[Your Band] Played Here Ian MacKaye, Ted Leo, Travis Morrison—and dozens of others—share the oral history of Fort Reno, D.C.’s legendary summer concert series.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Every generation has its own Fort Reno. In the summer of 1968, the first concerts at the Tenleytown park were intended as a balm for a riot-scarred city. In the ’70s, before the Metro opened and the neighborhood upscaled, Fort Reno was a home for hippies and blues rockers. As the city’s DIY rock scenes blossomed, it became a place for new wavers and then punks—an identity Fort Reno has kept even as D.C. hardcore has given way to D.C. post-hardcore and today’s atomized indie-rock scene.

Fort Reno’s picnic item of choice these days may be the Whole Foods box, but it’s still where the city’s punks—ones who live in group houses, as well as ones who now have kids—hang out. It remains an icon of the Washington music scene even as other legendary venues, like d.c. space and the old 9:30 Club, have gone away. Booking remains stubbornly local. It’s free, doesn’t advertise, and has no sponsors. A Good Humor truck is a reliable mainstay, but otherwise it’s a rare example of art without commerce.

Local legends like Danny Gatton, Liz Meyer, Root Boy Slim, The Nighthawks, The Razz, The Slickee Boys, Rites of Spring, Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Bratmobile, Unrest, Jawbox, The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U, and Black Eyes have all played its haggard stage. So have a lot of less famous bands, too—including my own.

Fort Reno Park was really a fort—a stronghold of the Union army that eventually became a home for freed slaves and, later, a reservoir. Today, the fort and the park are managed by the National Park Service. If a ranger were ever to offer a history tour of D.C. music, it might sound a bit like this.

The concerts began during the summer of 1968, the year riots erupted following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Along with Barbara Luchs and other Tenleytown residents, Father George Dennis, a Jesuit priest, filed the papers to form Neighborhood Planning Council No. 3, which organized the series. In the early years, the concerts featured acid-drenched hippie bands and blues-driven roots rock.

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Barbara Luchs, 88, served as secretary of the Tenleytown Neighborhood Planning Council from ’68 into the 1990s, and as board member of the Northwest Youth Alliance from the late ’90s into the 2000s: The city virtually blew up in 1968, and people all over the city, especially those of us who had teenagers, did everything that we could to bring peace back to the neighborhood.

Emily Swartz, 67, worked for the Neighborhood Planning Council in the early 1980s: After the riots, so much was destroyed that the city was in shock. There was a real need for programs for kids. A lot of kids, little kids on up, were on the street with nothing to do.

Amanda MacKaye, 41, books Fort Reno, played in The Routineers, Desiderata: After the riots in D.C., there were free concerts in D.C. all over, outdoor events for people to go to. All neighborhoods had to do was get together a planning committee and plan it. People in Tenleytown just got their papers together.

Eric Blitte, 50, owns Tenleytown Painting: I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and we would ride our bicycles up there. I lived, like, five blocks away, and we’d hear music and go on up. As soon as [Fort Reno] started, we started going. I remember seeing Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady there before they moved to San Francisco and became Jefferson Airplane.

Marshall Keith, 57, played in The Slickee Boys: I went to Wilson High School for half a year in 1970, and I started going that summer. I think I saw Claude Jones; Joe Triplett was in that band. That was still in the hippie days—alcohol drinking, drugs floating around. At that point they didn’t start cracking down.

Blitte: The old stage was over by Belt Road toward Wisconsin. It was an old wooden box, a concrete slab, a basketball hoop, and a pavilion that we called the shelter. The street gangs hung out by the shelter. Sometimes you saw 50 chopped-out Harleys in the late ’60s to the mid-’70s....I remember being a little kid and seeing 2- or 3-foot plastic bongs, people getting stoned and drinking, and no one said anything. It was a blue-collar town back then.

Keith: Me and my friends were so young none of us drove. We probably hitchhiked there...All my friends were from Rockville and would come to my house to do things in D.C. We went to a lot of anti-war marches from late ’68 through 1970. They were basically an excuse for us to party, get out of the house, and hang with freaks. Fort Reno seemed like an extension of that—a bunch of kids hanging out on the grass.

Photos: Fort Reno 2011

Photos: History of Fort Reno

Our Readers Say

We played at Fort Reno about 1979 (not quite sure!)
We played at Fort Reno August 29th, 1983 (The Dynettes) and the opening act were "The Uncle Chunky" band (Anthony Grasso and Damian Grasso), my sons!
Hey, this is pretty interesting and you have some good stories here. I'm wondering why you seem to have missed out on talking to Beth Baldwin though? She booked the shows from something like 2002-2007.
Fall of '84 I worked at what was then NPC 2&3 and remember getting funding from Dept of Recreation to buy the current stage--previous stage was trashed maybe burned down? I remember painting it that lovely shade of brown.
The Dynettes: Rad! If you have any photos from that show, you should forward them to ekaiser@washingtoncitypaper.com -- we might upload more shots in the next day or two.

Josh: I would've loved to have talked to Beth for this. I tried to get in touch with her, but somehow I wasn't able to reach her. I'm sure she has a lot of great stories too.

chris: I'm told the previous stage was unintentionally trashed by the Federal Park Service without notifying municipal authorities, and that's why the District Flag was prominently placed on the newer stage. Does that sound right?
regarding Eric Blitte's comment about seeing Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady at fort reno. fort reno started in 1968. the jefferson airplane started in 1965. the ja were pretty big in 1968. i think jack and jorma left for sf in 1962.
@Ryan: I don't remember how or when the previous stage was removed, I do remember it had holes and weak spots where one could potentially fall through, think it was more an issue of "safety" and legal exposure. DC being a clusterf*ck of federal and local agencies, I could see Park Service thinking they had jurisdiction and they probably did, Fort Reno is federal land isn't it? No memory of when DC flag got painted on there, think it was more an homage to DC punk scene than DC pride. Neighborhood Planning Council was a DC Dept of Recreation initiative the local branch oversaw the concert series. Within DC local government NPC never had the power or respect of say the ANCs. So I doubt it was a turf war or some conspiracy, think it was more about taking out the trash.
amazing. the importance of all ages shows can not be underestimated. in high school i had a band called Supermodel Sal, and the one show we played at Fort Reno was totally our teenage dream come true. we obviously couldn't play at bars or clubs, and the shows we did play (mostly school-sanctioned things) didn't draw the outsiders, the punks and the music fans, the way Fort Reno did. it was also so nice to have a place to GO to shows, again, that was all ages. i never even really cared who was playing, just who i could get to go with me.
that was around 1996 or so, i should add.
Playing at Fort Reno opening for The Chase and Crispus Attacks in 2000 was a dream come true. Anne and Beth put up with my relentless phone calls to put my band on that bill and I am forever greatful for them for doing that. It was surreal actually being on that stage and looking out at a crowd that I was normally a part of.
The NPC 2&3 did everything back in the 80's for Ft. Reno. I worked in the office and I'm sure I worked with Chris, especially if he's the same Chris that kept changing his hair color.
Beyond the great music, the best part about Fort Reno shows is seeing so many old and new friends in one place. It is a profoundly humble community and space, and I miss it dreadfully every time I leave DC.

Great article, Ryan. Here's to another 40+ years.
Tommy Keene says Dave Grohl was there in 1978 with the Fugazi guys. This is highly doubtful since Dave would have been 9 years old at the time and was stuck out in Suburban Fairfax County. Dave was only 14 when I met him in '83 at the 9:30 Club. <waves at Tommy>
Wiz, while what you say about Grohl is very likely, don't discount too much what those of us Dave's age saw in the 1970s. I met Henry Rollins when he worked at the Finnegan and Roberts Sunshine House in Bethesda, MD in 1978 when I was in elementary school and friends of mine in Georgetown independently knew the Rollins at the pet store in 1976-77.
In the early '70s, the NPCs had a youth board and chairperson and a separate adult board. (I was on the youth board for a couple years.) I recall a rather heated situation stemming from plainclothes police busting kids for smoking pot at Ft. Reno concerts. NPC 3--particularly the youth contingent--prevailed upon the police to stop posing as civilians, and the arrests ended. (I think that's the last time I felt like my voice and vote had real impact on anything.)
Quesadas - Opening for Fugazi in 1988, 100s of people spread out all over the hill when we played. The moment we were done, 100 plus people filled into the front of the stage for another great Fugazi show. What fun, keep it going, so my kids can play there too, and soon.
Does anyone remember the time Foreigner played Fort Reno? Later that night they played at the Bayou. Must have been around 1976?
A very serious omission: Claude Jones. Claude Jones began as a power trio with Peter Blachly on guitar, Reggie Brisbane on drums, and Jay Sprague on bass, in Washington, DC in 1968. They soon added Mike Henley on keyboards, and he recruited Joe Triplett, former lead singer for the Reekers (who incidentally were the band that performed “What a Girl Can’t Do” on the Hangmen single). Franny Day joined as vocalist and rhythm guitarist in early ‘69. Pianist and composer, John Guernsey, who had already been writing songs for the band, joined a few months later. Michael Oberman and Keith Krokyn managed the band. John Hall and Steve Cox managed the equipment. Krokyn, Hall and Cox also played percussion as the Red-ass Rhythm Section, which became part of the band’s organic sound. Claude himself brought the original trio together and was the sound man throughout the band’s existence. He also supported the band while they were starting out.

As the group expanded it grew into a larger community, known collectively as The Amoeba, that took on a life of its own. In the Fall of 1969 they moved from the little gray house on Military Road to an old farmhouse on the Rappahannock river in Culpeper County. After a year on the farm the band moved back to the DC area. Blachly left to join an ashram and was replaced by Happy Acosta on lead guitar.

The band continued to play regularly around the DC area, most notably in the Summer in the Parks program, and at The Emergency in Georgetown, one of the first all-ages clubs in the area.

Claude Jones broke up on New Year’s Eve 1971. They left behind one recording, an EP with a handful of original songs. In 1974 they played a reunion gig at Buchanan Hall, and in 1991 they played at the 20th Emergency Reunion with several other DC bands of that era. They reunited once more in 1993 to record a full-length album of some of their songs but never got back together as Claude Jones.
Marked Deck-soul, R & B, rockabilly-played at Ft. Reno in 1988. It was a blues competition with Jerry 'Bama' Washington as one of the judges. We placed 2nd.
Scusate l'intervento che esula dall'argomento proposto ma vrreoi sottoporVi queste domande:Perch sono state eliminate queste funzioni dal sito?:I voti nei post sono stati eliminati, perch ?Penso che se un intervento risulta essere maleducato o insolente, sottolineando la disapprovazione degli altri utenti si instauri in chi l ha lasciato un timore o una riflessione su quanto ha scritto.Altrimenti, a meno che non ci sia una supervisione accurata degli amministratori, essendo il messaggio anonimo si potrebbero verificare degli abusi. Bannarli servirebbe a poco essendo l iscrizione anonima. Questo senza nulla togliere agli iscritti che mi sembra siano molto corretti e responsabili.Un altra cosa, molto pi importante di questa, ho notato che non pi possibile scrivere recensioni. E una cosa momentanea o c stata qualche decisione in merito? Sarebbe un peccato perch molto utile sapere com' un determinato gioco e come viene considerato
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Hi - played there in 5 bands, ZAPATA in 1968 or 9, SANE DAY 1972 (FT RENO CD RELEASED from a show there) TINSEL'D SIN 1973 (FT RENO CD RELEASED from a show there) CDS released in the 2000s. MAGICK THEATRE in 1976, and THE MUFFINS in @ 1978; the only show I played with the stage in the newer location where it is now. Most of my time was when the stage was over by Belt Road. Father Dennis was a family friend. I was also on sound crew for dozens of other shows. Had park service parking permit I was working there so much.
I worked at Fort Reno Park (NPC3). My younger brother designed the t-shirts for the Hogwash festival at Fort Reno. Does anyone remember that? This was when the stage was ion the Belt rd. side. I remember Father George , Phil , Sloppy Joe , and some of the others- but I cannot remember their names.

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