Renna Marie of Lacey Chain belts out hard-rockin’ country music for the crowd at the Liberty Festival on Thursday evening in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

LEWISTON — By early afternoon, Michael Ouellette had already staked out a spot to watch the Fourth of July fireworks Thursday.

Sitting on the bank of the Androscoggin River at Veterans Memorial Park, Ouellette had a perfect view of the Great Falls — such a good vantage point that he always secures it.

“I get this rock every year,” the Lewiston resident said. “I get my favorite rock.”

Well-stocked with water to make it through a sunny day, Ouellette had his feet up in his “front row seat” and insisted he was “just relaxing and fighting off the heat and waiting for a really good fireworks show.”

Scott Strout introduces his son Maximus, 3, to his very first sparkler during the Liberty Festival on Thursday evening in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

By dusk, thousands of people had gathered along both sides of the river for the 23rd annual Liberty Festival to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

Festival President Cathy McDonald said $20,000 worth of fireworks would provide a good show for the expectant crowd.

In the hours leading up to the shells exploding overhead, organizers ensured there were entertainers, vendors and food to keep the crowd content.

For Ren Chapman, lead singer for the group Lacey Chain, the event offered a chance to perform with friends for a second straight year.

“I love music,” she said, happy to have the opportunity for “hanging out and playing music.”

Dana Lavasseur of Monmouth seized the chance to make some money behind the grill of his Mr. and Mrs. Sausage food truck, which shows up at many festivals in Central and Western Maine each summer.

He said people search him out because they know his truck is clean. Plus, he said, he’s got “a special sauce on our sandwiches that people love.”

Rollie Heckethorn of the Exchange Club of Auburn said his group got involved at the last minute when a hot dog vendor unexpectedly dropped out.

“We know what we can do. We can sell food,” he said, something the club does regularly to raise money for veterans and children, including the Police Activities Center in Auburn.

Melissa Hallihan, originally from Panama, and now from East Dixfield, came to Lewiston to watch the fireworks Thursday. She wore red, white and blue because she loves being an American citizen, she said. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

On the Auburn side, Melissa Hallihan wore a red, white and blue hat and giddily exclaimed how much she loved America. She emigrated from Panama in 1968.

“I had my children here and I’m proud of this country,” she said. “This is my country.”

An hour later, she stood before the performance stage on the Lewiston side, swaying to the music of an Elvis Presley impersonator named Robert Washington.

“Another hot Fourth of July, man, but we’ll make it,” Washington, clad in a white suit, said between songs.

“He’s good,” insisted Hallihan, giving him two thumbs-up.

Robert Washington as “Elvis” croons crowd favorites from the stage during the Liberty Festival on Thursday evening in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

Perhaps the most noticeable change from prior years was purely aesthetic.

Behind the stage in the parking lot beside the veterans memorial is a big concrete wall that had been mostly blank until McDonald suddenly decided earlier this week that it really shouldn’t be “just a gray wall.”

She scrambled on social media and soon found some local artists willing to spruce it up with help from Lewiston Paint.

She credited Grayling Cunningham and Kris LaChappelle for working with some friends to turn four gallons into an explosion of red, white and blue with a big star in the center, a striking design that could be seen from Auburn without much trouble.

McDonald said painting the wall may become an annual tradition.

Next to Ouellette in the front row were Mark Barrett and Christine Bean, shepherding children as they talked about their arrival at about 5:30 p.m. to claim prime fireworks territory they’d long cherished.

“Every year, we’re right here,” Barrett said.

Bean said they’d been coming for nearly a decade.

“We just hang out and watch the people show up,” she said.

Coming early, Barrett said, “You’re beating the crowd. It’s a good spot.”

For those who appreciate the festival, McDonald said organizers can use more help. She urged anyone interested to contact her through the festival’s website at libertyfestival.org.

Kassidey Cote takes part in the Pelletier’s Karate Academy demonstration at the Liberty Festival in Lewiston on Thursday evening. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal

Dava Levasseur of Mr. Sausage fame serves a customer during the Liberty Festival on Thursday afternoon in Lewiston.

Dana Levasseur of Mr. Sausage fame serves a customer during the Liberty Festival on Thursday afternoon in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/ Sun Journal


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