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Cool blues and hot chili will fill the air around Craig Park Saturday as Tarpon Springs celebrates Blues on the Bayou, a new festival that will serve up six acclaimed blues artists and several dozen chili cooks.

The event, sponsored by the Tarpon Springs Main Street Association, is expected to draw between 3,000 and 5,000 people downtown, organizers said.

"I know people from 17 to 80 who love the blues. It's universal enough where it appeals to all ages," said Ammon Gant, owner of Jammin' Ammon's Hot Shoppe on Tarpon Avenue. "And Craig Park is a beautiful setting. The band shell... is a great place for people to hear blues and have a good time.

Blues on the Bayou was named an official "Celebrate Florida" event by the Florida Sesquicentennial Commission, which promotes events in honor of the state's 150th birthday this year.

Gant, a longtime blues fan, has tried to get the festival going for more than four years, but said city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce already were busy with such large-scale events as the Tarpon Arts and Crafts Festival in April.

He turned to downtown merchants and The Florida Blues Network, a promotion and production company that created the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in St. Petersburg and the Sarasota Blues Festival.

"It just snowballed from there," Gant said.

While the festival was taking shape, downtown business owners Mark and Lori Craig, owners of Yours Truly Cafe, wanted to launch a local chili cook-off. The Merchants Association decided to combine the events.

"We felt they went hand-in-hand, blues and chili," Mark Craig said. "And it makes a good forum for a festival with two events at the same time."

The Craigs expect as many as 50 entrants in the cook-off. Registration will continue until 10 a.m. Saturday. A panel of local celebrities will judge the entries.

The top three winners will receive cash prizes and earn points toward entering regional, national and world competitions sanctioned by the four million-member International Chili Society.

The two events will cost the promoter $25,000 to produce. Proceeds will benefit the Main Street Association and the new Tarpon Springs Library.

After years of trying to make the festival a reality, organizers hope the festival will strike a winning combination for downtown Tarpon Springs.

"We want people to come away knowing there's more to Tarpon Springs than the sponge docks,"said promoter Jerry Ross. "This will help identify Tarpon Springs in other areas of the country."


Blues on the Bayou will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Gates open at 10 a.m.) at Craig Park, at the end of Tarpon Avenue. Adult tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of show. Kids under 12 with an adult get in free. For tickets and information call 938-2287 or 944-3364.

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. _ Chili cook-off

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. _ Dee Dee Dunn with Birddog Bobby and his Honey Hounds

12:30 to 2 p.m. _ James Peterson and Blues Express

1 to 2 p.m. _ Chili Cook-off Contest judging; winners announced at 2:10 p.m.

2:15 to 3:45 p.m. _ Bill Wharton "The Sauce Boss"

3 p.m. _ Chili available for public tasting

4 to 5:30 p.m. _ Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers

6 to 7:30 p.m. Chris Cain and the Chris Cain Band

8 to 10 p.m. _ Lonnie Brooks and the Lonnie Brooks Band