Arts Desk

Fort Reno Concerts Are Back On


The concert series at Fort Reno Park is back on following a meeting between organizer Amanda MacKaye and officials from the National Park Service and U.S. Park Police today. MacKaye announced that the series was canceled last week, saying that NPS and USPP officials had not explained a request that the concerts pay for a Park Police officer to work at each show. The meeting was brokered by D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, a former Fort Reno organizer, who confirmed the news.

According to Strauss, the parties worked out "a more community-oriented police presence that’s more appropriate to the venue.” Park Police were present for at least some of last year's shows and, according to attendees, patrolled in police vehicles.

Organizers agreed today that they will pay for a police presence at this summer's shows, but will not have to pay up front, as officials initially required. "You'll see foot patrols or bike patrols," Strauss said. "Something less disruptive to the environment.” Strauss said that while not every issue was worked out, “we made enough progress that everyone was comfortable moving forward.” Some of those issues include the hard costs of each night, the number of officers on hand for each show, and the number of hours they'll be present, Strauss said, adding that Park Service Superintendent Tara Morrison recognized that “it’s a unique event.”

MacKaye, Morrison, and Park Police Lt. Allan Griffith appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show immediately after the meeting. Griffith acknowledged on the air that conversations about security should have begun last summer, but that the Park Service was asking the series to comply with broader regulations. Griffith said that one reason for the new requirement is staffing and budget changes at the Park Police's Rock Creek station, whose officers were once able to cover Fort Reno without requiring overtime pay. Now, he said, the Park Police would need to fund that coverage by asking organizers to foot the bill for overtime officers.

MacKaye pulled the plug on the concerts last Thursday, a day after NPS and USPP officials didn't show up at a meeting to discuss the security requirement. (She says she received an invoice for $2,640 that same day from Park Police.) In a statement that evening, Park Police and the Park Service said that their "primary goal is public safety" and that they were looking forward to further discussions with concert organizers. According to MacKaye, the Park Service informed her in early June that in order for the agency to issue a permit, concert organizers would have to pay for security.

This year's series should begin July 7 and run for eight shows. Among the bands that were scheduled to play or had agreed toTitle TracksPriestsAlarms & ControlsGivePuff Pieces, and 17 others.

In the aftermath of the cancellation, a petition on asking the Park Service to allow the concerts to continue as they have in past years garnered more than 1,600 signatures, as well as comments from veteran D.C. musicians like Eli JanneyJames Canty, and Jenny Toomey. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote a letter to the Park Service, as did D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Her letter to Morrison read:

I understand that a permitting issue has caused the organizer of the Fort Reno annual summer concert series to cancel this year’s series. The series has provided free entertainment to hundreds of music lovers and families in the District of Columbia and the region since 1968.

Apparently for the first time the National Park Service (NPS) has required the organizer to pay for a full-time U.S. Park Police officer to be in attendance throughout the concert series in order for her to receive the permit. I appreciate that NPS has now scheduled a meeting with the series organizer, Amanda McKay, on Monday.

Time is of the essence. I urge you to resolve this matter at your Monday meeting.

Update, 3:20 p.m. The Park Service released a statement about today's agreement:

Earlier today representatives from the National Park Service, which includes the United States Park Police, met with Amanda MacKaye and DC Senator Paul Strauss to discuss the concert series at Fort Reno. The parties discussed the concerns for public safety and the best ways to move forward. The permit applicant agreed to pay for the presence of a USPP officer during each concert, and we are working out details about the payment such as due date and allowances for weather cancellations. Through these discussions, we gained valuable feedback about our processes, and we will look for ways to improve. The NPS is pleased that this longstanding community tradition will continue.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery. This post has been updated. Due to a reporting error, the article originally referred to Lt. Allan Griffith as a sergeant.

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  • Dennis

    Any word on banning dorks who bring hookahs to the shows?

  • Dave

    I thought it was a bong! :-)

  • Mister Goat

    Glad to hear this--props to Amanda!

    And no thanks to the Park Police for not showing up to their own meeting, not making these requirements clear in the first place, and only doing the right thing once 1600 people had signed a petition and there were letters from elected officials. Of course, this is the same force known for attacking pedicab drivers a few years back, not to mention taxing and clubbing Occupy demonstrators. So it's pretty much in character.

  • Fred

    What's wrong with only having police present when an incident occurs that requires armed gunmen dressed in blue? I'm sure Ft. Reno concert staff are capable of determining when such an extreme intervention is warranted and calling MPD. By the way, how many police incidents have occurred over the past 20 years during a concert? I'm willing to be its zero or close to that.

  • Curtis Ellor

    Back in the game, baby!!! Thank you to all who spoke up and fought the good fight...never wanted the fish...fried chicken, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!!!

  • Matt B

    Thank you, Amanda MacKaye, for your time, effort, and perseverance. I'm more than happy to have been part of the petition and will be keeping an eye on this issue going forward.

  • Mr. Tudball

    Fine, I'll be the one dissenter.

    Once upon a time, Ft. Reno used to be a fun place to go in the summer, with different types of bands, ranging from hipster/indie/twee to hardcore, to acoustic stuff, to regular old rock, blues, etc. It was varied. But in the last several seasons, it seems like Ft. Reno exclusively targets the Whole Foods-shoppin', vegetarian-bein', we-named-our-baby-Talullah-havin', uber PC-bein', utter-definition-of-a-hipster-while-still-trying-to-pass-themselves-off-as-punk-bein', trust-fund-kids-who-look-disheveled-fakin', 20/20-eyesight-havin'-but-horn-rim-glasses wearin', bands and DC folk. If you are not within those parameters, your band has no chance of playing there and you might even get dirty looks if you show up just to watch. In the very rare event that a genuine punk (or otherwise aggressive sounding) band does play there, it's one that has somehow made their way into the good graces of the Dischord/Positive Force/Only-white-lights-on-at-shows-please crowd.

    I'm all for Ft. Reno continuing on. I just wish the folks running the show were more open minded to who they book and who they welcome (oh, they'll tell you they welcome EVERYONE, but you'll never see that in practice)and that it wasn't so obvious that they only want to cater to a very narrow and specific "scene." (and btw, in closing, I've played at Ft Reno three times in three different bands over the years, so save the "sour grapes because your band was turned down" comments. Ben there, done that... And it's entirely possible to have taken part in the activities while still recognizing it's a very exclusionary and tight-assed situation.)

  • Northwesterneer

    Amanda Mackaye screwed this up big time. Everyone should note that she pulled the plug on Fort Reno without a kickstarter plan or any fundraising plan that a normal person would do. Then she went into the negotiation with the NPS police and they police won on every single negotiating point- she will be paying them for the protection.

    I will repeat this:
    1. Amanda canceled OUR Fort Reno because she didn't want to pay the police- guess what Amanda, it's not yours to cancel!
    2. She met with the police and caved on everything she claimed was non-negotiable

    It's time to let the younger generation run Fort Reno and it's time for Amanda to step down.

  • Fred

    Hey, Northwesterneer wouldn't immediately paying NPS for cops via kickstarter donations constitute a 100% 'cave'? At least Amanda tried. And where did she say her position was non-negotiable?

  • Michael

    Thanks for your hard work Amanda!!!

  • Tbonebullets

    It eludes me completely how the prospect of taking collections/donations to pay for a free community concert might fall under the definition ("punk rock" or not) of "selling out." Or how cooperating with authorities to provide security to cover for the possibility (remote or not) of an unfortunate accident might be considered "selling out." Rather, it would seem to me, at least, as the mature, wise, I dunno -- intelligent -- thing to do.

  • Jim

    I agree that it's time for Amanda to step down from her self-anointed role as the sole event organizer. This isn't her event, and there are countless other folks out there who would and easily could do a MUCH better job at organizing this event. We desperately need some new blood here.

  • Paolo

    First of all, I'd like to thank Amanda MacKaye for what she is doing and has done for many a year. Despite the crap that people have been flinging at her on this and other comment sections, her efforts are truly appreciated by many.

    I see several comments here complaining about Ms. MacKaye, calling her "self-anointed", saying she "screwed this up big time", saying she "canceled OUR Fort Reno", and on and on and on...

    Northwesterner - what makes is your Fort Reno? What exactly is your level of involvement in organizing events? Also, I personally have never conducted a Kickstarter campaign - how long does it take to raise a few thousand bucks? The PP didn't give her much notice, and they raised a new requirement that had not previously existed. That is not to say it's right or wrong, but that it should be explained. The fact that the PP didn't show up at their own meeting is not a very persuasive explanation.

    Northwesterner (again) - "she didn't want to pay the police- guess what Amanda, it's not yours to cancel!". Are you suggesting that the bills ARE hers to pay?

    Mr. Turdball - while you are obviously quite eloquent in your description of a type of person you find distasteful, it is absurd to say that everyone at Fort Reno fits that description. Take off your blinders.

    Mr. Turdball (again) - there is a lot of USPS land in DC. Have you considered starting a concert series of your own? You could get a permit, you could audition tapes, organize logistics, pay a sound (wo)man, pay the USPS for police presence, and select the bands that you want to hear. In return, you could read comments sections like this one where people whine about what a crappy job you are doing. Sound good?

  • Northwesterneer

    Paolo, let me make this very clear- Under Father George and other Ft Reno organizers, there were a group of multiple people who would book the shows and they worked out of an office at Belt and Fessenden.

    It's not appropriate to have a Committee of One do this. It should be a group of people so that it reflects the community and changes/evolves over time.

    What if Father George demanded that he pick all the bands?

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  • Mr. Tudball

    Jim and Northwesterneer - I couldn't agree more with your comments. Part of the problem (IMO) with Ft Reno is Amanda MacKaye, in so much as that's why everyone who is *allowed* to play there now has to fit in that narrow area of bands/music she personally likes/approves of or bands that may not be to her personal taste, but has the right "in" and with someone who has an "in" with her. That's why there's such a bland, predictable, and frankly, boring line-up each of the past several summers and why it's pushed as more of a wholesome, pussified, daycare-with-live-music hipster outing now. It's because that's what a lot of people think and do when they're 30+ or 40+. I agree 1000% that it's time for new blood to run the series.

    Paolo- As for you, I laughed when you asked Northwesterneer what he thinks makes it *his* Ft. Reno? He never said it was HIS Ft. Reno.. he stressed that it's OURS... as in a long standing event in the DC area that has historically been INclusive to different bands and different people/tastes... and Amanda MacKaye's tenure has turned the whole thing into an EXclusive thing, with her own taste/vision/politics as criteria that must be met.

    You should work on your reading comprehension a bit.

    As for your comments to me, well, let me put it this way. The next time you complain to anyone, anywhere about a U.S. political policy or maybe something you just don't like about DC (because I'm sure *you've never, ever done either one of those things*), why don't you form your own new country or city?

  • Fred

    To all the people bitching, who don't like how the concert series is run or curated, I have a serious suggestion: start your own concert series in another park! Seriously, I'm not saying that in a snotty way. I'm sure many would love to check it out. Pick a park, form a planning committee, apply for the proper permits, get price quotes from a sound guy w/ a decent system and a porta potty supplier, make a budget, fund it, recruit bands and do it! I bet if you asked Amanda Mackaye for suggestions/hints she'd give you advice. Northwesterner, and other critics: just as it is "OUR" Fort Reno it's also "OUR" city that's here for all to make use of it! See:

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