FORT KENT, Maine — Duane Belanger has a vision of creating a center in the St. John Valley where area veterans can gather and memories of the fallen can be honored.
A big part in realizing and funding that vision is Freedom Fest, a daylong concert event on Aug. 9 featuring bands, military salutes and performances at the Fort Kent Municipal Airport just off New Canada Road in Fort Kent.
Among those dropping by is Maine’s first lady Ann LePage, who will jump from an airplane alongside Travis Mills, one of only five surviving quadruple amputees of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The two will jump tandem style with members of an all-veterans’ parachute team at about 2 p.m., Belanger said.
“That the first lady will do this means a lot,” Belanger said. “She told me she is scared of heights, and I really have a lot of respect for her.”
For her part, LePage said jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was not her idea.
“This was never on my bucket list,” she said. “But veterans’ issues are near and dear to my heart, and Travis Mills said he would jump ‘only if the first lady jumps.’ How could I say no?”
Plus, LePage said, her presence should help bring attention to Freedom Fest and Belanger’s work to raise funds for a local veterans’ center.
“If my jumping can help Duane, then it’s mission accomplished,” she said.
LePage did admit to being a bit beyond apprehensive as the date approaches.
“I don’t think nervous is the right word,” she said. “I am sick to my stomach.”
Her husband, Gov. Paul LePage, will remain on firm ground while his wife makes her jump.
“He knows he can’t stop me,” Ann LePage said with a laugh. “But he does think I’m nuts.”
Mills, who has made more than 50 career jumps, has been very supportive, LePage said.
“He told me we are going up two-and-a-half miles and when we jump, it’s just like falling,” she said. “I said sure, but I have never fallen two-and-a-half miles before.”
Belanger has lined up more than a dozen bands for the all-day event, including the Thomas Nicholas Band, fronted by actor, singer, musician Thomas Nicholas, who is famous for his film performances in “Rookie of the Year” and the “American Pie” series.
“Everything is really looking good,” Belanger said. “We are hoping for some big [attendance] numbers, [and] the buzz online is there are a lot of people coming up from away.”
Tickets for the event, which kicks off at 9 a.m and runs until midnight, are $35 in advance or $40 at the gate for adults, $25 for 12- to 16-year-olds and free for children under 12.
Participants should plan to bring their own chairs or blankets, and Belanger said coolers and backpacks are not allowed into the venue.
Vendors will be on site, Belanger said, with everything from hot dogs and ice cream to locally grown farmers’ market treats available for sale.
American Legion Post 133 will be operating a beer garden, he said.
There will be parking on site, and several alternate spots have been planned for any overflow with shuttle bus service provided.
For information on the bands and events associated with Freedom Fest, visit www.freedomfest2014.com/