An International Spectacle Without Comparison Returns – The Virginia International Tattoo Charms the City

by | Apr 27, 2022


If you run into a group of soldiers or sailors sporting unfamiliar uniforms and speaking foreign languages this week, there’s no need to be alarmed. The only invasion afoot will be your favorite watering holes or chow spots. Hundreds of performers worldwide have descended on Norfolk for the 2022 Virginia International Tattoo. 


It’s been 25 years since the first Virginia International Tattoo in 1997. The exhibition of military bands, dancers, choirs, and other performers has dazzled hundreds of thousands of attendees. The event is recognized as the largest show of its kind in the United States, drawing a global reputation for the diverse array of military performers gathered under one roof. As the North American headquarters for NATO, Norfolk has the honor of hosting a world-renowned spectacle with few comparisons.


There’s no ink and needles involved in this event despite the name. “Tattoo” is a word evolved from a 1600s Dutch phrase for “turn off the taps.” When the “taps” – i.e., a military musical signal – were played in the evenings to instruct soldiers to return to the barracks. Taps emptied Dutch taverns of their patrons, triggering soldiers and barkeeps alike to plea for it to stop. Every evening after the taps played, the streets became an impromptu parade of post-libation military folks, and thus a tradition was born. What can we say? We love a good ol’ tavern tradition-turned festival. 


The Virginia International Tattoo is a long way from the evening egress of tavern patrons, though. The show features beautiful exhibitions of nation-specific cultures, musical talents, and complex choreography. Drum lines, brass bands, drill teams, and other acts dazzle attendees with military-trained precision that is on par with the highest caliber artistic companies. There’s no need for a passport, but show-goers should prepare to take a trip to the royal halls of London, the grassy hills of Scotland and the cinematic sands of Jordan as the sounds and visuals from faraway lands engulf them. The two-hour spectacle features thousands of artists in a global cultural convergence, the likes of which might only be surpassed by the Olympic Ceremonies. 


This year’s Tattoo will be an exceptionally emotional one, marking the return of the celebration after two years of pandemic-induced hiatus. The festival has fittingly taken on themes emphasizing the resilience of the human spirit. The triumphant return of the Tattoo culminates in a massive finale that mixes performers from many of the individual teams, a fitting showcase of collaboration and coordination that transcends national borders. 


Should you hear stray flute melodies and bagpipe ballads as you head out of your office or into a happy hour, follow the Tattoo tradition and parade down to Scope for a grand and awe-inspiring performance of “Music & Might.”


The Virginia International Tattoo at Scope runs Thursday through Sunday but is accompanied by a weekend full of events and activities in Downtown Norfolk. 


Virginia International Tattoo

Norfolk Scope

Thursday, April 28, 7:30 PM

Friday, April 29, 7:30 PM

Saturday, April 30, 7:30 PM

Sunday, May 1, 2:30 PM

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Tattoo Hullabaloo

Scope Plaza

Thursday, April 28, 4:30 – 7:30 PM

Friday, April 29, 4:30 – 7:30 PM

Saturday, April 30, 4:30 – 7:30 PM

Sunday, May 1, 11:30 am – 2:30 PM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info 


NATO Flag Raising Ceremony

Scope Plaza

Thursday, April 28, 5:00 PM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info 


DrumLine Battle 

Scope Plaza

Thursday, April 28, 6:00 PM

Friday, April 29, 6:00 PM

Saturday, April 30, 5:00 PM

Sunday, May 1, 1:00 PM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info 


Norfolk NATO Festival Annual Parade of Nations

Downtown Norfolk 

Saturday, April 30, 2022 10:00 AM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info 


Norfolk NATO Festival International Village

Town Point Park

Saturday, April 30 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info 


Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship

Scope Plaza

Saturday, April 30, 12:00 – 5 PM

Closing Ceremony: 6:00 PM

Free and Open to the Public

More Info

Paul Stetson Rice

Chelsea, NFK

Paul is the creator of He was born and raised in Norfolk, graduated from Virginia Tech, and narrowly avoided law school. Chat with him about economics, entrepreneurship, hip-hop, and hiking. When he's not working on five different projects, you'll catch him sharing a beer with friends at a local brewery.

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