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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Come for the Bagpipes – Stay for the Twists


Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of the Virginia International Tattoo.


Question –

How many bagpipes are too many bagpipes?


Answer –

You can never have too many bagpipes. I would argue that 2 bagpipes sound better than 1 bagpipe, 10 bagpipes sound even better, and 150 bagpipes will blow your tartan socks off.


You will probably never have another chance to see 150 pipers piping so close to home. The 2023 Virginia International Tattoo is in Norfolk, at the Scope Arena, from Thursday, April 20 through Sunday, April 23.


For those of you new to the area, or those of you who have been hiding under a rock, the Virginia International Tattoo is part of Virginia Arts Festival

every year. More on the great performances presented by VAF coming soon. Click here for the line-up!


The word Tattoo refers to a “ceremonial performance of military music by massed bands”. There are great Tattoos around the world: the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland, the Basal Tattoo in Switzerland, and the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo in Canada. You do not need to go to Scotland or Switzerland, because the greatest Tattoo in the United States, and “the most creative Tattoo in the world” is right here in your own backyard this weekend.


J. Scott Jackson, Producer/ Director of the Virginia International Tattoo since the first one in 1997 says, “The 2023 Virginia International Tattoo will not only entertain you; it will inspire your participation …from the moment your hand touches your heart during the Star-Spangled Banner to when you jump to your feet when your family’s favorite service song is played to when you rise as hundreds of pipers, bandsmen and singers join in the singing of Amazing Grace.”


The Tattoo is not all pomp and circumstance. There is often a twist. The Central Military Band of the Latvian National Armed Forces has a beat-boxing tuba player. The audience at the student matinee went wild.


The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand started off with an intricate number involving a massive parachute dress and fairy wings, and ended with traditional step dancing to the sweet sounds of those 150 bagpipers.


The United States Navy Fleet Forces Band had no choice but to perform some of the great music from the movie Top Gun. The level of talent in these military ensembles is incredible.


The Singapore Armed Forces Central Band and Music and Drama Company brought fantastic dancers that performed to music from West Side Story.


The Crazy Drummers from Odessa, Ukraine are all tiny women, full of sass and attitude, that could beat the hell out of their drums and their tap shoes. I’m only giving away a few of the twists of this year’s Tattoo. There are plenty more.


This year’s theme for the Tattoo is “A Tribute to Military Families”. Hampton Roads is home to the largest population of active duty and retired military families in the country. The Tattoo pays tribute to the sacrifice those families have made through “music, narration, choreography and spectacle.” As my friend, Fran, said, “You didn’t tell me I needed to bring tissues.” Bring some tissues. You’ll need them.


The Virginia International Tattoo is so much more than what you expect. If you want to feel just a little bit better about the world, come and watch talented people from around the globe join together to create one big, spectacular, moving, and fun show. Remember, you can never have too many bagpipes.


Don’t hesitate to buy your tickets here. Come early, the Tattoo Hullabaloo is like a free happy hour outdoors on Scope Plaza for several hours before each indoor Tattoo performance. Get all the information you need about the Tattoo Hullabaloo here!


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