LEWISTON — The sun was shining. The skies were blue. The song “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang was blaring from the speakers at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

After five consecutive cancellations of the balloon launch, conditions seemed perfect Sunday evening for the first successful launch of the festival.

The fifth launch Sunday morning was canceled due to low cloud cover and poor visibility. A few balloons went up tethered, meaning they were anchored to a motor vehicle while airborne.

Alan Collins, a festival organizer, worked hard during the morning hours to keep the damp crowd entertained. Like a town crier, but with pancakes, Collins loudly bellowed advertisements for a fresh, hot breakfast. He also led a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” to the Smokey Bear trailer, who was towed off to his next adventure Sunday.

“When you think of this event, it’s Great Falls Balloon festival,” Collins said. “A lot of people come because they want to see balloons. When they get the announcement that balloons aren’t going up, it brings everyone’s spirit down.”

As the Sunday evening launch inched closer, spirits were up.


Scenes from Sunday afternoon and evening at the Great Falls Balloon Festival. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At about 5:30 p.m., the balloon pilots began blowing hot air into their balloons. And just after 6 p.m., several balloons began to slowly lift into the blue sky, causing a chorus of cheers from the field.

The launch Sunday evening followed a weekend of overcast weather that resulted in five of the festival’s launches being canceled and left many people on social media clamoring for an earlier start date for the balloon festival next year.

Colleen Landry, a crew coordinator for the festival, said festival organizers are still eyeballing the third weekend of August for 2020.

“We are completely at the mercy of the weather every year,” Landry said. “There’s a reason we choose this specific weekend — the third weekend of August — every year. The balloon pilots are part of a festival circuit, and they have a schedule they follow. This weekend is where they are able to fit in.”

She added that nonprofit organizations and school groups that make up the food booths at the festival also view the third weekend of August as an option.

“I don’t think this will happen every year,” Landry said. “I’ve been volunteering for the balloon festival for all 27 years that it’s been around, and I can’t recall a year with this many cancellations.”


Many of the festivalgoers at the park Sunday evening said that they were happy with the traditional start date of the festival and believed this year was an anomaly.

“I feel like it’s worthy showing up to the festival for the nostalgia factor alone,” said Joanna Scott, who lives in Albany, New York, but spends time at her family’s cottage at Taylor Pond in Auburn. “I used to wake up early in the morning and watch the balloons getting launched. We could see them rising up over the pond.”

Amy Spencer, a South Portland native who grew up in Auburn, said she would have brought her children to the festival Sunday even if it were cloudy or raining.

“The festival, at this point, is more for my children than it is for me,” Spencer said. “It wouldn’t matter to me if it were held earlier. As long as we’re having fun.”

Daria Filatova of Gorham, who was attending the festival for the first time with her family, said she thinks the festival should choose a weekend with the best chance to avoid cancellations.

“If it was raining or cloudy, I would’ve just stayed home and done something there instead of coming out,” Filatova said.



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