By Alex Russell
Another benchmark in our gradual return to normal will be felt again in two weeks when the 27th annual Tinner Hill Music Festival takes place in Cherry Hill Park.
The festival, which is an all day music concert slated for Aug. 21, will be an opportunity for neighbors to reunite for a day of community fun, something that many people missed during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
The growing presence of the Delta variant throughout the U.S. has not impeded the organization of the show, nor its preparation.
Tori McKinney, the Executive Producer of the Festival for the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, noted how the venue of Cherry Hill Park permits ample room for social distancing.
One logistical issue that was avoided was having to book new artists. Ed Henderson, the founder of the Heritage Foundation, said that all the artists who had committed for the 2020 show are still onboard for this year’s show. “The musical artists played along” with the change in schedule and were more than willing to “change the booking dates.”
Henderson remains optimistic about this year’s festival. “The community wins, the artists win, [and] everybody is going to have a real good time this year.”
Loyalty from the performers could be a testament to McKinney’s bonafides among musicians and their representatives. Prior to setting up her Rock Star Realty business, she was a concert producer for venues in New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale and Washington, D.C.
That experience informed her own passion for and knowledge of American music, and gives the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation as well as the attendees the confidence she can stage a successful festival.
“It feeds my soul, given my background in the music industry,” McKinney said. While “bringing the live music scene” is a big plus for McKinney, she added that “I feel like I’m participating in a very important cause.”
For both Henderson and McKinney, the Music Festival will be a fun day to spend outdoors after a year-long pause brought on by the pandemic, but it will also be a good chance to spread “awareness for social equity” and “modern day racial reconciliation” within the Little City.
The Music Festival itself has a storied history going back decades. Created to support Tinner Hill’s foundation in the mid-1990s, the festival has since maintained its role as one of the biggest public celebrations in the City of Falls Church.
At one point going by the name “The Tinner Hill Street Festival,” it was later renamed “The Tinner Hill Blues Festival” in 2000.
As Henderson put it, “when talking about American popular music, you got to start with Blues,” which is “primarily an African American art form.” In terms of music history, Blues is also where many prominent, long-standing genres first began — styles like Jazz, Rock, and R&B all originate, in some shape or form, from the Blues tradition.
Geographically, the Festival took place near Tinner Hill Park, at 106 Tinner Hill Road. Visitors can still find a 14-foot tall, pink-granite arch at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Tinner Hill Rd., with the arch symbolizing the Foundation and its work, as well as a metaphor for the inherent strength in unity and cooperation.
The event’s current setting — Cherry Hill Park — was an idea proposed by then-City Council Member Lindy Hockenberry. She was also the one who suggested that Blues be the main, overarching musical genre showcased at the event.
Henderson, himself a big fan of Blues, recalled how John Jackson, Piedmont Blues guitarist and friend of the festival, gave his final live show at Watch Night, a Falls Church New Year’s Eve event originally sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.
Watch Night, being a New Year’s Eve celebration originating from the late 1800s, is a local holiday event also sponsored by the Foundation.
The Heritage Foundation itself — a nonprofit organization with the purpose of preserving and raising awareness of African American culture as it relates to the history of Falls Church — is a far more personal endeavor for Henderson than some might expect, as his grandfather, Dr. E. B. Henderson, was the principal organizer of the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), back in 1915. His work eventually spread beyond city limits to nearby areas as well as the nation’s capital.
Dr. Henderson’s wife, Mary Ellen Henderson, was an educator and ran a segregated school in Falls Church. Her pioneering efforts within the community led to the construction of the first new school for African American children in the area.
Tinner Hill Rd. is a site that once housed enslaved people forced to work on the Dulany Plantation; in the early 1900s, it was the home of Joseph and Mary Tinner, a couple whose lives would become intertwined with the fight for racial equality. After Dr. Henderson’s organizational efforts, Tinner would become the first president of the F.C. branch of the NAACP. An increase in local membership would soon follow, as news branches of the NAACP began to form all throughout the surrounding region.
The Tinner Hill Music Festival will be held on Aug. 21, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, visit tinnerhill.org/events.