There Will Be No Concerts at Fort Reno in 2014 (!?!) (Updated)
Fort Reno will not host a concert series this summer due to a new National Park Service demand that the organizers hire a U.S. Park Police officer for each show. According to a post from Amanda MacKaye on Fort Reno's website, the venue's permit was stalled, and NPS "cited differing reasons as to why this had come up after all these years. The reasons felt vague and when asked for specifics, none were given," she writes.
"So as it stands today, not only does the concert series not have the funds to cover this cost at the last minute but we don’t feel we should have to do this without just cause," writes MacKaye. "...It will literally double the VERY small budget of the concert series." And so Fort Reno will remain dark—and a lot quieter—this summer.
In a phone interview, MacKaye says the long-running free concert series was supposed to received its final permit at the beginning of June, but was instead told by the Park Service that the Park Police would require an officer to be present at performances, and that without compliance the agency could not issue a permit. The cost, according to MacKaye, is $55 an hour at a minimum of five hours per event—which would have come to about $2,600 for the summer. At present, the series has a budget of about $2,500, which covers the sound engineer and portable toilets. Everything else, including the band's time, is donated. Besides the cost, MacKaye says she objects to the timing of the request from officials. Fort Reno concerts typically begin in mid-summer.
MacKaye says she did have phone conversations with representatives from the Park Service and Park Police. A meeting was scheduled for yesterday, MacKaye says, that was supposed to include representatives of the Park Police and the Park Service as well as the Park Service ranger assigned to Fort Reno. MacKaye writes in her letter: "The meeting happened but none of the invitees attended except myself and one extremely kind NPS employee who works in the office where meetings are held but despite being familiar with the park and the concert series as being an annual event, knew nothing about why the permit was being stalled."
Spokeswomen for the Park Police and the Park Service both declined to comment immediately, but say they'll get back to Arts Desk.
MacKaye says she wants to have a conversation with officials about why the requirement is being insisted on now. Because the money for Park Police officers has to be paid up front, MacKaye says she wants to work out details like what would happen if the a show is rained out and rescheduled. "It's not as simple as, 'pay this money'," she says.
MacKaye says she was given two explanations for the requirement being imposed: She says NPS told her that all events for more than 100 people are required to have officers assigned. And she says Park Police told her that that there has been "heightened crime" in Fort Reno Park during the concert series. "I dispute that, because I’m there and I don’t see that going on,” she says.
MacKaye says that after yesterday's failed meeting, she informed the Park Service that "we would not be able to have the concert series and to let them know this would have a great impact on the community," from which she told officials they'd probably be hearing. She says the bands who were scheduled to perform are obviously upset, and that some are talking about organizing a petition or other response.
As for a potential fundraising campaign, MacKaye says raising the necessary funds from supporters probably wouldn't be an issue, but she's still thinking about whether Fort Reno should have to comply with the Park Service demand at all. “That’s a deeper moral question for me,” she says. For many reasons, she says, Fort Reno's concerts are unique. There are no sponsors, for starters. "All you’re getting is the music. It’s just bands in a park, that’s all it is...and those bands are committed to supporting a venue that is free of all trappings other than their music, and open to all people all the time," she says. "It’s for everyone. And there’s nothing else like it."
Update, 6:36 p.m. The Park Service has issued a statement, saying it looks forward to further discussions with Fort Reno organizers. And here is a list of the bands that likely would've played this summer.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery. This post has been updated.