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Summer seems to have finally arrived in Northwest Indiana and people are more than ready to party.

For the 16th consecutive year, music will be in the spotlight in Hammond as people from all over the Region and even other states bring their friends and families to visit the city to enjoy its expansive Wolf Lake Memorial Park and Festival of the Lakes.

Festival of the Lakes, running from July 17 to 21, features family friendly events and five evenings filled with live performances by top name talent on The Pavilion Stage.

The best part is families do not have to break the piggy bank to attend. While cash may be needed for food vendors and rides, there are many activities and hours of music that cost nothing to enjoy. There's no admission charge for the popular event.

"Without the generosity of our sponsors who help defray the cost we couldn't do this festival with these kinds of top acts every year," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has said of the long-running event. "We don't do this for profit. Our goal each year is to present the best talent possible for people to enjoy and to break even at the end of it all."

The festival is a magnificent opportunity for the city to celebrate its cultural diversity, while also giving families a way to enjoy the summer festival season together with minimal out of pocket expense. "Not everyone can afford to go on vacation, especially if they have kids, so we bring the fun and music here to them, making this a 'staycation' opportunity for them,"  McDermott said.

The Mayor knows these annual concerts draw thousands of people from the surrounding communities, who then return to their towns and cities with a positive experience of visiting Hammond. So it serves as a wonderful marketing opportunity to bring neighboring Hoosiers to visit Hammond.

The music is eclectic and represents the city of Hammond and its people, in that hip hop, rock, alternative and Latin music are all offered up for enjoyment. Hip hop/rap icon Nelly will get the main stage party started on Wednesday (July 17), with special guest, Charity Croff.

Since hitting the entertainment scene in 2000, Nelly has continually evolved and set the bar higher with every new project. From being the first hip hop artist to perform with symphonies to his collaboration with country group Florida-Georgia Line earning him "Diamond" status in music sales, Nelly is constantly moving forward and upward. He is one of only seven rap artists to attain "Diamond" level sales success. His new album is forthcoming and fans may be treated to some of the new cuts at this performance.

Rock music is represented first by alternative hit-makers 3 Doors Down on Thursday (July 18) with NWI blues-rock group Brothers & Wine warming things up. Friday's (July 19) stage is anchored by classic rock legends Paul Rodgers & Bad Company. The female-fronted Chicago's blues-rock band Empty Pockets gets sandwiched in the middle, following an old school "front porch blues" performance by the son of one of Rodgers' biggest influences. Joseph "Mojo" Morganfield is the youngest son of Chicago Blues icon, Muddy Waters. With the help of band mates, The Mannish Boyz, Morganfield will recreate a little of the acoustic blues magic that helped inspire a teenage Rodgers to start performing back in Britain.

"Paul Rodgers honored my father and my family when he recorded a tribute album to my father in 1993 ('Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters') that featured a lot of incredible guest musicians," said Morganfield of why opening for Bad Company at Festival of the Lakes means so much to him personally. "It's a great honor to be asked to be on the same stage." Morganfield met Rodgers last year, when Rodgers was touring with guitar god Jeff Beck on the "Stars Align Tour."

"Paul and his wife Cynthia were so warm and gracious to me, it was a thrill to meet and spend a little time with them," recalled Morganfield of his encounter. "They were nice enough to take me over to meet Jeff Beck as well, who likewise was influenced by my father and the Chess Records sound. Jeff played on the tribute album with Paul." Morganfield said he will perform a few famous Muddy Waters classics for fans along with a few songs from his forthcoming full length release due out this fall. More: josephmojomorganfield.com.

Hip-hop returns on Saturday (July 20) with The Roots, perhaps best known as the official house band on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." The group is among the most respected and successful hip-hop music artists today, having gotten a dozen Grammy nominations and taking home four Grammy trophies. The guys are currently developing a pair of children's series; one animated and one live action series for Amazon.

As is tradition at the festival, Hispanic culture is celebrated on the festival's closing day. On Sunday (July 21), a trilogy of Latin Music groups will perform, beginning with Chicago and NWI-based group, Sabor Latino. Next up is another Chicago-based group, El-Nuevo-Ejemplo. A very well seasoned and accomplished ensemble will headline on Sunday and like their fellow hip-hop and rock headliners, Los Huracanes del Norte have accumulated many gold and platinum records during its lengthy 40-plus year career. Widely recognized for its contribution and perpetuation of Mexican music, the group has been given the keys to many cities by many mayors. They have a street in Chicago named for them, and earned five American and Latin Grammy Award nominations.

Mayor McDermott has mentioned Hispanic Heritage Night is always among the best attended.

Aside from the nightly live main stage music, the fest features a wide array of family events all day, every day, including: The Kathleen Pucalik Memorial 5K Walk, Run and Splash, The Hot Rod & Custom Car Show, Festival Golf Outing, Fishing Derby, Special Person’s Day, Senior’s Day and a Polka Party at the Hammond Marina. Carnival Mega Passes allowing unlimited carnival rides from open until close are also available during specific days during the Festival.

While festival admission is free, there is a $25 per car parking fee. The cost is the same whether the vehicle has one person or an entire family, so car pooling is encouraged to save money. A free shuttle runs from the Hammond South Shore Station to transport folks to Festival of the Lakes and back. The shuttle is found in the parking lot adjacent to the train platform; it runs all day on Saturday and Sunday, until the last scheduled train leaves the station. More at festivalofthelakes.com.

Times readers are invited to join Mayor McDermott and his staff in kicking off Festival of the Lakes tonight (July 11) at Byway Brewery (2825 Carlson Drive) in Hammond where the Corey Dennison Band will be playing blues-rock from 5-8 p.m. Visitors will have chances to win Festival of the Lakes VIP Passes at tonight's pre-Fest party, which like the festival itself, is free to attend. More: bywaybrewing.beer or 219-844-5468.

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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.