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Great Falls Balloon Festival lifts off Friday

(See Balloon Fest schedule, starting on Page 7, in TCT’s Digital Edition)

The 19th Annual Great Falls Balloon Festival lifts off tomorrow along the Androscoggin River with hot-air balloon launches scheduled twice a day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday—weather permitting—from Simard Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston.

The festival kicks off Friday morning, August 19 and will run through the early evening of Sunday, August 21. This year’s theme, “Critters in the Clouds,” refers to three special-shaped balloons that are scheduled to appear: Whooty the Owl, Annie the Ladybug and Bud E. Beaver.

A full slate of entertainment and activities will take place at both Simard Payne Park and Festival Plaza in Auburn. Local favorites Denny Breau, Terry & The Telstars and The Don Campbell Band will join more than 20 other musicians, local organizations and other entertainers to provide three days worth of enjoyment to crowds expected to exceed 100,000 people.

In a new event this year, Baxter Brewing Co. is partnering with mill neighbors, DaVinci’s Eatery and Maine’s premier folk duo, The Squid Jiggers, in an entertaining and tasty way to experience the first night of the annual Great Falls Balloon Festival, while raising money for another mill neighbor, Museum L-A.

On Friday night, August 19, a $30 ticket provides: a BBQ feast provided by DaVinci’s; two beers from Baxter (additional beer and wine available); a private tour of the Baxter facilities; free parking; and a concert under the night sky from the Squid Jiggers. A portion of proceeds from the event will benefit Museum L/A, which will also be hosting a benefit raffle during the evening.

Tickets are limited to the first 200 reservations only—when they’re gone, they’re gone!—and are available in the Tasting Room at Baxter Brewing by calling the brewery at 333-6769; or at the gate, if there are any left.

Free parking for ticket holders is provided in the Museum L-A parking lot on Canal Street by the old DaVinci’s. Dinner and the show itself will take place in the Fountain Courtyard adjacent to DaVinci’s on Mill Street. Gates will open at 6 p.m.; dinner is served beginning at 6:30 p.m.; and the Squid Jiggers start at 7:30 p.m. Please note: This event is for those 21 and over only!

Also new this year, Pedro O’Hara’s on Main Street in Lewiston, across from Bates Mill No. 5, will host The 1st Annual Kegs and Eggs on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 20 and 21. The restaurant will serve breakfast beginning at 5 a.m. on those days, and outdoor seating will provide excellent viewing of the balloon launches.

The menu will include traditional Irish breakfast food, such as sausages and homemade corned beef, and a Mexican omelet and hot cakes. After 6 a.m., patrons can enjoy Bloody Marys and mimosas. Of course, Guinness beer will be on tap. The outdoor seating is filling up fast, but some seats will be left open for walk-ins. To reserve a seat, call Pedro O’Hara’s at 783-6200.

Dr. John Reeder serves as the most important man at the festival: the balloonmeister. Reeder, a longtime local chiropractor and professional hot air balloon pilot, will coordinate the launches and make the decision if weather conditions are suitable for a launch. Last year, five of six scheduled launches were able to get off the ground.

“When you’re flying, you get the sense that you’re floating,” said Reeder, who has been flying for around 25 years. “I like flying low and going right over the tops of the trees and interacting with people watching from the ground. On the morning flights, they’ll often come outside in their night clothes!”

In addition to the balloons, the festival features many different food booths serving everything from soup to nuts, including breakfast for those early morning launches, all run by volunteers from local non-profit groups.

Along the walkway, which spans the river and winds along the edge of the festival grounds, craft and trade booths invite browsing, and a children’s area entertains toddlers to teens. Music is provided by many different entertainers, from children’s shows to blues singers, to jazz, pop, and oldies.

A carnival, parade and various demonstrations and contests round out the weekend events.

The Great Falls Balloon Festival was started in 1992 by a group of civic-minded individuals who saw a need for a community event that would enable various local non-profit groups to raise awareness to their cause, while raising money and promoting the Lewiston-Auburn area as a tourist destination. Located on the banks of the beautiful Androscoggin River, the festival quickly became a huge success, attracting crowds of approximately 100,000 visitors annually.

The river, with its backdrop of the rocky Great Falls, provides a picturesque setting for the 30 to 40 balloons that visit annually, including some special shape balloons.

Music is provided by many different entertainers, from children’s shows to blues singers, to jazz, pop and oldies. A carnival, parade and various demonstrations and contests round out the weekend events.

For a complete schedule and more information, see www.greatfallsballoonfestival.org.

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