This Friday, Falls Church’s annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival kicks off, launching once again a full-force weekend-long fête of all things blues music, celebrated at venues across the City of Falls Church each summer.
“We’ve put a great deal of time and effort in to make sure this was one of the best festivals in the region,” said Nikki Graves Henderson, executive director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, which organizes the festival.
With more than a dozen blues acts set to perform, from local favorites like The Pluckerland Band to international performers like Braithwaite and Whiteley, blues makers and blues listeners from near and far will be making their way to Falls Church to share in what Henderson considers a special kind of music.
“I think it’s a bridge between people,” Henderson said when asked what she feels is the appeal of blues music. “It’s very hard to be mean, or racist, when you’re feeling good with the music.”
Henderson has also been outspoken about the economic benefit to the City of Falls Church of the annual festival, noting that having events spread around in venues throughout the City encourages dollars to be spent at those locations by those visiting the City to attend the festival.
The music begins Friday with a VIP Opening Reception at Stifel and Capra, a free event that will feature the sounds of Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner and let guest rub elbows with festival performers. Also that night, Diunna Greenleaf & Blue Mercy and Memphis Gold will take the stage at The State Theatre.
Area venues will give a taste of the blues Friday, and Mad Fox Brewing Company and Open Kitchen Bistro will close out the weekend with a blues brunch and dinner.
But the main event is the all-day blues festival that will transform Cherry Hill Park Saturday from noon-8 p.m. Acts like Big Boy Little Band and Cathy Ponton King will perform open air concerts, culminating with a star-studded Music Maker Blues Revue in the evening with Ironing Board Sam, Big Ron Hunter, Ardie Dean, Sol Creech and Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen.
“It’s great to know that we’re giving people top-quality performers,” Henderson said.
The weather forecast is for warm and no rain.
The “next generation of blues-makers” will be kicking off the Saturday concerts in the Keeping the Blues Alive Youth Showcase, featuring local youth performers like George Mason High School’s Lu and the Blues Crew.
Blues Crew member Devin Divecha says that, having attended the event in the past, the festival has had an influence on him.
“It actually got me into blues,” Divecha said. “I’d been listening to a whole lot more modern artists, and this helped me into finding how music has involved from the blues, because all our popular music comes from that.”
Lu Sevier from Lu and the Blues Crew said “the blues is distinctly American, and it’s funny how it doesn’t get as much publicity as pop, rap, or alternative music, but overseas it’s one of the most popular music forms there is. I’m sure if people gave it a chance they would love it.”
Concerts are only part of what the festival has to offer. Educational workshops discussing the history and technical aspects of making blues music will be led by festival performers at the Falls Church Community Center Saturday.
Greenleaf explained why she felt the history of the blues was important.
“With anything, if you don’t know your history, you somehow don’t know the value of your present status and the possibilities for the future,” Greenleaf said.
Special programs for children will also be offered Saturday, like a performance by Brooksie Wells at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library and a Kidz Blues Tent full of activities, like the instrument petting zoo.
“I think it’s a good event to teach kids about the blues, and we’ll be having an instrument petting zoo for the kids,” Henderson said. “They’ll get to touch, pick up, blow and play the instrument and see if they’ll like it.”
Area restaurants will again be serving up barbecue Saturday to satiate festival-goers. A first-time offering last year, beer will again be served at the festival. According to Henderson, it all makes for a winning combination.
“I think that the combination of barbecue, blues and beer took it over the top,” Henderson said.
Tickets for the Saturday concerts are $15. Headline Pass tickets, which include reserved lawn seating, are $25. All tickets may be purchased at at Cherry Hill Park Saturday or online at tinnerhill.org.
“The price is right, the entertainment is stellar, the food is great, the atmosphere and friendship and camaraderie is just wonderful,” Henderson said. “I don’t think you can beat it.”