Not an umbrella to see: the hot air balloon festival kicks off under the sun

Hot air balloons take off Friday morning from Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. It was the first day of the Great Falls Balloon Festival 2022. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON – The difference between this year’s hot air balloon festival and some in recent years was obvious at the time.

No umbrellas. No raincoats. No huddled masses trying to stay dry even knowing the balls were doomed to stay on the ground.

The weather for the start of the Great Balloon Festival 2022 was near perfect and you better believe people took notice.

“Finally,” said Cheryl Edwards of Richmond. “They are going to have a very good year to make up for the last two years.”

The last two years, of course, there have been no balloons and no festival at all because of the pandemic. In 2019, a festival took place but only one launch could be managed due to bad weather.

But by Friday evening, when the grounds of Simard-Payne Memorial Park were filling up very quickly, the hot air balloon festival was already underway thanks to an almost flawless morning launch.

“We had a semi-good launch this morning,” said festival director Colleen Landry. “There were a few balls with some issues, but things went really well. He looks awesome right now. It’s a little windy right now, but that’s supposed to subside. The important thing is that we avoided the rain. »

Without a doubt. After two days of consistent heavy rain, Friday was sunny and warm and everything you want for an outdoor festival.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, for his part, was relieved that the morning launch went so well.

“You want to start off on the right foot,” the mayor said.

At 5 p.m., the crowd at Simard-Payne was really dense. A few hundred gathered in front of the stage for the musical styles of the Elvis Presley impersonator known as – what else? —Elvis. And as The King sang “Burning Love”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and a whole host of other Elvis hits, he had a cool breeze blowing over him and not a drop of rain in sight.

A hundred others were gathered in the food tents. Dozens of families sat on picnic blankets while others roamed the grounds, mingling or shopping in vendor tents.

“I’m getting a good deal here,” said Paul Veilleux, who runs “Full of Hot Air,” a Rhode Island company that sells a variety of balloon-themed trinkets, including streamers and spinners. “People who love balloons love the balloons I sell.”

Veilleux travels to hot air balloon festivals throughout New England to sell his wares and has based himself in Lewiston for previous festivals.

“For the past two years, there have been no events and there has been rain here for some of them,” Veilleux said, “but today the weather is very nice.”

Mark Swearingen from Richmond came to the festival, along with Edwards, early Friday morning. He caught the morning launch and planned to be there for the evening launch as well.

“We will also stay for the moonlight,” he said.

Swearingen has friends who are part of the crews tasked with chasing the balloons when they land. He likes to watch balloons, okay, but would he ride in one himself?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s safer here.”

Edwards, on the other hand, felt more adventurous.

“I would go up,” she said. “We sent a girlfriend a year after she lost her husband. She took some great photos up there and said it was absolutely beautiful.

The festival has been blessed with fine summer weather and this streak is expected to continue throughout the weekend, with sunshine and warm temperatures in the forecast.

Landry, in constant motion as she shouted out assignments to balloon crews and volunteers on Friday night, said things generally went well. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and there was a nice upbeat energy in the ever-growing crowd that filled the pitch.

“We just need to keep that positivity going,” Landry said.

Shortly after, the first balloon of the night took off and soon after, the sky was strewn with it. The hot air balloon festival was officially launched.

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