Norfolk is NATO’s home in North America. The Norfolk NATO Festival is the only festival in the world that honors the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its 29 member nations.
The Festival is free and open to the public. It returns this year beginning on Thursday, April 26 for the NATO Flag Raising Ceremony and continuing on Saturday, April 28 for the 65th Annual Parade of Nations and the NATO Fest International Village.
NATO was founded in the after World War II to strengthen the ties between the United States and the democratic countries of Western Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, NATO continued in the mission to “deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe.”
The 29 member nations of NATO include Albania, Crotia, France, Germany, Iceland, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Almost all of the NATO countries have representatives that live with their families and work here at NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT). This is a unique cultural asset for Hampton Roads. The NATO Festival celebrates these diverse cultures each year.
The NATO Festival kicks off with the NATO Flag Raising Ceremony at Scope Plaza on Thursday, April 26 at 5:00 pm. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather. The 29 member nations will present each of their national flags, while the United States Fleet Forces Band performs a part of their national anthem. There will be a flyover by two U.S. FA-18 Super Hornets and 2 French Rafaels, from the French Air Force.
The Norfolk NATO Festival is very family friendly. Saturday, April 28 begins with the 65th Annual Parade of Nations. The parade starts at 10:00 am. The route follows Waterside Drive along the river, takes a turn at Plume Street and continues up Granby Street to Freemason.
There will be over 100 “units” in this colorful and musical parade, including floats from all the NATO member countries. There will be 12 high school bands coming from outside Hampton Roads, like the Brick Township High School Band from Brick, NJ, to march and compete against each other in a parade style “battle of the bands.” Local favorites, like Norview High School Band and Booker T. Washington High School Band will be representing Hampton Roads.
There will be military bands, like His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team from Norway and the 11th Bersaglieri Regiment Fanfare from Italy. The Fanfare Band is known for running, while playing their instruments. Many of these military bands will also be performing in the Virginia International Tattoo from April 26 – 29 at the Scope Arena in Norfolk.
The grand finale of the parade will be the “majestic” U.S. Army Casisson Platoon from Arlington National Cemetary.
They will be bringing 11 beautiful horses to the parade in a very rare appearance. The horses (and soldiers) will also be on hand at the NATO Fest International Village at Town Point Park.
Corrie Smith, Operations Manager of the Norfolk NATO Festival, is especially excited about the dancers, who will be performing in the parade and then performing after the parade on stage at the NATO Fest’s International Village in Town Point Park. The Nameje Latvian Dancing Group, Michas Polish Folk Dance Ensemble and the Danshopurinn Sporid Icelandic Dancers will provide a unique parade experience. As Corrie says, “Everyone loves a parade and this one is going to be great.”
The parade will be ending just about the time the NATO Fest International Village will begin in Town Point Park. Over 29 tents will wrap around the park, offering children’s activities from the different countries, food, native language speakers and information about the 29 member countries of NATO from 11:30 – 3:00. There will be entertainment from Iceland to Latvia to Estonia on the stage throughout the afternoon.
Corrie Smith, Lieutenant Commander Ben Moran, Royal Navy, Community Relations Officer at ACT, and the families and friends of the 29 member countries of NATO have been working on the Norfolk NATO Festival for months. The NATO Festival will give you and your family a chance to explore different countries, speak to NATO representatives from Europe, sample some food, beer and wine, and enjoy some international art, all without leaving Hampton Roads.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, go to here.