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Chili, heroes share big stage at Antietam Brewery

Chili, heroes share big stage at Antietam Brewery

The annual What’s NXT Chili Cookoff tasting competition is merging with the inaugural Hero Fest on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Antietam Brewery.

“These are two great events that we decided to merge together to create one big event,” said Kim Tagg, event coordinator for Herald-Mail Media.

“Chili and beer go well together.”

The chili cookoff, previously held at Municipal Stadium, features ten teams showcasing their best chili as well as six teams competing for the best pork barbecue. The event is co-sponsored by CNB Bank Inc. and benefits Breast Cancer Awareness — Cumberland Valley Inc.

Gates will open at 11 a.m. for chili and pork tasting competitions as well as the vendor market fair, kids’ zone, gaming and live entertainment by Ryan Smetzer.

Four levels of prizes will be offered, including Best Chili, Best Booth Display, Best Butt in Town and People’s Choice. Best Chili nets a $1,000 prize and trophy; Best Booth Display is for the participant or team whose booth boasts the best decorations, which is worth $250 plus a trophy. The Best Butt in Town, for pork barbecue, is determined by attendees and will net $250 for the winner. The People’s Choice award, which is also determined by attendees, nets a $500 prize.

Advance tickets for the chili cookoff cost $10 for adults ($15 at the gate); $5 for ages 12 and younger; and children ages 3 and younger are admitted free. Tickets for the Hero Fest are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate, and include the chili cookoff.

Tickets can be purchased by going to and searching for Chili Cookoff 2019.

Pam Breakall, left, offers some black bean chili to Debbie McElroy of Hagerstown during the 2018 edition of the What’s NXT Chili Cookoff at Municipal Stadium. The event, which benefits Breast Cancer Awareness of Cumberland Valley and is co-sponsored by CNB Bank Inc., will be held Saturday at Antietam Brewery. (Herald-Mail file photo)

Tagg says she is optimistic that the twin bill will attract a great crowd.

While the What’s NXT Chili Cookoff is entering its third year, the idea of a Hero Fest didn’t officially take shape until earlier this year.

As the chili tasting and awards are wrapping up, three live bands will take the stage at Antietam Brewery beginning at 3 p.m. Event organizer Rick Conrad said that Antietam Brewery owner Bill Skomski Sr. and one of the live acts slated for Saturday were the catalysts for Hero Fest.

Tuesday’s Gone, a highly regarded Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, had reached out to Conrad to let him know that they would be playing in the area around Sept. 11. While the cost of booking the band would otherwise be steep, Conrad’s connection with the group enabled him to bring the act to Antietam Brewery.

“They are a really good band, and they happened to be playing in Ocean City, Md., and Virginia Beach, Va. We are grateful that they agreed to play at a much lower cost,” Conrad said.

Conrad and Skomski then decided to build the event around honoring military, fire, police and first responders in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The theme of helping emergency responders is something Conrad and Skomski hold special to their hearts.

Conrad already chairs the annual Bonanza Extravaganza, an annual fundraiser held at Hagerstown Speedway that has raised more than $2 million for local firefighters, charities and nonprofits since its inception 14 years ago.

Conrad said that, among the many supporters who have helped Bonanza Extravaganza become successful, Skomski is near the top of the list.

Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Tuesday's Gone is one of three bands scheduled to perform at Hero Fest on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Several years ago, the brewery owner agreed to launch a 1605 Irish Style Red Ale, named after the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605 Foundation in Hagerstown. According to Conrad, $10 from every keg of 1605 Red sold by Antietam Brewery is donated to the organization.

“I will go above and beyond to help Bill because he is a fantastic guy that has not only helped Bonanza Extravaganza, but the community as a whole,” Conrad said.

Proceeds from Hero Fest will benefit Maryland Heritage Area Authority, an organization that promotes tourism and assists with financial support for preservation of Maryland’s historic sites.

“We plan to rotate the charities between military and first responders as we continue Hero Fest,” Conrad said.

Between musical acts in the early evening, Conrad said a special moment will be held to honor the nation’s heroes.

“When people get silent to remember something, it is a very special moment and one that we should do more often,” Conrad said. “It is a moment where we should put blame and politics aside and come together.”

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