Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Tom Principato

Tom Principato
Tom Principato

Falls Church musician Tom Principato was 17 years old when he first saw blues legend B.B. King perform at The Cellar Door in Georgetown in December 1969. Principato confesses to seeing the iconic blues guitarist play nine times in a row, and laughs at the number. The performances made a big impact on a teenager in his early discovery of blues music and the guitar, before Principato made his own name in the blues world.

This Thursday, Principato will open for King at the Warner Theatre. It’s the second time that Principato has had the opportunity to open for the musician he considers “a lifelong model, hero, and inspiration.”

Since seeing King’s three-day, three-show-a-night engagement in Georgetown, Principato went on to lead the band Powerhouse in the 1970s and launch his own solo career in the 1980s. To date he’s released 17 solo albums and earned more than 20 Wammy awards, top honors from the Washington Area Music Association.

The musician who once had to hitchhike from Falls Church to see his idol perform now enjoys a decorated blues music career that takes him on tours across the globe. But Principato considers himself a “hometown boy,” and enjoys the opportunity to perform in his native Falls Church.

“I’m always happy to play in my hometown of Falls Church,” Principato says.

On Aug. 7, Principato will close out the City of Falls Church Concerts in the Park series, which has been bringing live performances to Cherry Hill Park throughout the summer. Principato is a staple performer of the annual affair. And just last month, Principato was playing his brand of blues at the park for the annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival, at which he’s often featured.

At next month’s Cherry Hill Park concert, Falls Church listeners will get to hear tracks from Principato’s latest album, 2013’s Robert Johnson Told Me So. Taken with the album before it, 2011’s A Part of Me, the piece marks a recent milestone for the veteran musician. These are the first albums Principato has put out that he’s completely composed, full of his original material.

For his next release, Principato said a DVD is on the horizon, with footage from a concert filmed in March at The Barns at Wolf Trap featuring special guests and a three-piece horns section.

For now, Principato is in the midst of a busy season of outdoor summer concerts, including not just the Little City show, but performances slated for Concerts on the Green at Great Falls Centre Green (Aug. 10), the Summer Sunday Concerts in the Park series at McLean Central Park (July 27), and the Spotlight by Starlight concert series at Mason District Park (July 25).

“I think when there’s a picnic atmosphere or a festival atmosphere in these open-air concerts, that it is a special kind of a feeling. People are a lot looser; they enjoy themselves and the concert and their surroundings a lot more,” Principato says. “It’s always great to play the local towns and cities and their concert series.”

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