Rockville's annual fall festival will open Saturday with a new name and new attractions that organizers hope will spark more interest in the gathering and make it one of the city's biggest events.
The main new offering is the Hard Times Chili Cook-Off, which had been held in Alexandria for the past 23 years and attracts dozens of contestants from along the East Coast. The city also will bring in several well-known performers, including pop singer Josh Kelley and the New Birth Brass Band of New Orleans, the house band for the New Orleans Saints.
"We thought it would be a good idea to try something new," said Mike Henry, Rockville's coordinator of special events. "The Spirit of Rockville is six years old, and it never took off the way we wanted it too."
The free festival, renamed the Rockville Arts and Music Festival, will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Courthouse Square Park in Rockville's Town Center. In the event of bad weather, it will be held Sunday.
More than 75 cooks have registered to compete in the cook-off, operated under the direction of the International Chili Society. The winner will receive $2,000 and compete in the ICS world championship in Las Vegas next month. Free samples will be offered.
Representatives of the Hard Times Cafe chain, which is sponsoring the cook-off with radio station MIX 107.3, said the event was moved from Alexandria so that it could attract more people.
"We wanted to reach into Montgomery County with this event. We've had a store in Rockville for 20 years and have never done a cook-off there and figured it was time to do something," said Doug Welsh, director of marketing and franchising for Hard Times Cafe.
"We also found that we had a lot of common ground with the organizers of the Rockville Arts and Music Festival. We wanted to attract a large crowd and put on a very entertaining event, and by combining our forces, we are able to do that and, hopefully, create a lot of synergy."
Four stages will feature music performances, dances and children's entertainment. There also will be tours of historic Rockville sites, an art show and demonstrations by the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.
Music performances include the following:
11:30 a.m. -- New Orleans jazz and thrash rock selections by the Dixie Power Trio on the Courthouse Square Stage, at Maryland and East Montgomery avenues.
12:30 p.m. -- Pop and country tunes by the Continentals on the Cinema Stage, at East Montgomery Avenue.
2 p.m. -- Jazz by Project Natalie on the Courthouse Stage.
4 p.m. -- Salsa and meringue by Pablo Antonio y La Firma on the Main Stage, at Maryland Avenue and Middle Lane.
5 p.m. -- Jazz, hip-hop and funk by the New Birth Brass Band on the Courthouse Stage.
6 p.m. -- Pop and soul by Kelley on the Main Stage.
Children's entertainment on the Kids Stage, at Washington Street and Courthouse Square, will feature cultural performances and comedy. At 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the group Shizumi Exploring the Arts of Japan will offer traditional Japanese dance, swordsmanship and a tea ceremony.
At 1:30 and 3 p.m., Cantare Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin America will feature music that showcases language, syncopated rhythms and percussive instruments. At 4 p.m., Paul Hadfield will demonstrate egg juggling, unicycle riding, rope spinning, fruit tossing and ladder walking.
Tours of historic Rockville sites will be given by Peerless Rockville at 1 and 3 p.m., leaving from the Red Brick Courthouse.
An art show, produced by the Rockville Arts Place, will showcase the work of more than 30 artists on East Montgomery Avenue.
The Rockville Volunteer Fire Department will present "Safety in the Square." The event, at Maryland and East Montgomery avenues, will feature antique fire engines, a rappelling presentation and a "jaws of life" demonstration.
For more information about performances and schedules, call Rockville's Special Events Office at 240-314-5022 or go to www.rockvillemd.gov.