Outdoor Cèilidh in the Time of Covid

Words by Penny Neef.
Image courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival continues the quest for safe, live performances this fall, while the weather is still cooperative in Hampton Roads. There is a charming Courtyard directly behind the VAF’s Clay and Jay Barr Education Center on Bank Street in downtown Norfolk.

On Saturday, October 10, the VAF and the Virginia International Tattoo will present Courtyard Cèilidh on the outdoor stage in the Courtyard. 

What is a Cèilidh, you might ask? How do you even say it? Cèilidh is pronounced Kay-Lee. It is a traditional Gaelic party that would include poetry, storytelling Celtic music and dancing. It translates from the Old Irish as “companion visit”. There are not a lot of parties and companion visits going on these days, but VAF is able to keep family groups apart, sanitize, limit the number of tickets sold, and provide lots of fresh air to keep it as safe as possible.

Performers will include Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance, US National champion Scottish fiddlers Seán Heely and Colin McGlynn, and Tidewater Pipes and Drums.

Chris Pearcy, the Pipe Major of Tidewater Pipes and Drums calls the Courtyard Cèilidh, a “mini Tattoo”. If you’ve never attended the Virginia International Tattoo in the spring as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, you have missed something spectacular. A Tattoo is a large gathering of military bands. The Virginia International Tattoo brings bands from across the world to Scope Arena each year for the largest Tattoo in North America. 

Here are the Massed Pipes and Drums of the 2019 Tattoo

Pearcy will be bringing 10 bagpipers and 8 drummers to the small stage in the Courtyard. Ten pipers are still a big sound. 

Tidewater Pipes and Drums are one of the original bands of the Virginia International Tattoo. They perform at Scope each year. Pearcy says they love meeting and performing with other pipe bands from around the world. They were disappointed when Covid forced VAF to cancel the Tattoo this year, but the pandemic also made Pearcy’s group “realize how much they missed practicing together and playing together”.

In March, April and May, the band did one-on-one work with technique and expression through Zoom calls. Pearcy is also a professor at ODU, teaching mostly European history to freshmen. He worried at the beginning of the pandemic that the members of Tidewater Pipes and Drums would lose their skills.

By the time June rolled around, the band was “itching to get out there and do something together”. They began practicing outdoors and 6 feet apart. Pearcy was thrilled that “people did not forget how to play.” In fact, they were better than ever. “Covid has been a big rebuilding phase for our group,” Peacy says, “We sound like one great, big bagpipe.” That’s a good thing, if you’re a pipe and drum group.

October 10th will be the group’s first time performing together since St. Patrick’s Day, oh so long ago. Even though the Courtyard Cèilidh will be barely 1/100th of the size of the “big” Tattoo, it will still be great to hear the sounds of the bagpipes, Scottish fiddles and see the high stepping of Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance.

Turn on the Taps: Virtual Virginia International Tattoo Pandemic Edition

Words By Penny Neef
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival

One of the highlights of the Virginia Arts Festival each year is the Virginia International Tattoo. I am not the most patriotic person, but there is nothing like this over the top, bagpipe music to the ceiling of the Scope, giant American flag waving salute, to make you feel like the USA has always been a great country.  

Scott Jackson and his mighty team put together a spectacular show each year. Military bands come to Norfolk from around the world. It is a cast of thousands. It takes a whole year to bring together all these talented musicians, singers, and dancers into a show that is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

Top Secret Drum Line at the 2016 Virginia International Tattoo

There is no traveling this year. There cannot be thousands of performers on the floor of the Scope Arena or thousands of people watching at the Scope. The Virginia International Tattoo live performances have been canceled, along with the rest of the Virginia Arts Festival for this spring.

This is still “Tattoo Week”. Like the rest of the world, the Virginia International Tattoo has gone virtual, all except the beer. You can still enjoy a Tattoo themed beer. More on that in a bit.

A drill team throws their rifles at the 2016 Virginia International Tattoo.

Through social media and your TV, here are a few of the ways you can experience the Virginia International Tattoo- all for free this year:

Thursday, April 30
Celebrate a salute to WW II veterans with the Opening Night Celebration
7:30pm on Facebook 

Friday, May 1
WHRO 15 will broadcast the 2016 Tattoo – check your local listings
8:30pm Preshow Watch Party on Facebook 
9:00pm 2016 Tattoo on WHRO

Saturday, May 2
Virtual Salute to the Greatest Generation – the Tattoo will honor WWII veterans with a special appearance by journalist Joe Galloway
10:00pm Watch Party on Facebook 

Sunday, May 3
March Off – The Parting Glass and Final March Off
5:00pm Watch Party on Facebook 

The Virginia International Tattoo also does a Special Audience Night each year for people with disabilities and special needs that might need some extra space or room to walk around during the show. Special Audience Night was inspired by Scott Jackson’s daughter, Samantha, who is autistic. Her favorite part of the show is always those hundreds of bagpipers. Jackson put together this video for Samantha and her friends.

Now about that beer – long before coronavirus rocked our world, VAF collaborated with Rip Rap Brewing Company to produce a beer in honor of the 2020 Virginia International Tattoo and the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.  Rip Rap has both a pick-up and delivery service, and says the beer’s “soft wheat and lightly toasted malt add subtle depth to this classic style”.  For more information about how you can toast to the Greatest Generation with a glass or two of 1945 Salute beer, click here

Rip Rap Brewing Company's 1945 Salute Beer.

Virginia Arts Festival Executive Director Rob Cross understands the need for social distancing during this time. He is disappointed that the VAF has had to cancel some of the world’s great artists this spring. “We wanted to offer our audiences the opportunity to share some past performances in their homes as they shelter in place. In this time, we need the joy and hope and inspiration the arts provide.” For a complete list of all the VAF’s virtual performances, go to their Virtual Connections page.

For a complete list of all the virtual Tattoo events this year, check out their facebook!