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Roomie the Lion, the mascot for Southeastern Louisiana University’s athletic teams, shakes the hand of one of the school’s football players at 2018 Lionpawlooza, a pep rally signaling the start of the school’s football season. Lionpawlooza was part of Hot August Night, a salute to Hammond’s Downtown Development District. This year's event is Aug. 23.

HAMMOND — Scores of retail merchants, restaurant and bar owners and proprietors of service businesses are gearing up for Hot August Night.

This year’s Hot August Night, which features a wine and beer stroll, music, art exhibits, food booths and other events, will be held at a new time, from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., on Friday, Aug. 23, 

A special attraction for this year’s event will be a display of dozens of historic photographs at the Hammond Regional Arts Center located on East Thomas Street. The photographs have been collected as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Tangipahoa Parish. An art exhibit will also be available at the Columbia Theater across the street from the Arts Center.

Chelsea Tallo, executive director of the DDD, said about 70% of the businesses in the DDD will be participating in Hot August Night this year. She estimates there are between 275 and 300 businesses in the district. “The DDD covers a fairly large area, and some of the businesses that are located farther out from the heart of downtown will be setting up booths along the main corridors in the downtown area so we will have many stops for our visitors,” she said.

The event is the 24th edition of the celebration and Tallo said Hot August Night has grown over the years. “This all started almost 25 years ago when the Downtown Development District was just being formed and it was not nearly as prosperous as it is today. At that time, city business and elected officials were just trying to save the downtown area and they came up with Hot August Night as one way to attract visitors to the downtown area. It has grown in popularity since then,” Tallo said.

“The purpose of this special night remains the same...this is one way to attract people to the downtown area. It gives our restaurants, bars and other businesses the opportunity to welcome people to the area and show them what’s available downtown. It’s a lot of fun and along with our Starry Night Celebration in November, it is our time to shine,” she said.

Patrons who choose to participate in the wine and beer tasting can purchase $20 bracelets at the DDD headquarters building that entitles them to visit dozens of venues where wine, beer and snacks will be served.

Headlining the entertainment this year will be Zydeco musician Wayne Toups who will be performing on the main stage which is located in the parking lot on the corner East Morris Ave. and East Cate Street. Toups will be performing from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tallo said that for the Toups show, a new VIP experience has been added this year.

“For $60, guests will be given covered seating right next to the stage, they will be cooled by misting fans, have excess to exclusive port-o-lets, and will have the opportunity to meet with Wayne Toups,” she said.

Musicians will also be entertaining audiences at the Listening Local Stage that will be located on North Cypress Street in the small park across from the Children’s Museum. Performing there will be local talents Miguel Funnell, Ameal Cameron, Joe Burns, Rick Tobey and Dead Savage. Music will start at 5 p.m. and continue until the closing of Hot August Night. A third stage at the La Caretta Restaurant will also feature live music.

Food booths will be available in an area of South Cate Street dubbed the Grub Hub.

The annual Lionapawlooza, featuring the band, cheerleaders, Lionettes and athletes from Southeastern Louisiana University will start with a parade down East Thomas Street starting at the First Guaranty Bank Parking Lot at 5:30 p.m. The parade will proceed to the main stage where a pep rally will be held.

A Family Zone will be at the Cate Street Seafood restaurant on South Cate Street. The Shop Small Strip will be centered on Southwest Railroad Avenue along with the Harley Davidson Bike Nite feature.

“There’s really something for everyone,” Tallo said, adding, “Members of the Downtown Development District are always excited about this night. This is a very special night and all of our participating businesses are doing their best to make the evening fun for everyone. This is the time for our businesses to shine. ... They all want to put their best foot forward and our visitors will be the ones who are rewarded with a good time. We are expecting about 12,000 people to join us for the evening’s festivities and we just know that they will enjoy our gathering,” Tallo said.

The director said that the DDD is still looking for volunteers to serve in various capacities and said that those who might be interested in lending a hand can do so by visiting the DDD office on Thomas Street.

“We won’t worry about the weather ... if it rains, we will party anyway,” she said.