NORFOLK — The Virginia International Tattoo, an annual celebration of military music organized by the Virginia Arts Festival, will feature a performance never before seen outside of Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery.
The tattoo will partner with the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to celebrate living recipients of the military’s highest decoration, the festival announced Thursday at a press conference in downtown Norfolk. The tattoo’s theme this year, “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty,” will medal recipients from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps., and Army branches.
Keeping with the theme of long-held military traditions, this year will feature the U.S. Army’s 3rd Guard Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard.” Established in 1784, the guard is the Army’s oldest active-duty infantry unit and also its official escort of the president.
Soldiers of the guard also keep 24-hour vigil at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, removing soldiers from the site only during a ceremonial “changing of the guard.” That ceremony — which has never been witnessed outside of Arlington, according to Scott Jackson, producer of the tattoo — will be demonstrated for attendees of the tattoo. Jackson said this was “unprecedented.”
Jackson also said that every sixth grader in Norfolk, as well as every fifth grader in James City County, is able to attend the tattoo, thanks to partnerships between the festival and those school systems. There will also be three student matinees Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings of the tattoo.
The word “tattoo,” unrelated to the Tahitian term for inked skin, comes from the 17th-century Dutch term “doe den tap toe,” which means “turn off the taps.” This is a reference to military drummers alerting soldiers to stop drinking and return to their barracks. The “tap toe” portion of the Dutch phrase evolved over time into the word “tattoo” that we use today.
The European roots of that word continue in the tattoo’s multicultural exercises today. More than 800 performers from the U.S., Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, New Zealand, and the ceremonial detail from NATO will descend on downtown Norfolk for the tattoo.
Norway’s “Band and Drill Team of His Majesty the King’s Guard,” will be returning to the tattoo for the third straight year, said the festival. The Norway team is comprised of conscripted soldiers who will have been in the army only seven months when they come to Norfolk in April
Members of the Belgian Royal Air Force Band are a bit more experienced, and all have conservatory degrees from music schools in Europe.
The festival’s Executive Director Rob Cross says that originally he was not interested in hosting a tattoo festival in Norfolk. But in 1995, Cross said that “my close friends urged me to see the Edinborough Tattoo while I was traveling in Scotland,” which he did.
According to Cross, he was “blown away” by that performance and came back to Norfolk with a different opinion about tattoo. In 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival hosted the first Virginia International Tattoo in Norfolk and had 6,000 people attend.
This April, the festival will host the 22nd annual tattoo, and expects over 40,000 attendees. The tattoo has become the signature event of the festival and runs April 26-29 this year.
“Our tattoo is an unabashedly patriotic exercise” and highlights U.S. military might and talent, but also our allies and the strength of those relationships, said Jackson.
Among local performers at the tattoo, the Virginia Children’s Chorus, Virginia Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Granby High School’s ROTC, Hampton Roads Police Color Guards, along with a host of military musicians, like the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band.
Jackson, who has a child with special needs, also said that anyone with a disability will be able to attend a dress rehearsal of the tattoo for free and can contact the festival at 757-282-2822 for details.
“Christmas and tattoo are the only two days of the year that I, my wife, the kids, and the grandparents are all happy at the same event,” he said, noting that missing the tattoo could constitute “the worst kind of tattoo regret.”
Tickets for the tattoo can be purchased on the festival’s website or by calling 757-282-2822.