[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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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.

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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.

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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