[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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Jem Cohen, 48, filmmaker, directed Fugazi documentary Instrument: The music scene in D.C., it was the air that we breathed. It wasn’t a hobby amongst millions of other hobbies, it was crucial. When a band played Reno, it was like you heard the dinner bell and kind of got your place at the table.

Travis Morrison, 38, played in the The Dismemberment Plan and Travis Morrison Hellfighters: My first Fort Reno show was Fugazi in the summer of ’91. I remember going with my punk-rock Mormon friend who had not quite left for mission.

Natasha Stovall, 40, booked Fort Reno in the early ’90s: George was right in there, engaging kids...On the surface, that’s an affluent community, and you wouldn’t assume there are kids in need there, but the truth is....even in affluence there are children in pain and children in need. In terms of community outreach, it was a great place to reach kids.

Carleton Ingram, 38, booked Fort Reno 1996-1999, played in The Better Automatic: Chris Norborg from Chisel was booking in ’95; he got really busy with Chisel and asked me to take over. I was the last person who worked closely with Father George Dennis.

David Arbury, 38, ran the first unofficial Fort Reno website, played in The Better Automatic: Since I was doing mid-’90s webmaster work for [local label] Resin Records, which was really just basic HTML, I just threw up the Fort Reno schedule on there. In no time it became the page with the most hits.

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Ingram: We tried to diversify the series, so we had a ska band play. I can’t think of the band’s name, but there were a bunch of fist fights at the show that rolled into the streets and onto the Metro. The MPD asked not to have that kind of band again.

Stovall: Bratmobile played their first D.C. show at Fort Reno, as part of the whole Riot Grrrl revolution. I think I must’ve tried to get Bikini Kill to play there….I booked Gwar, but they weren’t Gwar, they were Rawg because they played without costumes.

Hugh McElroy, 33, played with AKA Harlot #1, Black Eyes, Horses, The No-Gos, Hand Fed Babies; plays in Cephalopods: From like ’96 to like the last couple years, the attendance fluctuated greatly because of the bands, and in particular some of the shows were pretty poorly attended if there wasn’t a big band. It’s kind of nice that there’s just this built-in audience now that just shows up.

Ted Leo, 40, played in Chisel; plays solo and with The Pharmacists: When I saw Unrest there, there were not a lot of people there to see Unrest. In retrospect, they might seem like a big deal, but at the time, there weren’t many people there.

Morrison: There were the Fugazi shows where they were playing under terrifying electrical storms. I remember one where the storm was behind them, and huge webs of lightning would extend across the sky. Everyone would run, and then they’d be like “Oh, they’re playing ‘Repeater,’” and everyone would run back.

Jeff Miller, 32, policy analyst at the Government Accountability Office: It had been looming the whole show, but it hadn’t really rained. Fugazi was near the end of their set, and they were playing one of the songs on The Argument. In the middle of the song, there was a stop, and a lightning bolt shot down in the middle of the stage, framed perfectly. Everyone was like, “Whoa,” and Fugazi kept playing.

Arbury: The Fugazi show—I see it get mentioned as “that Fugazi show at Fort Reno” on the Internet—I think it was 2000. They played this show where a storm came in, and it was sporadically raining. It looked like the show was going to get rained out. The power went out so there was a delay, and the storm was coming in....The power came back on, but the storm was clearly coming. Well, back in ’91 or ’92, they said they wouldn’t play “Waiting Room” at a show again, and they hadn’t up until this point. So, they said they were going to play whatever they could before the storm, and then they started playing “Waiting Room.” Black clouds were rolling in over this sunset, the lightning was flashing, and you could see the storm was violent—all of this over the best Fugazi set I’ve ever heard. They only played three songs, and at the end of the third song, it opened up and started pouring on us.

Morrison: One of the cool things about it is it doesn’t have that aggressive, “This is a show I’ve paid money to see” pressure. Oh, it’s raining? Let’s go to Guapo’s and get a margarita.

Arbury: [The Dismemberment Plan] did a Fort Reno show in ’99, and two guys showed up in 9-foot-tall costumes.

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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