“We’re rolling out the blue carpet — or the blues carpet,” said Nikki Graves Henderson, Acting Director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, of the upcoming Tinner Hill Heritage and Blues Festival, a tribute to the late Piedmont Blues legend John Jackson. The Tinner Hill 15th Annual Blues Festival will run from June 13-15 all over the City of Falls Church.
Over the past 15 years, the Tinner Hill Heritage Festival has grown immensely. Beginning this year, the event will become an annual blues festival to celebrate music as well as African American culture.
“We’ve taken on a broader perspective, a world view,” Henderson said. “Not only are we focusing on African American culture, we’re putting it in context with American culture [by looking at] world music.”
This is the first year that the Festival will be a weekend event. “When we made our list [of performers], it got to be too much for just one day,” Henderson said. “We were fortunate enough to commission the documentary film on John Jackson and the State Theatre was excited to show it, so set that for Friday night. And you can’t send people home Saturday night, so the Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant agreed to a ‘blues brunch’ on Sunday.”
The weekend’s events begin on Friday night with a premiere of the documentary film, “John Jackson: A Blues Treasure,” produced by Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, at the State Theatre at 7 p.m., which will be followed by the Tommy Castro Band at 9 p.m.
The bulk of the weekend’s events will take place on Saturday, June 14. From 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., musicians will play in Cherry Hill Park. These include Danny Blew and the Blues Crew, Acme Blues Company, Catfish Hodge, Deanna Bogart, Bobby Parker and the Blues Night Band, Nadine Rae and the All Stars, Memphis Gold and Band and a special tribute to blues icon John Jackson.
“Front Porch Blues,” featuring an array of children’s activities, will also be at Cherry Hill Park all day Saturday. The activities for families and children range from children’s blues literature to a free harmonica workshop. One of the children’s performers, Sam the Mule Man, has a blues CD geared toward younger listeners that includes tracks like, “I’ve Got the Homework Blues.”
“There are themes in blues music and children’s literature [about] individuals who use their voice to stand up against injustice,” Henderson said. “We call it ‘edutainment’ — you’re educated and entertained at the same time.”
In addition to the activities at Cherry Hill Park, there will be blues music playing throughout the city, such as at the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning, as well as jam sessions in George Mason Square and live music at Bangkok Blues and Dogwood Tavern at night. For a more detailed line-up of events, visit www.tinnerhill.net, or check an advertisement published elsewhere in this edition.
The entire Falls Church community is being included in the Tinner Hill Heritage and Blues Festival, particularly local businesses. According to Henderson, about 20 local businesses are incorporating the Blues Festival into their weekend. Some are hosting live blues or other blues-related activities at their restaurants, offering blues items on their menu or offering a discount to festival goers.
“What we’ve been saying is come to Falls Church for the music and stay for the fun. The city will benefit, drawing new people to Falls Church,” Henderson said. “We’ve aggressively promoted the event to blues listeners. [Falls Church can expect] an influx of sophisticated and primarily mature [visitors] with discretionary dollars to spend while being entertained and enjoying themselves. They’ll want to eat when they’re here, they’ll want souvenirs … They’ll want to browse what we’ve been marketing as the quaint shops of Historic Falls Church.”
The Tinner Hill Heritage and Blues Festival is a tribute to Jackson, a blues legend who, according to Henderson, “had a close, personal relationship with Tinner Hill. Board members met him [in the mid-90s] and asked him to play the Tinner Hill Festival. He refused because he was headlining at the Chicago Blues Festival.” The Chicago Blues Festival is one of the biggest such festivals in the country.
Jackson eventually agreed to play a fundraiser for the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. Henderson noted that Jackson’s last concert was at Tinner Hill’s Watch Night on New Year’s Eve in 2001. During this year’s festivities, the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation will announce that the festival will be named in honor of Jackson.
Organizers of the event are expecting over 3,000 people to attend the weekend’s events that will also include a ceremony to honor the winners, announced earlier, of the foundation’s annual student “letter to the editor” writing contest. In recent years’ one-day festivals at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, there have been about 500 people in attendance. About the festival’s new location, though, Henderson said, “Cherry Hill Park is a perfect spot, it’s just a jewel,” as she particularly noted the shade, a necessity in recent hot weather.
And if the heat wave continues? “Play, baby, play,” Henderson said. “It’ll be cool blues instead of hot blues.”