Aug. 20—LEWISTON — The difference between this year's balloon festival and some from recent years was obvious at once.
No umbrellas. No raincoats. No huddled masses trying to stay dry even while knowing that balloons were doomed to stay grounded.
The weather for the start of the 2022 Great Balloon Festival was near flawless and you better believe people noticed.
"Finally," said Cheryl Edwards of Richmond. "They're going to have a really good year to make up for the past couple years."
The past two years, of course, there were no balloons and no festival at all because of the pandemic. In 2019, a festival was held but only one launch could be managed due to bad weather.
But by early Friday night, as the grounds at Simard-Payne Memorial Park were very quickly filling up, the balloon festival was already on a roll thanks to a near-flawless morning launch.
"We had a semi-good launch this morning," Festival Director Colleen Landry said. "There were some balloons with a couple of issues, but things have been going really well. It's looking awesome right now. It's a little bit breezy right now but that's supposed to die down. The important thing is that we got the rain out of the way."
No doubt. After two days of heavy and constant rains, Friday was sunny and warm and everything you want for an outdoor festival.
Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, for one, was relieved that the morning launch had gone so well.
"You want to get it off on the right foot," the mayor said.
By 5 p.m., the crowds at Simard-Payne were thick indeed. A couple hundred gathered in front of the stage for the musical stylings of the Elvis Presley impersonator known as — what else? — Elvis. And as The King belted out "Burning Love," "Heartbreak Hotel" and a whole bunch of other Elvis hits, he had a cool breeze blowing on him and not a drop of rain in sight.
Another hundred or so were gathered under the food tents. Dozens of families sat on picnic blankets while others roamed the grounds, mingling or shopping at the vendor tents.
"I do a decent business here," said Paul Veilleux, who runs "Full of Hot Air," a Rhode Island business that sells a variety of balloon themed trinkets, including wind streamers and spinners. "People who like balloons like the balloon products I sell."
Veilleux travels to balloon festivals all over New England to sell his wares and has set up shop in Lewiston for previous festivals.
"The past two years, there's been no event at all and there's been rain here for some of them," Veilleux said, "but today the weather is very nice."
Mark Swearingen of Richmond came to the festival, with Edwards, early Friday morning. He caught the morning launch and planned to be there for the evening launch, as well.
"We'll stay for the moon glow, too," he said.
Swearingen has friends who are part of the crews tasked with chasing down the balloons when they land. He enjoys watching the balloons, all right, but would he go up in one himself?
"No," he said, and laughed. "It's safer down here."
Edwards, on the other hand, was feeling more adventurous.
"I'd go up," she said. "We sent a girlfriend up one year after she lost her husband. She took some really nice pictures up there and said it was absolutely beautiful."
The festival was blessed by nice summer weather and that streak is expected to continue all through the weekend, with sun and hot temperatures in the forecast.
Landry, in constant motion as she shouted assignments to balloon crews and volunteers Friday night, said things had been going smoothly for the most part. Everyone seemed to be in good moods and there was a nice, upbeat energy about the ever-growing crowd that filled the grounds.
"We just need to keep this positivity going," Landry said.
A short time later, the first balloon of the night lifted off and before long, the sky was dotted with them. The balloon festival was officially on a roll.