Our Tattoo

Established in 1997, the Virginia International Tattoo, a signature event of the Virginia Arts Festival, is an annual celebration of patriotism and international goodwill.   Every year, the Tattoo welcomes over 800 performers from all over the world in a display of military bands, drill teams, massed pipes and drums, Celtic dancers, choirs, and more.  It is the largest tattoo in the United States, drawing an international audience each year, and was listed as American Bus Association’s Top North American Event for 2016. 

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“Tattoo” Origin

Historically, tattoos stem from a 17th-century European tradition of military drummers alerting soldiers that it was time to return to their barracks for the evening.  After hearing the call of the local regiments’ fifes and drums, the Dutch Low Country innkeepers would call “Doe den tap toe!” – “Turn off the taps!”  The “tap too” evolved over time, and the word “tattoo” now refers to a ceremonial performance of military music by massed bands. 


An important central component of the Virginia International Tattoo is its accessibility to local youth.  Each year, nearly 12,000 area students have the opportunity to experience the Tattoo through in-school performances and student matinees.  In addition, the Tattoo opens the final dress rehearsal to families of special needs patrons to accommodate those who might not be able to attend a public performance due to their unique circumstances. 

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International Performance

For over 25 years, the Virginia International Tattoo has been offering a unique opportunity to gain insight into different countries’ culture, language, military traditions and more.  A showcase of remarkable talent and tradition, and now the home of the annual Virginia International American Pipe Band Competition, the Virginia International Tattoo has presented performers from over 30 countries!

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