days and into the evenings on both sides of the river.

“We want to start the launches early, before the sun gets too hot,” festival director Mell Hamlyn said.

Balloons can hold two to 10 people, and rides usually last about an hour. Rides cost $200 per person this year, and usually conclude with a champagne toast. Rides can be booked by emailing [email protected]

For those who shy away from either the height or cost of a traditional balloon ride, there is another option: tethered rides.

“Tethering will happen on the field at night,” Hamlyn said. “People who don’t want to go out for a full ride can get in balloons that are tethered to the ground.”

Tethered rides will cost about $20. Tickets can be purchased from the pilot on the field during tethering.

Beyond the balloons, there will be arts and crafts vendors, food vendors and various activities, including bungee jumping and an inflatable ball that allows users to walk on a tank of water. Saturday and Sunday will both kick off with a pancake breakfast from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m.

One of the headlining events that will celebrate local cultural history: a PAL Hop reunion concert at 8 p.m. Saturday night.

Starting in the spring of 1964, Police Athletic League dances, or PAL Hops, were held Friday night at Lewiston City Hall. Epic music battles among a number of New England groups went on weekly. They were iconic enough to establish Lewiston-Auburn as a hub of rock ‘n’ roll in the age of the Beatles for a few years in the ’60s.

“They would draw as many as 2,000 local teens to the performances,” Hamlyn said.

Two of those bands, The Travelers and the Rockin’ Recons, will take the stage Saturday night.

If classic rock is not your thing, there will be no shortage of other entertainment, including belly dancing, a dog stunt show, local singers and an open mic night Friday.

The festival is one of the largest events in the area and is a key fundraiser for a number of nonprofit and community groups that spend the festival selling food, manning parking lots and raising money at booths.

“Our goal is to break even,” Hamlyn said. “Thirty nonprofit groups take part, and our mission is to allow a space for these groups to make money.”

Hamlyn said the Great Falls Balloon Festival also provides fuel for the area’s tourist industry.

“People plan their vacations around the Balloon Festival,” Hamlyn said. “The hotels are booked up, the restaurants are full.”

According to an economic impact study done three years ago, the festival brought in $2.3 million to the community, 43 percent of which came from outside the local area.

For more information, see www.greatfallsballoonfestival.org, or Facebook.

Online coverage

The Sun Journal will be livestreaming the Great Falls Balloon Festival launches at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day — weather permitting. You can find complete coverage, photos and videos of the festival at:

A balloon is framed between the spires of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston during a launch at the 2017 Great Falls Balloon Festival. (Sun Journal file photo)

The Elvis, Keystone Willy and ConAir balloons are from Oklahoma. Owned and operated by Wil Lapointe, they are the featured specialty balloons coming to the 2018 Great Falls Balloon Festival this weekend. (Photo illustration)


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