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The International Tattoo celebrates D-Day and NATO anniversaries this weekend

The Virginia International Tattoo kicks off April 18 and hosts dozens of events and performances through April 21. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival)
The Virginia International Tattoo kicks off April 18 and hosts dozens of events and performances through April 21. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival)


The Virginia International Tattoo opens April 18, welcoming more than 800 military and civilian performers from seven countries for the 27th year. 

This year, the weekend will include “A Celebration of Freedom,” marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing and 75th anniversary of the founding of NATO.

Tattoos come from a centuries-old Dutch military tradition of drummers calling soldiers back to their barracks by playing a certain tune for evening roll call. The parade of soldiers heading back became known worldwide as “Tattoo,” according to the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Festival hosted the first Tattoo in 1997, producer Scott Jackson told WHRO’s Dwight Davis in 2021.

“It's not just a bunch of bands,” Jackson said. “It's really a rich, emotional, spiritual, artistic experience.”

Jackson said Virginia’s Tattoo is unique because of the military influence on the show and the ability to include military bands – this year, the United States Air Force Heritage of America Band, Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team, Army Training and Doctrine Command Herald Trumpets, Fleet Forces Band and the Marine Corps FAST Company are all part of the weekend.

“We also have such a multicultural country, that our show tends to have some of the most interesting and great variety of performers,” Jackson told WHRO.

This year’s Tattoo features groups from Switzerland, the French Pacific Islands, the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Concert Band of the German Armed Forces, or Musikkorps der Bundeswehr.

In addition to ticketed events, which can be found here, there are a number of free events during the Tattoo weekend:

Virginia International Tattoo Hullabaloo Thursday-Saturday, April 18-20, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Norfolk Scope Plaza

Enjoy music, dancing, drill routines and drumming before official Tattoo performances begin. 

International Drumming Showcase Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 20 at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 21 at 1 p.m. Norfolk Scope Plaza

In partnership with Drum Corps International, watch percussionists from around the world show their skills.

NATO Flag Raising Ceremony Thursday, April 18, 5-6 p.m. Norfolk Scope Plaza

Celebrate Norfolk and NATO’s relationship at a military ceremony featuring representatives from all NATO member nations and music by the U.S. Fleet Forces Band.

NATO Festival 71st Annual Parade of Nations Saturday, April 20, 20-11:30 a.m. Downtown Norfolk

Honor NATO with over 100 floats and groups including international bands, military units, community organizations and a float for every NATO member nation. There are paid reserved seating options available at vafest.org.

Norfolk NATO Festival International Village Saturday, April 20, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Town Point Park

After the Parade of Nations, explore other cultures through performances, food and beers. Food and beer must be purchased.

Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship & Highland Dance Competition Saturday, April 20, 12-5 p.m.; Massed Band Performance and awards at 6 p.m. Norfolk Scope Plaza

Dancers, pipers and drummers will compete at this traditional Scottish contest.

For a full list of Tattoo events and a schedule, visit vafest.org.

WHRO's Vice President of News Maurice Jones is chair of the Virginia Arts Festival board and WHRO CEO and President Bert Schmidt is on the Virginia Arts Festival board. Jones and Schmidt are not involved in editorial decisions.

WHRO Public Media is a co-sponsor of the Virginia International Tattoo.

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

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