By Katie Davidson
The Tinner Hill Blues Festival, now in its 21st year, will again bring acclaimed entertainment and all things blues to The Little City. This year’s festival will take place Friday, June 13 through Sunday, June 15, with concerts, lectures, exhibits, and more planned at venues across Falls Church City.
“Even though it may look like a festival that is just here in Falls Church, it’s bringing in nationally recognized performers, and to seize the opportunity to come in and see some of these folks, it’s something that really shouldn’t be missed,” said Nikki Graves Henderson, executive director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation that puts on the festival.
From more modest beginnings in 1993, and after a reevaluation by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation in 2007, the event was transformed into the blues-focused festival that now draws music lovers from across the country.
“We’ve gone from that original small community embraced street festival to a widely recognized festival throughout the region,” Henderson said.
Henderson said the organization wanted to “up the ante, so to speak, by making it a professional-level festival with all national and regional acts.”
The festival will kick off this Friday with a free-admission opening reception at Stifel & Capra, including refreshments and music by local group The PluckerLand Band.
The headliner Friday night is nationally recognized blues singer Shemekia Copeland, who will be performing at The State Theatre with the Sol Roots band as the opening act.
After the performance, Moonshine Society will play at Dogwood Tavern for festival-goers looking for a late-night performance.
The blues starts bright and early on Saturday morning, as multiple performers will be playing at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market from 8 a.m. – noon. Music will also be featured at a flea market in the parking lot at Stifel & Capra from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
For younger festival visitors, Creative Cauldron is sponsoring readings of the children’s books “Ruby Sings the Blues” and “Bessie Smith and the Night Riders” at the Mary Riley Styles Library at 11:30 a.m.
For patrons looking for an interesting and intellectual take on the blues, multiple educational events throughout the day will emphasize the growth of blues and its performers. Blues musician Teeny Tucker will give a presentation about women in the blues from 10 – 11:30 a.m. at the Falls Church Community Center, and a mini film fest will run there all day featuring pieces on John Jackson, E.B. Henderson, and John Homer Walker. Throughout the festival, the exhibit “Envisioning the Blues,” dedicated to artistic representations of the blues, will be on display at Art and Frame of Falls Church. A panel exhibit, “Old Dominion Songsters: Traditional Blues in Virginia,” can be seen throughout the day Saturday in Cherry Hill Park, where the main event of the festival will take place.
From noon on into the evening, Cherry Hill Park will be the site of Blues, Brew & BBQ, a multi-artist outdoor concert with barbecue eats and beer by Mad Fox Brewing Company available for purchase there. At the gate, tickets are $20 for general seating and $30 for VIP reserved seating. Those arriving early to the site can take part in the festival’s inaugural Glamp Your Tent contest – based on glamping, a portmanteau for glamorous camping. The cost to enter is $25, and includes general admission for two to the festival. Those interested in setting up their luxurious tents can email Henderson at [email protected] or call 703-534-4627 by Thursday at 5 p.m., then set up their tents between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Saturday. Festival visitors will be able to tour the tents, and a winner in the contest will be announced that evening.
Performances will continue throughout the day, featuring both local artists and national names. Michael Roach, a local artist with a national following, will kick the show off, followed by Virginia’s own Cathy Ponton King. Ursula Ricks & Band and Baatin will both play a set, followed by Falls Church artist Tom Principato, David Cole & Main Street Blues, and Mississippi Heat. Saturday’s festivities are headlined by Teeny Tucker, daughter of blues legend Tommy Tucker, whose performances often pay tribute to the great female blues singers of the past.
But the blues won’t stop after the big event on Saturday.
“Sundays, we always do a blues brunch, and this year the brunch falls on Father’s Day, so in addition to being a blues brunch and tribute, it’s also a tribute to fathers,” Henderson said. The event will take place at JV’s Restaurant and feature a performance by the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation Ensemble.
The festival, which sets its sights on expanding the appreciation for blues and bringing it to a new group of people, also has an impact on the local community.
“We’re the only three-day event in Falls Church City. Many times people come in to the festival and have not heard of a certain business before, and they come back,” Henderson said. In addition to the economic advantages of this influx of visitors to the area, the festival also “helps to give this sense of solidarity and purpose to our community. People in Falls Church all know about the blues festival and they see it as part of our community,” Henderson said. “It’s just amazing when you see all these people from different strata all out there volunteering.”
In addition to volunteer efforts bringing the City together, the music is a main reason Henderson attributes for the feeling of unity in our community: “It is a very diverse audience, and I think it is a way to break down barriers. People listen to music together, and they feel this music together; they share this passion,” Henderson said.