Arts Desk

Fort Reno’s Oral History: Go-go Ban(ds)

For this week's issue, I reported a lengthy oral history of the annual concert series at Fort Reno in Tenleytown. This summer's shows conclude tonight with sets from The Evens and Laughing Man.

For years, Fort Reno regulars have circulated rumors of a ban against go-go (and even hip-hop) at Fort Reno. Certainly, no one seems to recall seeing a go-go band play there. Some believe officials feared go-go bands would bring violent crowds to the park, much like the violent crowds that attended early hardcore shows. A few interviewees weighed in on the subject.

Carleton Ingram, 38, booked Fort Reno 1996-1999, played in The Better Automatic: That ban happened before we took over, or that was the rumor. I didn’t know any go-go bands, but we would’ve given anybody a shot. That’s always the stuff that was more rumor than reality. We had one ska band that was an issue...but even the one problem we had only started there and rolled into the Metro. In the eight years we booked, we only had one problem.

Mike Kanin, 34, booked Fort Reno in the late ’90s, played in The Better Automatic, The No-Gos, Trooper, Black Eyes: I remember when we were booking, we weren’t allowed to book go-go bands. There were legitimate concerns about violence from the cops.

Amanda MacKaye, 41, books Fort Reno, played in The Routineers, Desiderata: [A go-go ban has] always been something that's been heard, but I can't find any paper documentation of it. I'm certainly not opposed to booking go-go. I started testing the water by putting Head-Roc and different hip-hop groups on bills to see if anyone would say anything. I certainly have had my own collection of go-go music to be played between bands. The best I can tell is it was a rumor that got cemented as to what it was, but I have not found any evidence of it. There’s certainly nothing in the permit about that. I mean, you can't do anything inflammatory, like you can't yell fire in a crowded room.

To that end, I will say that I don't get any requests from go-go bands. It’s entirely possible that it's not their scene. Only the sound guy gets paid, and many bands after the fact set up shows and donate the money to Fort Reno. Not everybody who's in a professional band can afford to play for free.

Natasha Stovall, 40, booked Fort Reno in the early ’90s: When I was there, I really wanted to have a go-go show. I wanted to book something like the legendary funk/punk show when Minor Threat played with Trouble Funk. I was definitely interested in having more black bands, but the issue that came up was money. Go-go bands are professional bands, and there are a lot of people in that band. They don’t play for free.

I had this dream of booking Fugazi and this go-go band, I think it was Trouble Funk—it was either Rare Essence or Trouble Funk. I managed to get in touch with their manager...We had a budget then, and I think I had like $500. I could’ve paid them. Then the idea was like we couldn’t pay more than $500, so I said "Look, Ian, I’ll give them $500, and you can play for free since you’re already playing for free." He said, “Why would we play for free if they’re not playing for free?” I mean, it was Fugazi’s home turf.

Ian MacKaye, 49, played in Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi; plays in The Evens: Starting around 1989, Fugazi never took money for local shows and in fact paid for the P.A. and other production costs for a number of the free outdoor gigs (including augmenting the sound at fort reno shows). We definitely were not inclined to pay other bands to open for us.

Paul Strauss, 47, D.C. shadow senator and former chair of the Neighborhood Planning Council: I don't think [there were any conflicts with go-go bands]. If anything, if there was a complaint it was that we were pretty open. Bands that wanted to get booked could get booked. If there was a neighborhood garage band, they could get booked. I don't remember having a policy against booking anyone. If anything, I asked myself from time to time, "Who let these guys on stage?"

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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