Tattoo You

A mega military salute brings the world to Norfolk.

The Virginia International Tattoo.

Like a cross between a military concert, opening ceremonies at the Olympics and a grand circus parade, every spring for 19 years the Virginia International Tattoo has brought together more than 1,200 musicians and singers from around the world for four days of patriotic performances.

For this year’s 20th anniversary, April 21–24, organizers have thought even bigger. The chorus has expanded to 800 singers, bringing the full cast to 1,600. Among other performers, including those from Australia, Jordan, Scotland and the Netherlands, the 10-nation tattoo (the word is derived from Dutch, not the skin art), will present 200 pipers and drummers, drill teams, Celtic dancers and 10 of the highest-rated bagpipe companies in the world. Lending star power, Gen. Colin Powell will narrate, drawing from a script by Joseph L. Galloway, author of Vietnam War story We Were Soldiers Once .… and Young.

The cast includes the Quantico Marine Corps Band, Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums, U.S. Coast Guard Drill Team, Switzerland’s Top Secret Drum Corps, and the Jordanian Armed Forces Bagpipe Band. New for 2016 is the Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship, which will take place April 23.

The gigantic celebration of culture, music and the military, presented as part of the not-for-profit Virginia Arts Festival and in the works for two years, is coordinated by a staff of three, says J. Scott Jackson, the tattoo’s producer and director since 2003. That number expands to about 100 part-timers and volunteers over the week of performance. In all, each two-hour performance requires an estimated 60,000 hours of effort—about 500 work hours per minute.

“Not many performances can come close to this sort of scale,” says Jackson, who also is general manager of the Virginia Arts Festival and a percussionist with the Virginia Symphony. Tickets $20-$100, student and group discounts available. VaTattoo.org

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