By Nikki Graves Henderson
Twenty five years ago the, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation began a music festival that took place in June at what is now the Tinner Hill Historic Site located on Tinner Hill Road and S. Washington Street. The event was originally conceived to highlight businesses near Tinner Hill and focus on historic civil rights contributions of the surrounding community. June was selected, in part, to celebrate the national proclamation of June as Black Music Month, initiated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and continued by successive presidents. In 2009, President Barack Obama noted that African American music and musicians have helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” The festival reflects Obama’s sentiments by celebrating diverse cultures and bridging differences through the universal language of music.
In 2005, we began looking for a larger space to accommodate the growing festival. Lindy Hockenberry, then vice mayor, suggested moving the festival to Cherry Hill Park and working with the city as co-sponsor. The festival is the city’s only three-day event with All Blues, All Weekend, All Over Town, showcasing regional, national talent. Our goal is to position the Little City as a destination attracting music lovers. Each year a growing number travel from Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, North Carolina and beyond. City residents encourage family and friends to visit during the festival weekend, while others schedule class reunions and gatherings to coincide with the festival. The festival is staffed by all volunteers. Many friendship bonds have been formed among volunteers, business owners and city residents that endure throughout the year. Many visitors are introduced to Falls Church and its businesses during the festival and return to patronize local establishments.
The festival begins Friday, June 8 (5 – 10 p.m.), with a Blues, Brews and BBQ Block Party at Mad Fox Brewing Company featuring music by Bobby Thompson & Friends (ticketed). On Saturday, June 9, free music starts early at the Falls Church Farmers Market. The main event, a day-long blues concert (1 – 8 p.m.) takes place in Cherry Hill Park (ticketed). The lineup includes Kenny Neal, Albert Castiglia, Vanessa Collier and Jarekus Singleton. Local favorites, Bushmaster Blues featuring Gary Brown, and DC Mudd. This family-friendly event has blues-related games and readings, mini guitar lessons and an instrument petting zoo. Refreshments during the festival for purchase by Liberty Barbecue, beer by Mad Fox Brewing Company and a special signature cocktail by Falls Church Distillers. The Mary Riley Styles Library will feature Emily Sings, who puts a blues spin on book readings for toddlers (free).
In conjunction with the festival, Art and Frame of Falls Church is hosting its 7th Annual Blues Festival Juried Arts Exhibition. The exhibit runs June 1 – 30 (free). Many city businesses will feature live music Friday & Saturday nights. Catch Jamell Richardson, at the festival After Party, at JV’s Restaurant.
On Sunday, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation collaborates with the Social Justice Committee of Falls Church and Vicinity to create “A Message in the Music” a unique concert and conversation that celebrates and explores the past, present & future role of music and dialogue in the quest for social justice. Featuring an eclectic mix of the music born of hope, protest and socially conscious messages, the performers are rooted in secular as well as diverse faith based traditions. The music will be punctuated with conversations and family friendly activities.
Our moderator is Dr. Dwan Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts, Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The Dr. Edwin B. Henderson Dear Editor Writing Contest Awards will also be presented. Hear Daryl Davis, an outstanding African American musician, author, and lecturer on the KKK play boogie woogie piano as well as discuss his relationships with KKK members. Meet Michael O’Brien author of “We Shall Not Be Moved; The Jackson Woolworths Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired.” Come prepared to purchase everything on your summer reading list at a very special Book Fair. Bookworm Central, Inc. will bring together hard to find books with a focus on social justice books for children, parents, & young adults. Including books with diverse images and meaningful subject matter. For parents: talking to kids about physical differences, developing empathy, explaining social justice. During the festival the first twenty participants to sign up for concurrent workshop will create a doll in their own image, led by Sherri Lumpkin from RagBaby Xchange. A Social Justice Community Showcase highlighting organizations addressing inequity and tackling the polarization facing our nation. Sunday’s performers include Common Ground Jazz Band, Sudden M Pac R & B Band, Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe, soloist, Temple Rodef Shalom, Columbia Baptist Orchestra & Gospel Choir, Conrado Castro, LatinX Pop Artist and poet Fizza Fatima. Food truck and vendors on site. Don’t miss this homegrown festival!
Nikki Graves Henderson is the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation’s History Project Director.