[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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Eric Axelson, 40, played in The Dismemberment Plan, Statehood: I think it was Ryan Kidwell [of Baltimore electronica/hip-hop act Cex] and a couple of his friends that came down from Baltimore—people would come to Plan shows and make it their own.

Arbury: One was in a 9-foot-tall Pikachu outfit, and one was in a 9-foot-tall box with a hole for his face. There was a sign on it that said, “Box of Pubes.” I don’t know what seized them, but it had been part of a Conan O’Brien sketch the week before.

Every year since 2003, beginning with what was meant to be The Dismemberment Plan’s final U.S. show, one Fort Reno show each summer has been designated “Night of 1000 Cakes”

Tina Plottel, 39, played in Claudine, Torches: Jason Hutto, who was in The Aquarium, he was playing the show that was supposed to be the last Dismemberment Plan show. Jason and I were in his truck, and I said, “You’re playing Fort Reno with The Plan on your 30th birthday...we should do something.” He said, “I would love it if everyone at Fort Reno could have a piece of cake.” So, I sent an email to a bunch of people we knew with the subject line, “Night of 1000 Cakes.”

Miller: It started pouring rain for over an hour, really heavy rain, but we didn’t want to miss it. There were a good number of people that stuck around.


Plottel: Bob Massey [of Telegraph Melts, The Out Circuit, The Gena Rowlands Band] was still living here, and he and I had this ginormous box of cupcakes. We were giving them out saying, “It’s Jason Hutto’s birthday, have a cupcake.” We gave a cupcake to this one girl, and five minutes later she came back and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but are there drugs in these cupcakes?” We burst out laughing, “No, there are no drugs in these cupcakes.”

Axelson: We got off maybe eight songs and fucked up some gear. The Aquarium was playing at that show, and there was a massive crowd with lots of umbrellas. There was lightning, and it was not a safe thing for us to be doing.

In 2010, founder and continual supporter of Fort Reno Father George Dennis died at a retirement home for Jesuits in San Francisco.

Henry Rollins, 50, played in Black Flag, Rollins Band: I believe I have been four times total. Three were Evens shows and one Partyline show....To my knowledge, I don’t know of any gatherings like this. I think it’s a great idea. Free shows where you can walk around, the kids can play, it’s a cool scene.

Patrick Kigongo, 29, plays with Ra Ra Rasputin: Last summer when The Evens played, Henry Rollins was there. When I was 14, I was at JFK Airport with my parents and I saw him with his black suit bag and I was absolutely terrified of him. I had only known him as the police officer in The Chase with Charlie Sheen—that was before my friend gave me a copy of [Black Flag’s] Damaged. Fast-forward 14 years later, I finally got to say, “Hey, I met you at the airport; what’s up man, I love your work.”

Leo: There are tons of places in New York where people try to do similar things that are more community-focused and feature local bands. I think one of the big differences is that everything around here, in order to have it happen, it has to be sponsored out the wazoo. It’s so hard to do anything Fort Reno is trying to do without a giant Budweiser sponsorship.

Mike Kanin, 34, booked Fort Reno in the late ’90s, played in The Better Automatic, The No-Gos, Trooper, Black Eyes: The first time that I spent time with the woman who’s now my wife, we walked from a house I was living at in Tenleytown to Fort Reno. I don’t know why we were there, but we ended up sitting on the stage. I think it played a subconscious role in our relationship.

Amanda MacKaye: I do ask people to tell me the ages of their band members when they submit, and I do have a particular interest in getting people under the age of 18 on stage. They don’t have that many opportunities, and they don’t have the same information that I did when I was a kid. They don’t know they can have shows in their houses. I feel like if these kids got a band together, they should get a chance to play.

Ray Brown, 13, plays in The Black Sparks: Before Fort Reno [in 2010], we were just advertised as a kid band...like it was a family-friendly kid thing. Here we were treated as a real band. We weren’t a gimmick.

Pat Walsh, 25, books shows for Positive Force: In 2009, I went for the first time. That was like a turning point of me getting into D.C. and feeling like D.C. was home....I love that it’s families and high-schoolers and 20-something hipsters all hanging out together eating salads from Whole Foods.

Avery: When I think of the ’80s, it was like a teenage wasteland. That’s my memory of it. When I think of it now, I think of, like, shining happy people.

Ian MacKaye: In many ways, you might say it’s defanged. It’s less snaggly, which I think is fine. What’s revolutionary is it’s a point of gathering and it doesn’t make a difference who’s playing. By and large, people just come out for music. That kind of gathering is sorely needed.

Cohen: Over the course of, well, for me it was 15- or 20-year span, I just don’t remember it changing. Like, wow, there’s that little stage and that field, and there’s a tower. The rest of D.C. changed very radically. A lot of the landmarks of my youth are gone. The city became a lot more gentrified and lost a lot of its rougher charms, but Fort Reno felt eternal—not because of its grandeur, but because it was a nice hang.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, the article incorrectly described Carleton Ingram as having booked Fort Reno from 1995-2003. He volunteered for the concert series during that entire period, but only booked it from 1996-1999.

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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