“Our entertainment beats anything in Chicago — our talent line up is better than anything they have going on,” says Donna Muta, special events coordinator for Hammond Parks & Recreation.

Muta is talking about the entertainment lines up at the 2019 Festival of the Lakes, five days of fun, music, carnival rides, food vendors (and yes, we will try those fried Oreos this time around), 5K walk/race, fishing contest and much more starting July 17 at Wolf Lake Memorial Park.

“There’s big competition to get great groups, but the word is out about us and people want to play here,” she says, noting that headliners this year are Bad Company, Nelly, The Roots, 3 Doors Down and Los Huracanes del Norte. Well-known local bands will open for them.

When Muta, who describes the event as Hammond’s Super Bowl, started organizing the festival 15 years ago, it was much smaller. Each year, she says, it grows with thousands now attending.

“We are expecting one of our best crowds ever this season due to the excellent entertainment at the main stage,” says Muta. “We are hoping to reach over 10,000 per night, and that is just the concert. People come and go during the event to attend the spin-off events, such as the Fishing Derby, Senior Day and Golf Scramble, carnival and the others. In total, we can see up to 13,500 per day or more if we have good weather.”

Mayor Thomas McDermott and his staff of planners work all year to make sure there’s something for everyone at the even once known as Augustfest.

There are special events such as Senior Day for those 55 and older. Attendees get a free lunch and goody bag (while supplies last) in the Clipper Room at the Hammond Marina. Special Persons Day, designed for anyone with a permanent disability, includes a free lunch of hot dogs, chips and Pepsi, free carnival rides and, while the supplies last, free goody bags.

A must is the annual Polka Party at the Hammond Marina featuring music, dancing and Polish fare prepared by the Cavalier Inn of Hammond.

Food, of course, is a big part of any festival and there are plenty of choices here. Sarah Ste. Marie, owner of Ste. Marie Concessions, is again featuring Hawaiian Shave Ice, lemonade, Polish sausage, BBQ pulled pork, loaded baked potato, pierogi plus her Loaded Pierogi which won "Best Dish" at the Crown Point Corn Roast Fesitval.

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Ste. Marie participates in many of the area’s festivals and says she’s been the only pierogi vendor at Festival of the Lakes for the last decade.

The festival menu reflects the ethnic flavors of Northwest Indiana. Mendoza’s  is serving up beef, chicken and steak tacos, burritos, tostadas, taco dogs, walking tacos, nachos, quesadillas, chili, taco salad taco and burrito dinners. Asian food lovers won't want to miss the fried rice, sautéed noodles, grilled chicken on stick, bourbon chicken, Asian sausage and frozen drinks from the Bangkok House. California Donuts is offering fair classics such as funnel cakes, funnel cake sundaes, sundaes and floats. Dairy Belle has ice cream cones, sundaes, flurries, shakes and ICEEs (frozen carbonated soft drinks) as well as corn on the cob and Mexican style corn. Sissy’s Concessions sells 13 flavors of kettle corn, shake ups, Italian ice, taffy and giant ice pops. Jill’s Sweets & Treats will again be featuring a savory and sweet assortment of strawberries, cheesecake, bananas, bacon, cherries and blueberries.

Kids Day is special time at the Aquatic Play Center at Wolf Lake and Golf Scramble at the Lost Marsh Golf Club is a chance to score big with a variety of prizes. The event includes a free lunch and gift bag.

Like to cast a line? Try the Festival of the Lakes Fishing Derby taking place on the Indiana side Wolf Lake’s shoreline. The $1 entry fee brings a chance to win a variety of prizes in the two age groups—younger than 12, and 12 and older. The money raised goes to the Dowling Park Fish Restocking Program.

Ate too much fair food (of course you have), fight the calories by participating in the Kathleen Pucalik Memorial 5K Walk, Run & Splash.

New this year is a free bike valet; a free shuttle bus runs from the Hammond South Shore Station to Wolf Lake Memorial Park and back.

No matter how big they’ve gotten, Muta says, there’s one thing that remains the same — general admission is still free.

“That includes a bottle of water,” she says. “So even if you don’t have money, you can still have a great time.”

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