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  • Writer's pictureSpotlight News Hampton Roads

Tattoo for You?



Words courtesy of Haley Neef with a little help from her mom, Penny Neef. Images courtesy of the Virginia International Tattoo and Penny Neef.


My mom, Penny Neef, invited me to join her at a tattoo today. I was flabbergasted. I got my first tattoo when I turned 18, and she cried and told me I would regret it. Twenty-six years later (and 7 more tattoos), I learned that she did not have permanent body modification on her mind. 


Turns out the Virginia International Tattoo is a wholesome, awe-inspiring display of skill, patriotism and spectacular performances by military personnel from around the world and home-grown talent from Hampton Roads. The Tattoo is part of the Virginia Arts Festival line-up of performances each year. You can see all the great talent that is scheduled in venues all around our part of Virginia right here - https://www.vafest.org There is something for everyone.



In high school, circa 1998, I wore my dad’s Army jacket to school most days. I wore it out of pride for his military service, but mostly because it fit my love of grunge fashion like a glove. I still love a fashion theme. I got dressed up in red, white and blue, with all-American cowboy boots thrown in, and off we went to Scope Arena, where the Virginia International Tattoo will be presented every day from now until Sunday, April 21.


We were invited to the student matinee on Friday. Inviting hundreds of students from all around Hampton Roads is part of the Virginia Arts Festival mission of education. The crowd of preteens were buzzing with anticipation and excitement. If you closed your eyes, you might have thought you were at the Taylor Swift Eras show. These kids have pride in this vibrant and proud military community.


Once I figured out what the Virginia International Tattoo was all about, I expected military music, military marches and smartly dressed military personnel from around the world. I did not expect hundreds of bagpipers playing with an endless supply of breath.  I did not expect the Marine Corp obstacle course competition, finished by the crack of rifles. I did not expect the United States Air Force band to break into Aretha Franklin’s song, “Think” with vocalists worthy of the Queen of Soul.


I did not expect the French XV du Pacifique Army Rugby Team to dance the traditional pre-match war dance. The crowd went wild. There was all this and so much more. Musikkorps der Bundeswehr from Germany played the “Superman March”, and the theme from Green Hornet. They were fast with the brass. Their fingers flew over the valves. I wonder what they were carrying in their fancy fanny packs. 


The Swiss Top Secret Drum Corp had a surprising amount of soul for soldiers from Switzerland. It’s hard to believe they could be too much of a secret with the booming staccato and the impeccable formation. Did I mention they have light-up drumsticks? Keep that a secret.



I’ve been to many concerts and music festivals. The Virginia International Tattoo is something very unique. The bagpipes, the drums, the dancing, the bayonets, the voices, the precision and the patriotism, from all over the world, performing separately but then coming together really moved and inspired me.


In case you were wondering, not only do I have a newfound love for Tattoos, I actually convinced my mom to design me a good, old-fashioned ink tattoo for my left foot. She didn’t cry over that, but I admit I teared up more than once at the spectacular Virginia International Tattoo.


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