LAKE GEORGE It started out 16 years ago as a local get-together of friends of the arts, spiced with mountain music and down-home food. Over the years, it grew into a premier regional celebration, expanding its reach and its impact. Its now a landmark event, when people from a wide region celebrate the end of winter while enjoying live music of a wide range of rock genres. The Lake George Arts Projects annual festival of chili and homegrown music a fundraiser for the group is set for Sunday March 2 at Roaring Brook Ranch, Lake George, off state Route 9N. About 50 restaurants and individuals have registered to cook up chili for is fundraiser for the Arts Project, which now draws 1,000 people or more. From the early days, we happened to hit the right combination, Arts Project Director John Strong said Wednesday. Its a real lively event. No kidding. For 16 years, he and his Stony Creek Band have packed the house and definitely rocked it too -- most years sharing the stage with other groups. This year, Strong and crew are taking a hiatus, but its still an impressive lineup in their absence. Beginning at 2 p.m., the five-hour event includes performances by the Audiostars, the Bluz House Rockers, the Ernie Williams Band, Rick Rourke & Lost Wages, Richie Ortiz, Tim Wechgelaer & Friends, Chris Ballini, John Kribs & Friends and Jim Gaudet & the Railroaders. Theres also the chili. The chili contest at the event started off as a merely an excuse to enjoy good food, but now the competition is intense but still friendly as 50 restaurants and individuals from a wide region vie for the awards and the bragging rights that go along with them. Also, the diversity and creativity of the chili concoctions seem to increase each year. Participants have enjoyed batches of chili spiked with venison, elk and ostrich chilies or you name it various colors of the rainbow. Green, white and yellow chilies seem to annually be entered to supplement the routine red. The event includes a raffle and a silent auction featuring a variety of items from local businesses, such as dinners, ski packages, clothes and accommodations. Annually raising almost $18,000 for the Lake George Arts Project, the event is the Lake George Arts Project's largest fundraiser. Strong reflected Wednesday on how Bands N Beans has grown from its modest beginnings to become a social and cultural landmark of the North Country. Its got a life of its own, he said.