Fort Reno Concert Series Back On!

photo courtesy of Valerie Hinojosa

photo courtesy of Valerie Hinojosa

After nearly half a century, the annual summer Fort Reno Concert Series was in jeopardy when the National Park Service (NPS), which maintains the park venue and issues event permits, added a requirement that the organizers provide for a U.S. Park Police presence at the weekly concerts. On June 26, co-coordinator Amanda MacKaye wrote in a statement on the event’s website that providing police would effectively double the cost to put on the free concerts. Produced on a shoe-string budget, this price tag proved prohibitive, leading MacKaye to announce the cancellation of the 2014 concert series.

The cancellation and the NPS requirements produced an outcry from District residents, one of whom launched a petition on, as well as local leaders including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC Shadow Senator Paul Strauss. Strauss, who formerly chaired the Neighborhood Planning Council that previously organized the Fort Reno Concert Series, facilitated a meeting between MacKaye and the National Park Service and Park Police earlier today.

Appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 this afternoon, Tara Morrison, Superintendent of Rock Creek Park, said they had a “good and constructive conversation” with the end result being that the concert series would move forward. MacKaye, appearing on the same show, confirmed that the series was back on.

Morrison acknowledged that discussions with MacKaye and other organizers should have begun last year and that the requirements for venue security should be articulated more clearly on permit applications. When asked why this new stipulation was applied this year, U.S. Park Police Lieutenant Allan Griffith responded that in the past the park police had been able to provide security without requiring overtime or additional costs, but now they do not have the financial or personnel resources to be able to provide dedicated attention to the events. For her part, MacKaye said she didn’t know why there was a need for a posted police presence as it had not been a requirement during her tenure previously.

Although NPS and MacKaye are working out a payment plan for the cost of park police, as well as a contingency plan for event cancellations due to weather, the Fort Reno Concert Series budget will take a significant hit. Previously, the concerts, which are offered free of charge, only incurred costs for a sound engineer, portable toilets, and minor supplies for bands. The bands, organizers, and volunteers received no compensation.

Begun in 1968 as part of a District-wide effort to rebuild community following the riots that rocked the city, the Fort Reno Concert Series initially received funding from the federal and local governments. Federal funding continued until the late ‘80s, and local funding dried up in the early ‘90s. The series continued with support from individual donations.

In an age of corporate sponsorships, the Fort Reno concerts remain untethered to business interests and able to showcase new, young artists as well as prominent local bands. Responding to a question from Kojo Nnamdi about whether the increased costs would change the nature of the event, MacKaye responded simply, “Never.”

It is still not clear, however, how the new costs will be covered. Given the outcry from fans of the Fort Reno Concert Series, one can imagine that current donors and others will step up to contribute. Perhaps the concert series might also qualify for grant funding from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) that include or abut Fort Reno Park.

According to the Washington City Paper, the 2014 Fort Reno Concert Series will begin on July 7 and run for eight shows.