A sure sign that summer is approaching is the Tinner Hill Blues Festival. The festival takes place, June 10 – 13 and is the only weekend-long event in the city.
Although the festival is 17 years old, it has only been within the last three years that it has morphed from a locally embraced “street festival” to a city-wide event.
Organized by Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation (THHF) and co-sponsored by the city, the festival has garnered the support of city cultural organizations and local businesses that serve as hosts for blues artists during the festival. Other businesses support the festival as sponsors. A dedicated crew of volunteers (local residents and blues lovers) serve as volunteers and have helped the festival to grow steadily. In 2003 THHF began revamping the annual event by adding educational programming and expanding the talent pool to include regional/national talent. In 2006, planning commissioner Lindy Hockenberry approached festival organizers suggesting they partner with the city, focus on blues music, and move the entire event to Cherry Hill Park.
In 2006, the new Tinner Hill Blues Festival emerged. The festival began attracting music lovers from across the region to hear top-notch local and national acts. By 2009, a reviewer praised the festival and compared it with the D.C. Duke Ellington Festival, citing the two as the best musical events of the weekend!
To music lovers the festival means a friendly good time with music. But a blues festival is so much more than – well, a blues festival. Festivals are an economic benefit that not only enhance our quality of life, but invest financial well-being of the city. For decades cities have recognized festivals as a way to generate income. Economic impact studies provide compelling evidence that nonprofit arts & cultural organizations and their events are a significant industry and indicate that event-related spending by their audiences support jobs, generate household income to local businesses and deliver dollars in local and state government revenue.
Some cities have waterfront districts or distinctive historic areas, while others must create attractions. Many cities support local festivals and use them to raise the image of the community to residents and visitors. Our close proximity to Washington, D.C. gives us a powerful advantage in attracting visitors. We must think strategically. As one EDA member put it, “the blues festival and other THHF programs play a major role in making Falls Church an attractive, vibrant city…part of what can attract mid-size corporations to build here and help expand the tax base here.”
With some planning and effort, we could position ourselves as a ‘nearcation’ destination for those headed to D.C.
Tourism has been identified by the governor and lieutenant governor as a top priority. Both believe tourism is key in turning Virginia’s economy around. Tourism is definitely big business for Washington D.C. Visitors keep more than 71,000 people employed, and bring $5.64 billion to America’s capitol.
Falls Church is a mere seven miles from Washington, D.C. With some planning and effort, we could position ourselves as a “nearcation” destination and/or as an add for those headed to D.C. We could snag a significant portion of Washington bound visitors. Let’s get them to “Stop, shop or stay in the Little City on the way.” CATCH (City of Art, Theatre, Culture and History), established by the City Council a year ago to explore establishing an arts and culture district in Falls Church, should be part of a significant effort in Falls Church, along with a designated tourism person on the city staff to attract visitors to Falls Church. Both should be included in any sector planning.
The Tinner Hill Blues Festival has collaborated with Creative Cauldron to create a new theatrical production that will be performed during the blues festival. Event Solutions director, Dan Greenwood the force behind the Falls Church Vendors Fair, will host Blues on South Washington Street at Coleman PowerSports. Argia’s, Clare & Don’s, Red, White and Bleu, Applebee’s, Dogwood Tavern, LaCaraquena, Stifel & Capri, Starbucks, Hunan, Bangkok Blues, Natalia’s, Hoang’s and the State Theatre will also participate, creating a bright lively epicenter in Falls Church. The Red, White and Bleu “Blues Bus” will transport festival goers between metro stops, Blues on South Washington, parking and various businesses. This is an event that can attract folks on their way into Washington, D.C., to stop, shop and stay for a day or maybe two.
While the Blues Festival won’t solve all our economic woes, it’s fun, and affordable, which makes it a great outing if you’re within driving distance. Something else to think about: your attendance at the festival could help keep city budgets afloat, people employed at a time when jobs are hard to come by plus is a great deal of summer fun to boot. The Tinner Hill Blues festival is a win-win for everyone!
Nikki Graves Henderson is the director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.