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Fort Reno Concerts Will Happen This Summer

The beloved summer music series will go on after its organizer reached a deal with the National Park Service.

Paint Branch closed out last year's Fort Reno concerts. Photograph by Flickr user Brett Davis.

The annual summer concerts at Fort Reno Park will take place after all, after organizer Amanda MacKaye met with officials from the National Park Service and US Park Police. MacKaye said last week the shows would be canceled after the Park Service insisted the shows cover the cost of posting a Park Police officer at each event, but an agreement was reached at today’s sit-down that will allow MacKaye to stage the concert series this year.

“The shows will go on,” DC “shadow senator” Paul Strauss, who brokered today’s meeting, tells Washingtonian.

Fort Reno concert-goers will still see an increased police presence at this summer’s shows, and MacKaye is still on the hook for covering the expense, but Strauss says the arrangement reached today does not require MacKaye to pay up front, as the Park Service initially asked. MacKaye said last week the Park Service’s request would have more than doubled the concert series’s shoestring budget. MacKaye stages the Fort Reno shows on about $2,500 a summer. Bands perform for free, and crowd management and cleanup are handled by volunteers; the biggest expenses are a sound engineer and portable toilet rentals.

The Park Service and Park Police had also said the need for increased patrols was because their “primary concern is public safety,” but Strauss says Monday’s meeting largely mitigated concerns about any increases in crime around the Tenleytown park.

“There’s a understanding that giving young people something positive to do probably prevents more crime,” he says. “They conceded there’s not a real history of security problems.”

While there will be more cops on duty at Fort Reno when shows begin, Strauss says the policing will not be intrusive.

“I think you’re going to see a transition away from vehicles driving on the lawn to more foot patrols and bike patrols,” he says.

MacKaye, Park Service superintendent Tara Morrison, and Park Police lieutenant Allan Griffith appeared on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show to announce the settlement. Griffith said part of the reason MacKaye is on the hook for police expenses is because officers from the Park Police’s Rock Creek station now get overtime pay for covering Fort Reno shows. It was a change officials saw coming last year, and Griffith and Morrison conceded they should have approached MacKaye sooner.

Strauss says MacKaye will be able to pay for the added police expenses in installments, and that there has been “a lot of goodwill pouring out.” (Don’t worry, scenesters: MacKaye said in her radio appearance that Fort Reno will never be sponsored.)

Besides the apparent support to help MacKaye pay these new costs, the temporary plug-pulling generated a widespread outburst of emotional support. A petition collected more than 1,600 signatures and statements from many DC punk luminaries including James CantyEli Janney, and John Stabb. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland also made inquires to the Park Service asking for a speedy resolution.

This year’s Fort Reno shows are tentatively scheduled to begin next Monday, July 7.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.