For the 10th consecutive summer, music will fill the night air over the waters of Wolf Lake in Hammond, as the city’s Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. and The Hammond Parks & Recreation Department gift local music fans with five days of top name talent free of charge at The Pavilion Stage of Wolf Lake Memorial Park.
Coupled with plenty of midway carnival rides, game booths and food vendors is a virtual buffet of musical styles and sounds custom-picked by Hammond’s music-lovin’ mayor and talent buyer Omar Farag of the region-based production agency, O.M.A.R. Presents.
“A lot of time goes into planning and booking Festival of the Lakes each year,” said Farag. “The Mayor is very involved throughout and we are back at it by September planning the next year. We want variety and the best available artists. Competition for them is tremendous,” said Farag in reference to this year’s LL Cool J performance given the demand for dates on his current “comeback tour.”
Among the biggest audiences in the festival’s history have been for REO Speedwagon, Black Crows, Pat Benatar and Los Lonely Boys according to Farag. He expects a large turn out this year for the opening night performance by Motown legend Smokey Robinson and for Saturday’s concert by pioneering rapper, LL Cool J, who after a long time away from music while acting in films and starring in the hit television series “NCIS: Los Angeles,” has returned to recording and performing.
Robinson’s impact on music and his influence on all styles and genres are far-reaching. His indelible voice inspired Beatle George Harrison to write and record “Pure Smokey” in homage to Robinson, who was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by blue-eyed soul singers Daryl Hall and John Oates, who told of the huge influence Robinson had on them.
Robinson’s pen has given success to many diverse and disparate artists over the years, from rockers like Rolling Stones (“Going To A Go Go”), The Beatles (“You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”) and Rare Earth (“Get Ready”), to dance divas En Vogue (“Hold On”) and Fergie (“Here I Come”), to “American Idol” alumnus Taylor Hicks (“Heaven Knows”) and Adam Lambert (“Tracks of My Tears”).
Then of course there are those Motown legends who recorded Robinson songs -- Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar”), The Temptations (“My Girl”), Michael Jackson (“Happy”) and The Marvelettes (“Don’t Mess With Bill”) – to name a few.
At 73, William “Smokey” Robinson – a 2006 Kennedy Center honoree - is still going strong and still as passionate about music as he was when he stepped up to the microphone for the first time in 1955 as the front man of his high school vocal group, The Chimes.
“I still love singing. I still love all those songs,” said Robinson of why after five decades in the music business as a performer, songwriter, producer and a record executive he keeps on keeping on.
Robinson will be releasing his next album in the fall via Verve Records. It’s a duets project featuring Robinson and a celebrated roster of contemporary and classic artists, teaming up on songs from Robinson’s deep catalog. “American Idol” alumnus Randy Jackson is producing the sessions. “Randy is a long time friend, a great musician and an amazing record producer. I’m honored and very happy to be working with him on this,” said Robinson, while keeping hush on what stars will lend their voices to the album.
“I think God gives everyone a special gift and I think my gift is songwriting,” said Robinson, who has written thousands of songs during his career, many famously recorded by others and many recorded himself both solo and as front man with his early group, The Miracles.
When speaking of the Temptations’ hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” Robinson told of writing that tune specifically for Eddie Kendricks’ voice. “That song was inspired by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, because they used to do records with great harmonies and Eddie’s voice was very similar to Curtis’ voice. I was listening to the radio one day and an Impressions record came on and I got the idea to write ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do’ which became the Temptations first hit."
“I still write songs almost every day,” Robinson continued. “Songs just happen when they happen and they come from many places. A melody or a groove might pop in your head, or a phrase on a billboard on the road might inspire a lyric, or a life experience. I’ve written many songs about life itself and what happens in life.”
Robinson said when he wrote “Tracks of My Tears,” he had to write lyrics to fit into a piece of music written by his longtime guitarist Marv Tarplin. “Marv did that music and has done music for many, many songs that I’ve written. He puts things on tape and I just listen until something comes to mind that will fit that particular music.”
Asked to define “The Motown Sound,” Robinson smiled and settled into his chair. “Over the years I’ve heard every definition of the Motown Sound,” he said. “I’ve heard the Motown Sound is more bass, or more kick drum, or having the vocals up front. I’ll tell you first-hand what made the Motown Sound. It was the people who created it. When our artists and our records started getting popular, people started coming to Detroit from everywhere – New York, London, Africa, Nashville, and other places trying to capture the Motown Sound, like it was something in the air. But our artists traveled all over the world and often recorded on the road while in places like Nashville or London or here in Chicago, yet no matter where they recorded, they got the Motown Sound. So it wasn’t Detroit, it wasn’t a certain studio; it was the people who created the music."
Although Robinson appreciates how technology has made recordings “cleaner” sounding, he still likes the old school method best. “When I first started recording everybody who was going to be on a record had to be there at the same time,” he said. “You all went in and you played together like you would on stage. That gave the records a live feel. That’s lost today, because people who play on the same record now don’t even see each other. They do their own tracks that are later mixed together.”
That’s the way newer artists like Better Than Ezra and Lifehouse who perform on July 19 make records. Lifehouse exploded when their first album, “No Name Face,” sold nearly three million copies. Four more albums have proven the success was no fluke as Lifehouse has landed several hits – “Hanging by a Moment,” “You and Me,” “First Time,” “Whatever It Takes,” and “Halfway Gone” -- on radio playlists.
Lifehouse tunes have been featured on television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scrubs,” “Criminal Minds,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Smallville.” Their sixth and latest album “Almera” features classic rock god Peter Frampton guesting on the song “Right Back Home.”
Having successfully tested the waters last year with a national Led Zeppelin tribute group, talent buyer Farag is revisiting the “faux famous” format this year with a team up by Las Vegas-based group “Bruce in the USA” (featuring Matt Ryan in the role of “The Boss) and Chicago-based Journey tribute act, Evolution.
“There are so many great tribute bands covering artists way out of our price range who deliver a great live show with all the hits,” said Farag of why he believes the festival’s July 18 “Tribute Night” is a strong show. “Both of these acts are extremely professional and the quality of their shows is high.”
As always, Hammond’s large Hispanic population is well-represented musically at the festival with an evening dedicated to Latin-flavored music. This year it’s the closing night, July 21, with performances by Jesus Enriquez Orchestra and La Original Banda El Limon.
“This festival offers a wide variety of musical styles and artists,” concluded Farag, noting the diversity reflects the ethnic and cultural make-up of Hammond and the region. “There is something for everybody.”