Each spring it seems my days are filled with planning for the Tinner Hill Blues Festival. This year, after receiving complimentary tickets, we made time to visit the Merlefest Music festival in Wilkesboro, N.C. The festival is 25 years old and attracted 76,000 people from 48 states, Canada and abroad. I am glad we took the time to attend the festival, it helped inspire and renew our enthusiasm for what is possible for the Little City with the Tinner Hill Blues Festival.
Merlefest began in 1988 and goes beyond presenting great music. Wilkesboro and the surrounding community benefit economically. Music festivals have become known for fueling the economy of the host locale and Merlefest is a perfect example. Wilkesboro non-profits benefited by over $400,000! The city estimates that the festival pumped over 10 million dollars into the regions economy!
The history of the Merlefest bears several striking similarities to the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation (THHF); it’s mission and the Little City. The citizens of Wilkesboro had an idea and a good local cause. Melefest was conceived to raise funds to build a campus garden at Wilkes Community College that would memorialize the memory of a fallen local musician, Eddy Merle Watson. His father, Doc Watson, was one of the organizers of the festival. In Falls Church, THHF’s goal is to a create an outdoor interpretive space that combines remembering the history of the site – the birthplace of the first rural chapter of the NAACP in the nation, memorializes the late John Jackson, world renown blues musician and gives the community a useful, multipurpose green space. The organizers of Merlefest thought the festival would give them the necessary funds and Tinner Hill believes the blues festival can help raise funds to create our site and other educational programs.
Today Merlefest benefits many – music lovers, local businesses and non-profits, the city, county and the community college. We here in Falls Church can make this a profitable venture for our city too! The music can make it happen! All we need is the vision, persistence, passion and the support and assistance of our local elected officials, the city, its staff, local businesses and our community!
Of course, you’ve got to have great music. I thought it telling that the Melefest World’s Best Acoustic Blues Show included performers we have either already had, are in our line up this year or planned for future festivals. In addition to similarity of purpose(s) for establishing the festival we are clearly on the right blues musical track!
It takes a lot to pull together. Two teams of folks are the wheels that make it happen. The first group are our dedicated volunteers. They’ve been with us through rain, weather advisories that saw everyone herded into the Community Center for safety, to sweltering temperatures. Many of the volunteers actually take off work to help on Friday before the festival and then don’t get to enjoy festivities during the weekend. Our outstanding leadership team members that plan the festival include Mary Lynn Hickey, Lindy Hockenberry, Judy Jensen, Jon Hundley, Jenny Paxton, Mary Knieser and Greg Woodyard. Barbara Cram and Laura Hull, Bruce Turner, Paul Kohlenberge and Shareem King have joined our ranks in recent years. I would be totally remiss if I did not recognize my hardworking husband, Edwin B. Henderson, II and the Tinner Hill Board members. The other persons who help make things tick are Beverly Lindsay Johnson, publicity and Flash Gordon, stage manager.
The other category that needs to be recognized are our loyal sponsors. We are grateful to all our sponsors and particularly to those we count on year after year. Please note this is only a partial list, sponsors who have contributed multiple years. City of Falls Church, particularly the Parks and Recreation employees (how will we manage without Butch Goff!) Falls Church EDA, the Chamber of Commerce, Michael Diener & Assoc, CPA, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, BBT Bank, Red, Hot and Blue, Creative Cauldron, the State Theatre, the Falls Church News-Press, Don Beyer Volvo-Kia, Atty Erik Pelton & Assoc., Foxes Music, Red, White and Bleu, Mad Fox Brewing Co., Tori McKinney, Keller Williams Realty-Arlington., the Young Group, Red, Hot and Blue, Vocelli Pizza, Ledo’s Pizza, Quinn and Auction House. Additionally, there are many individuals that support us each year, Dr. Raymond Solono, Dr. Gordon Theisz, Mrs. Jessie Thackrey, Dr. Steve Rodgers to list a few. To our new supporters, and occasional supporters we also thank you.
I hope that all our neighbors and friends will join us over the weekend of June 8-10 when there will be All Blues-All Weekend-All Over Town. Full details & schedule for the festival can be found at www.tinnerhill.org.
Nikki Graves Henderson is Executive Director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.