During his first mayoral term, Marion Barry created his signature summer jobs program, which made seasonal employment available to all school-age children, regardless of income. The Neighborhood Planning Council provided jobs through this program at its office near Fort Reno Park on Chesapeake Street NW.
Brendan Canty, 45, played in Fugazi: In 1979, my first job was picking up trash [at Fort Reno] when I was 13 years old. It was through the Neighborhood Planning Council and the summer jobs program through Marion Barry.
Mary Timony, 41, played in Helium, Mary Timony Band; plays in Soft Power, Wild Flag: I played in a band that was part of the summer jobs program—one of them was called Fat Kids Rule. It was with Dante [Ferrando] from the Black Cat and Gray Matter, he sat in on drums, and Chris Thompson from Circus Lupus and this girl Melody....It was part of the Marion Barry program to give kids jobs for the summer. The job was you got paid minimum wage to play music all day at Murch Elementary School. I feel like a lot of the people who came out of that went on to do music for a living.
Guy Picciotto, 45, played in Rites of Spring, Fugazi: I worked for two consecutive summers for the Neighborhood Planning Council. The first year my job was to visit all the sites of the different jobs to get kids their paychecks. I had a car and would drive downtown and deal with these Marion Barry bigwig people. There was one year the checks were delayed for like two months and I had to go to all these work sites with kids demanding checks and not have any checks for anybody. It was horrible. It was kind of an intense job with weird responsibilities, but almost every kid who went through that program ended up in bands.
Swartz: They were amazing—all of the kids. I sent home a letter to their parents to say they couldn’t go on vacation during the summer, because they had to be there every day. We couldn’t have run this program without kids being responsible.
Ian MacKaye: Teen Idles, because I worked there at the [Neighborhood Planning Council] building, at one point we needed a place to practice. Before leaving one Friday, I left a window unlocked, and then came back around one in the morning, climbed through the window, unlocked the door, and we practiced in the building until police showed up. They asked us if we were having a party and if we could turn the stereo down.
Picciotto: We had access to an office which had a Xerox machine, and we had our own headquarters—we used that Xerox machine to make every Rites of Spring flier and we did a lot of business back there. Now it’s just boarded up, but it had an enormous history...My boss was this woman Emily Swartz who was, like, one of my greatest friends, and this guy John Libby. They were in the front room, and basically they just let us use the back room. The amount of autonomy they gave everybody is still kind of startling. It was pretty incredible.
Ian MacKaye: The first time I actually played Fort Reno, I played bass for Pea Soup. It was kind of a joke band led by this guy Joey Picuri, who went on to be Fugazi’s sound man. In the early ’80s, he had kind of a James Brown kind of band...it was him singing and other rotating band members. It was me on bass, Franz Stahl from Scream on guitar, Kent Stax or Jay “Rummy” [Spiegel, of Half Japanese] on drums, Pete Stahl, and Amy Pickering.
The summer of 1985 is remembered by local punks as Revolution Summer—so named for the scene’s heightened focus on politics and move away from violence.
Natalie Avery, 44, played in Fire Party: The year Fire Party started, Amy Pickering, who was in Fire Party, worked at the NPC. That was in 1985, and I was working at a record store, but I would go to the NPC every day and see her. There were these ransom note things that she and Chris Thompson [of Circus Lupus] would make in the NPC. They would say, “The time is now, it’s Revolution Summer,” and they wouldn’t be fliers for bands. They would be typical 1980s photocopier fliers with letters and pictures cut out. Then they would mail them, and you’d get this letter in the mail that would say “Revolution Summer.”
Post-hardcore juggernaut Fugazi played Fort Reno every year from 1988 to 2003, consistently drawing massive crowds. The scene continued to expand through labels like Dischord and DeSoto while more melodic indie-rock acts found a home on labels like Slumberland, Teenbeat, and Simple Machines. In 1996, Father Dennis created the Northwest Youth Alliance, which in lieu of the Neighborhood Planning Council began organizing the shows.