Festival of the Lakes evolves with Hammond

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Festival of the Lakes comes to Hammond July 15 through July 19, bringing with it all the free concert entertainment and family fun it has been known for over the last 12 years. But those coming to the event this year are sure to see changes – particularly in the design of Wolf Lake.

This annual summer festival was created in Hammond as AugustFest in 1984 by former Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Sr. as a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hammond’s establishment in Indiana. AugustFest, then a 10-day summer festival, occurred in conjunction with the Centennial celebration of Wolf Lake Park. The popular event drew acts such as Together in 1988, Marie Osmond in 1991, The Turtles in 1993, Eddie Money in 1996 and Cheap Trick in 2000.

AugustFest soon garnered an unpopular reputation in the North-Hammond-Robertsdale neighborhood, with many residents citing fights breaking out at festival grounds, rummaged neighborhoods and vandalized cars. AugustFest was canceled in 2001 due to cost overruns.

In 2004, Thomas M. McDermott Jr. used his first term as mayor to replace the city’s former AugustFest with the newly re-branded Festival of the Lakes, named so as a way to represent Lake Michigan, Wolf Lake and George Lake. The event was slimmed down to five days, with McDermott stating in a 2012 Times article, “we made it better in my opinion. Half the time and twice the fun.”

According to McDermott, the purpose of Festival of the Lakes was and always will be to promote the city and celebrate the diversity of its people, all while giving families a chance to enjoy time together.

Festival of the Lakes was an immediate hit in the region, with an estimated 50,000 attendees coming out for its inaugural run, which featured the newly established 5K race, a golf outing at the Lost Marsh Golf Course and entertainment from groups such as Blues Traveler and WAR. Since that time, the Festival of the Lakes has been host to an assortment of big-name entertainers including REO Speedwagon in 2005, Randy Travis in 2008, Pat Benatar in 2011 and L.L. Cool J in 2013.

Safety and security was on the minds of the administration during the re-branding process, and the Hammond police department has remained a constant presence at the event to this day. According to Hammond Police Chief John Doughty, the atmosphere of AugustFest versus Festival of the Lakes is vastly different, citing the lower crime rate in Hammond since Mayor McDermott Jr. took over. According to Doughty, this has allowed the festival to become more family-friendly.

Doughty said that the Hammond police officers now undergo specialized training for large-scale events and are more involved in the initial and ongoing planning for Festival of the Lakes.

“In the past [during AugustFest] we were much more reactive. Now we are able to work with the Parks Department in planning the event to ensure we are more proactive. It’s been immensely beneficial for the residents of Hammond,” Doughty said.

In 2010, a permanent pavilion was built at Wolf Lake Memorial Park as part of a $31.4 million grant by the Northwest Indiana Redevelopment Authority. Since that time, upgrades to Wolf Lake grounds have been constant. Currently, Wolf Lake has over 6.2 miles of paved trail around the lake, which includes a new bridge running through the lake itself.

The Aquatic Play Center at Wolf Lake, which was completed in 2011 and located at 2100 Calumet Avenue, is now home to the Kids Day Free Play during Festival of the Lakes – scheduled for Saturday, July 18 from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. – and the Festival Car Show – scheduled for Sunday, July 19 at noon. The footprint of Wolf Lake has changed drastically as well, with the old entrance to the park from Sheffield Avenue now closed and restructured on Calumet Avenue. The City of Hammond has also bought several of the industrial buildings around Calumet and is in the process of converting the area into green space.

According to Mayor McDermott, changes to Wolf Lake will allow Festival of the Lakes to continue its growth for years to come. “Festival is getting bigger every year – we are consistently getting quality entertainment that brings out thousands of people. Luckily we have the space at Wolf Lake to adapt to these changes. We are doing so many things different this year and I’m excited to see how the residents respond,” McDermott said.

The entertainment lineup for this year’s event include Alien Ant Farm, Hoobastank, and P.O.D. on Wednesday, July 15, local opener High Noon and The Charlie Daniels Band on Thursday, July 16, local opener The Rave and BOSTON on Friday, July 17, local opener Liptak, Chicago artist Cap 1 and 2 Chainz on Saturday, July 18 and local band Erik Antonio, Chicago group Banda Portrillos and Roberto Tapia on Sunday, July 19. Parking for the event is $25 per vehicle, but 3-day parking passes are available for $60 at the Hammond Civic Center, 5825 S. Sohl Avenue.

In addition to the main stage musical entertainment, Festival of the Lakes has a brand new Community Stage featuring local musical entertainment and artists. The Community Stage will also house the new Healthy Day at the 5K on Saturday, July 18. During and after the Kathleen Pucalik Memorial 5K Run/Walk/Splash, Healthy Day at the 5K will feature a Crossfit demonstration from local gym Crossfit Munster, a Zumba demonstration from the Hammond YMCA and a Yoga demonstration from instructors currently teaching weekly at Wolf Lake Pavilion.

A newly designed open-concept beer garden will be available this year, allowing attendees to purchase and walk around the enclosed concert venue with drinks. Another new option for those interested in being closer to the main stage is the opportunity to purchase a VIP Experience Pass. According to Parks Department Administrator Donna Muta, the number one question asked throughout the year if how to obtain passes into the VIP area.

“People constantly ask how they can obtain passes – now we can give them the answer they want.”

A limited number of 300 VIP Experience Passes will be available to purchase in advance at the Hammond Civic Center and are $45 each. The price includes closer access to the main stage and a discounted price on beer and alcohol.

However, Muta states that even though paid seating is now available, admission to Festival will always be free. “Mayor McDermott’s goal was to re-create AugustFest and turn it into something better – something to provide Hammond residents a safe and inexpensive way to enjoy the summer. Festival of the Lakes meets that goal.”