Great Falls Balloon Festival, no more returning to Lewiston-Auburn this summer

Balloons rise August 18, 2019 at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston in the only successful launch of the Great Falls Balloon Festival that year. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — After two years without many of Lewiston-Auburn’s iconic festivals, all are set to return this summer.

The first of them is the Great Falls Hot Air Balloon Festival, which board chair Tracy Collins said should operate as usual. The three-day event, August 19-21, will feature six balloon launches, live music, fireworks, a parade and local vendors.

“We’ll have our traditional expectations, but we’re trying to bring new things to the pitch (too),” she said.

Also returning to the twin cities will be the Liberty Festival and the Great Falls Brewfest. RiverFest & Regatta will be running for its second year, and the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council is planning a new summer event to celebrate all of Lewiston.

People looking to book a hot air balloon ride this summer should act quickly; Collins said they had more advance bookings this year than in the past.

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“People have been emailing us since Christmas, ‘we want to go for a ride’, so people are excited about the festival,” she said. “It pleases our hearts because we are a volunteer board and a lot of people doubted we were going to be able to come back, but we are definitely in full force.”

Beer is served June 25, 2016 at Simard-Payne Memorial Park during the Great Falls Brewfest in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

The festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021, and rainy weather in 2019 allowed only one launch, she said. Organizers expect larger than normal crowds this year.

They have yet to announce the specialty-shaped balloon theme, but Collins shared that these balloons have never been to the festival since its launch in 1992.

“Balloons are what get people to the festival, but our mission is to create that opportunity to support local nonprofits” and bring tourism to Lewiston-Auburn, she said.

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Even with the bad weather in 2019, the festival still raised $56,000 for local nonprofits, she added.

Craft beer connoisseurs also have a lot to look forward to with the return of the Great Falls Brewfest, hosted by Baxter Brewing, on June 25 at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. More than 50 local breweries will be present, as well as cider, seltzer water, food and live music.

The 4th of July festivities are also set to return to Lewiston-Auburn with the Liberty Festival. Entertainment and food vendors near the Great Falls, next to the Androscoggin River, will lead the event’s fireworks display, committee chair Cathy McDonald said.

“We hope to make (the event) bigger and better, but plans are still on hold,” she said. “We look forward to bringing the Liberty Festival back to our community and celebrating our independence.”

Fireworks explode in 2021 over Great Falls on the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn during the Liberty Festival as the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul looms in the foreground. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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Both festivals were canceled in 2020 and 2021, but the Liberty Festival fireworks display took place last year.

In June, the second annual RiverFest & Regatta will run along the banks of the Androscoggin River, celebrating the towns connection to the river. A kickball tournament, craft fair and a host of boat races will headline the two-day event on Friday and Saturday June 17 and 18. It will include live music, beer and food.

Participants can also rent canoes to row on the river. Several hundred Trek Across Maine riders are expected to pass through Riverfest on Friday afternoon.

“For us, Riverfest is an opportunity to really celebrate (the river) and bring attention to it, while making sure there’s another event that really supports the high quality of life that people who live in this area have every day,” Shanna Cox, president and CEO of the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said.

After hosting the first event last summer during the pandemic in an effort to reduce crowd sizes, Cox said the chamber is looking to step it up.

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“(This region) is on the move, it’s young, it’s healthy, it’s active, it’s diverse and there’s always something to do,” Cox said. “I think those are things that we’re really looking forward to bringing to people who live here and beyond.”

Racing hulls come into place on July 24, 2021, at the start of the Riverfest regatta on the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

The Lewiston Youth Advisory Council is working to create a new summer event called Celebrating Lewiston, tentatively scheduled for June 25, to recognize all the great things the town has to offer including art, food, history , culture, business and youth activities, councilor Dottie Perham-Whittier said.

She shared a quote from board member Hannah Arsenault during their Wednesday night meeting, which she felt best summed up the purpose of the event.

“We want to highlight what makes Lewiston, Lewiston, show what we have here and what others lack,” Perham-Whittier read in his notes.

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The event is tentatively scheduled to be held in the new Mike McGraw Park on Bartlett Street.

In neighboring Lisbon, the Moxie Festival is also set to return July 8-10 after two years, and the city is also set to become the new host of the Maine Blues Festival.


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