By Tom Lounges

Summer is here, which means Hammond is ready for the 12th annual Festival of the Lakes. More than 50,000 people participated in the activities highlighting Hammond's three lakes in 2014 according to Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott's office.

"This year promises to surpass last year, providing our great community another five days of summer fun," said Mayor McDermott in a press statement.

Music will fill the night air over the waters of Wolf Lake, as McDermott and The Hammond Parks & Recreation Department gift local music fans with five days of top name talent all free of charge at The Pavilion Stage of Wolf Lake Memorial Park.

This year's musical headliners are Alien Ant Farm, Hoobastank & P.O.D. (July 15), The Charlie Daniels Band (July 16), Boston (July 17, 2 Chainz (July 18) and Roberto Tapia (July 19), paired with several regionally-based opening acts.

"I'm always excited to play in the Chicago area," said 78-year-old Charlie Daniels, who headlines the country night of this year's fest. "I still enjoy getting up there and playing music today as much as I ever did, the old songs and of course the new ones too."

Daniels is touring behind his latest album -- "Off the Grid: Doin' It Dylan" -- a collection of Bob Dylan tunes done in true CDB fashion. "I felt it was time to pay homage to one of the greatest songwriters of our generation," said Daniels who played sessions for Dylan in the 1960s.

"We do 'Tangled Up in Blue' at every show and rotate in one or two more of the other songs from the album. The new songs have been going over very well with the audiences. I'd love to play more of them, but that would mean taking out some of the songs people come to hear and there's no way I can leave the stage without doing 'Devil Went Down To Georgia,' '(The Legend of) Wooley Swamp,' 'Long-haired Country Boy', 'South's Gonna Do It Again,' and all the others. I don't ever want someone ever to leave my concert disappointed."

Daniels has no plans to retire any time soon. "One day it'll happen, it's inevitable I guess," he said. "But as long as the Good Lord allows, I'll keep playing my music."

Whereas Daniels has a long career behind him, Tommy DeCarlo only recently started his personal journey as an entertainer, when he was plucked from obscurity and made lead singer for the classic rock band Boston, following the tragic death of the group's original vocalist Brad Delp in 2007.

DeCarlo made his official recording debut on Boston's sixth studio album, 2013's "Life, Love & Hope," which also included four tracks marking the final recordings by Delp.

"I posted a couple of Boston cover songs of me singing on MySpace page and that page eventually made its way to Tom Scholz," said DeCarlo of how his life changed overnight. "The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with Tom and he invited me to come sing at a benefit concert being put together in memory of Brad Delp. So that's really how it all started. Boston is the first band I've ever been in."

About a week after Tom Scholz' fateful phone call, DeCarlo and his entire family were flown up to Boston. DeCarlo recalled the first time he met the whole band - "I walked into the rehearsal studio and they were all rehearsing 'Don't Look Back.' It's been an amazing experience."

The current line-up of Boston includes band founder/lead guitarist and songwriter Tom Scholz, bassist Tracy Ferrie (a native Hoosier born and raised in Elkhart) , drummer Jeff Neal, keyboardist Beth Cohen, and rhythm/lead guitarist Gary Pihl, who has been the rhythm/lead guitarist for the band for more than two decades.

After roaring out of their namesake city in 1976 and to the #1 spot on the charts, making their self-titled debut one of the biggest debut albums of all time (17 million copies sold), Boston has endured some bad times that included being tied up in legal red tape with their record label, internal squabbling between founding members and the unexpected death of original vocalist Delp.

Asked if he felt the dark clouds over the band have finally blown over, Pihl said -- "I think so. We've got a great band here. Everyone is dedicated to the band and loves working together to bring those amazing songs ("More Than A Feeling," "Peace of Mind," "Foreplay/Longtime," "Rock and Roll Band," "Smokin'," "Don't Look Back," "Amanda," etc.) to life every night. When we stand up on stage and look out in the audience and see people smiling and singing along with us, I get a lump in my throat."

Pihl first met Tom Scholz in the 1980s while a member of Sammy Hagar's early band who opened shows for Boston. "Tom and I are both music nerds, both into production and sound stuff, so we talked a lot," he said. "One day I got a call from Tom asking if I had time to come to his studio and lay down some guitar on a song. I went to the studio to guest on that song and wound up staying.

Asked how Boston has remained a top drawing band despite its troubled past, Pihl credited Scholz' passion, genius and tenacity. "Tom never stops. He's a brilliant guy and an amazing musician. Tom always makes those '100 Greatest Guitarists' lists and also the '100 Greatest Keyboardist' lists. He's the only one who's on both of those lists," said Pihl. "Tom is always striving to do things better and better and that aspect of him is infectious to the rest of us. We all work hard to be the best we can be and to make this band the best it can be. I really think that shows when we're on stage. Come see Boston at this show (July 17) and you'll see that for yourself."

Aside from the nightly live main stage music, the fest features a wide array of family events, 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.