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.
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.