F.C.’s Own Blues Festival Gets Underway Tomorrow Through Sunday

frontpageFalls Church and evirons are getting ready for a blues infusion. It’s time to celebrate the rich cultural history of Falls Church at the 4th annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival. The fun starts tomorrow tonight, Thursday, and won’t stop until the weekend is through, on Sunday, June 13. Events will include blues performances, historic displays, family activities, vendors, food, games and much more.


SINGERS FROM ‘Tinner Hill: Portraits in Black & White,” an original theatrical performance based on Falls Church’s early civil right history, complete with Piedmont style blues music, will be performing all weekend long at ArtSpace Falls Church during Falls Church’s Tinner Hill Blues Festival. (Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

Falls Church and evirons are getting ready for a blues infusion. It’s time to celebrate the rich cultural history of Falls Church at the 4th annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival. The fun starts tomorrow tonight, Thursday, and won’t stop until the weekend is through, on Sunday, June 13. Events will include blues performances, historic displays, family activities, vendors, food, games and much more.

While the Tinner Hill Blues Festival traces its roots back to a 1994 small Falls Church street festival, it flourished over the past four years as the result of solid community support, countless hours of work by festival staff, volunteers and performers and the continued assistance of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation (THHF).

The THHF, founded in 1997, provided encouragement and financial assistance to the festival for years. Nikki Graves Henderson, chairperson of the Planning Committee, proudly continues in her seventh year with the THHF helping the organization achieve its noteworthy goals.

“The THHF’s mission is to preserve the history of civil rights heroes who lived in Falls Church, share the local history and culture of African Americans, build respect for all people, honor the values and principles of those who came before us and use it to help bridge the achievement gap in our local schools,” said Henderson.

Actually living in part of the history she preserves, Henderson’s own home is an integral piece of Falls Church’s cultural past. Built in 1913, the home is a Sears kit house, model # 225. The base price was $1,400, but Mary Ellen Henderson and E. B. Henderson ordered $400 worth of extras.

“While that alone makes it unique, the fact that two early educators and civil rights activists lived in it for more than 50 years is pretty special too,” said Henderson.

THHF founder and Henderson’s husband, Edwin B. Henderson, II, lovingly maintains the home that his grandfather built. This Falls Church house actually held the second meeting of the Colored Citizens Protective League, which later became the NAACP.

With the assistance of the THHF, the blues festival grew from a small street fair into a well-known event. Needing more space for all the new attendees, the festival relocated to the area all around Tinner Hill. But after three years of torrential rain ruining the fun, the festival found itself setting up at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School which offered an alternative indoor space in case of rain, though no escape from the heat.

“It was really hot at the school. One year, then F.C. Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry, who attends the festival each year, after spending the afternoon dancing on the hot blacktop suggested that the festival organizers consider partnering with the City, move the festival to Cherry Hill Park and focus on blues music,” said Henderson.

tinnerboxThe partnership with the City of Falls Church allowed the festival to thrive. Now the festival boasts a regular home in the City and multiple resources. This year’s entertainment kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. at the State Theater as the smooth vocals of Chuck Brown will ignite the night with accompaniment by former Falls Church resident Bobby Parker’s legendary blues guitar.

“Both Brown and Parker were named as Washington’s hidden gems by Washingtonian magazine this past April,” said Henderson.

Nadine Rae and the All Stars, known for their soulful and sexy crooning, will also grace the State Theater stage. Finally comedian Nicky Sunshine, who was born and raised in Falls Church, will perform stand-up comedy and act as hostess of Thursday evenings show.

Tomorrow, Friday at 7:30 p.m., one of Henderson’s proclaimed favorite events of the festival will occur. The show reflects this year’s festival focus, which is Native Americans, African Americans and their shared blues musical traditions. “Tinner Hill: Portraits in Black and White,” a theatrical performance exploring the early history of civil rights in Virginia, takes the stage at Falls Church Creative Cauldron, ArtSpace.

“I realized that Native American heritage and black heritage in Falls Church is deeply intertwined, as seen in the play. It is a magnificent production,” said Henderson.

There will be blues all over town on Friday, including at Dogwood Tavern and Clare & Don’s. Stifle and Capri, the only place in town carrying the Tinner Hill Blues T-shirts, will play blues music and display art all weekend long.

Red, White & Bleu will hold wine tastings and also sponsor the Red, White & Bleu Blues bus. The bus will ferry folks between the vendor fair, musical performances and the show at Creative Cauldron.

Young people will look forward to Saturday, when the Dear Editor Contest awards will be announced. The contest is open to all middle school and high school students in northern Virginia. The THHF initiated the contest in recognition of the prolific writings of Dr. E.B. Henderson, who wrote and published more than 3,000 letters defending civil liberties and promoting diversity.

The award for 1st prize is $1,000, 2nd prize is $500 and 3rd prize is $300. There are also three Distinguished Writers Awards of $50 each and four Special Merit Awards of $25 apiece.

“I like the Dear Editor Contest because we get to understand how young people think about current issues. The absolute best job is calling the students and telling them they have won. Their reactions are so wonderfully candid. Most of the time, they will tell whoever calls them what they plan to do with the cash prize they won,” said Henderson. The contest submission form is available on the Tinner Hill website.

Even more fun for the youngsters in the family, can be found by visiting the Kidz Bluez Blues Tent, the book tent and front porch blues. “I love the Kidz Bluez Blues Tent. All the activities connect music and learning. This year kids can make their own instruments. They can also read or be read kids books whose central themes are about the blues. Two of my favorite books are The One Shoe Blues with B.B. King and Bessie Smith and the other is Night Riders,” said Henderson.

As for family friendly festivities, Henderson finds herself excited about the various types of musical entertainment. “There are not only international performers gracing our stage, but also outstanding regional performers,” said Henderson. In fact, Patty Reese and Band, who won seven WAMMIES this year, will perform Saturday night in Cherry Hill Park.

Saturday also brings a special tribute to blues musician John Jackson, including a Special John Jackson CD Release: Smithsonian Folkways presents “Rappahannock Blues.”

“Jackson was an international icon of piedmont blues music and a Smithsonian National Heritage Fellow who performed all across the world. He was a humble man who forged a close relationship with Tinner Hill because of his belief in equality and fairness,” said Henderson.

Coinciding with the CD release, there will be film screenings of “John Jackson: A Blues Treasure” at the Falls Church Community Center. The short documentary explores the life and music of John Jackson.

After a late Saturday night, Sunday breakfast may arrive a bit too early in the morning for some. Many will head over to the 2nd annual Blues Brunch, Tribute and Jam at Bangkok Blues warming up with food and music from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

For the entire weekend, the Tinner Hill Blues Festival will enliven the streets of Falls Church. “Last year the festival was compared with the D.C. Jazz Festival and said to be one of the best events in the metro D.C. area. This line up has never been put together before and the price, free, is certainly right,” said Henderson.

A word to the wise, this may be the last free Tinner Hill Blues Festival. Hence, this might be the perfect year to check it out.

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