[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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Blitte: We saw Root Boy Slim there; he was D.C.’s finest. He was a maniac, Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band.

Paul Strauss, 47, D.C. shadow senator and former chair of the Neighborhood Planning Council: It was state-sanctioned entertainment and these subversive acts merging together in a bizarre counter-cultural movement.…On the 25th anniversary, we tried to dig deep into the history, and some people said the [Grateful] Dead played once, but I was never able to verify that.

As the ’70s wore on, blues and bluegrass flourished alongside power-pop and proto-punk acts like The Slickee Boys and The Razz.

Mark Wenner, 63, plays in The Nighthawks: In the ’75 or ’76 era is when we first started playing down there. The bands that were playing there were our generation of bands around D.C....The local sound that was really dominating was a very roots-oriented sound—people were mixing soul and blues and rockabilly.

Tommy Keene, 54, played in The Razz; plays solo: I was in a band in junior high school; we were called Blue Steel. We played parties and dances and such, mostly covers. There was a Fort Reno board at the time. We auditioned for them there and they said, “You’re not right for Fort Reno.”

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Ian MacKaye, 49, played in Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi; plays in The Evens: The first time I went was in 1977 or 1978. I went to Wilson High School, and it was across the street, so kids were like, “Hey, there’s a concert up here.” Acid rock and kind of hippie rock bands would play. I remember seeing a band called The Frogs, if I remember correctly. It was very rough scene.

Keene: I joined The Razz in April of ’78, and we played Fort Reno in September of ’78, and I remember over a thousand people there. I’m sure Dave Grohl and the Fugazi guys were there. Kids couldn’t get into the clubs, and all we played were bars usually, but this show was free and The Razz was at their pinnacle.

Wenner: We had some motorcycle-riding friends keeping us safe from any rowdy elements. We were playing there and a bottle cap whizzed by me, and the next bottle cap hit the bass player. I was looking around, and I see two kids in the back—14-year-old guys slapping hands like, “We hit ’em!” I was a little crazy back then, a lot younger. I jumped off stage and grabbed a hold of one of these kids, but by the time I had a hold of him, two of my buddies jumped down and relieved me. They had a hold of this one poor kid and had him like you hold a puppy at the scruff of his neck, and they removed him from the scene. I don’t think they beat him up or nothing, but they scared the living shit out of him. I don’t think he threw a bottle cap again.

Keith: The Slickee Boys started in ’76, but we didn’t really take off until ’81....When we started playing, that was kind of a weird time. It was way post-hippie; it was sort of normal people who had long hair and smoked pot. D.C. has always been a very R&B, country, bluegrass kind of town, but the niche we really fit into sort of came around with the new-wave punk scene.

Hardcore began to break in in the early ’80s with acts like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, but because of their frequently violent early shows, they were rarely booked at Fort Reno for several years.

Blitte: Those punk bands, they all went to Wilson. I remember Henry Rollins worked at the Animal Hut by the Volvo dealership [in Tenleytown]. There were other bands playing there too though; it wasn’t just punk.

Ian MacKaye: In the summer of 1979, Teen Idles were supposed to play. We had a gig booked there and it got canceled. I think it got rained out, but I can’t recall. It’s funny, we had a flier for the show, but we never played it.

Blitte: Yeah, the ’80s were nothing but punk and new-wave bands, kids in their basements starting bands. We were the long-haired rednecks, we listened to country music.

Wenner: It was almost the next generation of people—in some ways, it was almost a reaction to it—the great punk scene and the scene I came up in. The difference was the age and the audience, but the motivation in both movements was to get away from the bullshit industry stuff, to get back to real, made-by-people, vibrant rock ‘n’ roll music. At one point, people called what [The Nighthawks] were doing “blue wave.” The motivation was the same. The new-wave scene, especially the hard punk scene which D.C. was a hard part of, they were just trying to get back to something elemental and direct, which is what we were trying to do to, but we were just 10 years older.

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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