HAMMOND — The Downtown Development District bills its summer street festival as Hot August Night, and weather conditions in Deep South Louisiana provided the heat for Friday’s annual event.
Despite a muggy evening with cloudless skies, thousands crowded downtown Hammond to enjoy a wide variety of things to do at the annual street stroll.
Hot August Night, the 20th incarnation of the popular festival, offered something for everyone who chose to brave the heat, said Terry Lynn Smith, executive director of the DDD, who estimated that about 10,000 people attended.
She said that by about 6:30 p.m., just after activities began, practically all parking spaces downtown and in adjacent areas had been occupied.
Smith said Hot August Night serves to bring out the best of all that is Hammond.
“This city has heart, and it shows all the time, especially on Hot August Night,” she said. “Our DDD members work hard on this very unique event. We include Southeastern Louisiana University; all of our downtown retail outlets, restaurants and bars; artists, bands; and involve the Louisiana Discovery Center, our children’s museum, in a big way. That’s why Hot August Night is so popular.”
Smith said the event was designed primarily to showcase the many businesses downtown and to introduce visitors to what the shopping and dining area has to offer. The DDD is financed by an ad valorem tax on downtown establishments, and Smith said the group is always eager to show off the revitalized area.
“While we want to showcase downtown Hammond, Hot August Night has come to be more than just that. … It’s a community party that allows our great citizens and visitors to join together in an evening of fun and entertainment,” Smith said.
The Wine Stroll is an important part of Hot August Night. Patrons who purchase a wine glass from the DDD could visit 32 businesses that offered wine tastings and snacks to those who “stroll in for a visit.” At 15 of the venues, works by local artists were on display for viewing and purchase.
In the large parking mall in the center of downtown Hammond, about two dozen vendors hawked a wide variety of homemade foods and original crafts.
The evening began with the popular Lionpalooza, a pep rally for Southeastern Louisiana University’s fall sports teams. The school’s mascot, Roomie the Lion, led the cheerleaders in rousing cheers for SLU’s sports teams. The university’s marching band provided music for the event. Southeastern athletes circulated through the crowds signing autographs and shaking hands.
A popular destination for those with children was the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center, the children’s museum. The museum debuted its Safety City, which was obtained through a grant. Safety City is a sprawling layout of streets built on a scale to accommodate tricycles. The layout features a number of buildings that replicate real buildings in Hammond. Part of Safety City includes railroad crossings that work just like the real things.
The museum featured sculptures by Joseph “JoJo” Jilbert, an artist who works only with recycled metal materials.
Young visitors to the center were welcome to explore one of the city’s firetrucks, watch a Lego robotics demonstration and participate in games and contests.
At the city’s Columbia Theatre, the centerpiece of the revitalization of downtown Hammond that started about 20 years ago, large crowds gathered to view the works of several artists, to sip wine and to enjoy live music. One of the artists, Nancy Lowentritt, said she has been showing her works on Hot August Night for about 10 years. She said the event allows her to meet with other artists, to sell her paintings and to get feedback from viewers. Several of her paintings depict the state’s famous blue crabs.
With her was artist Theresa Beaubouef, who said this was her second year to participate in Hot August Night.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to be with people and to be part of the community. Hot August Night is an excellent way for local artists to show their talent,” she said.
Smith gets almost teary-eyed when she recounts the long struggle to transform a once dilapidated and quickly emptying downtown area to the vibrant heart of the community that it is today. She showed a picture of a once prominent downtown building that suddenly collapsed. With assistance from city officials, the façade of the building was shored up, and it was eventually preserved.
“Buildings don’t fix themselves … determination, money, care and above all dedication to the city they love has been the reason we saved Downtown Hammond,” Smith said. “It was a tremendous effort, but at every step of the way, we had the backing of our city officials and some wonderful, generous people who saw the merit in saving this great community. Hot August Night is one of the ways that we showcase what has resulted in a lot of hard work by many, many good people. That’s what makes this night so special … it is a night of triumph for those who keep downtown Hammond alive.”