During Washington's long and balmy summers, about 20,000 music lovers gather on Friday and Saturday nights on the grass at Fort DuPont Park to eat crabs or cold chicken, drink beer or smoke marijuana and listen to the mellow jazz sounds from such greats at Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and Ramsey Lewis.
But for the Southeast Washington residents who live near the park, many of them older and retired persons for whom tranquility is a quiet visit on the front porch, those same tepid weekend nights mean traffic congestion, loud noise from unruly mobs of youngsters, and a heap of beer bottles and chicken bones scattered across their neatly trimmed lawns.
For persons like 70-year-old John T. Collins, whose house on 32nd Street SE is about 20 yards from the park, the Fort DuPont Summer in the Park program is a neighborhood menance that should be stopped before another note is sounded.
"I think it would be better to do away with [the concerts]," Collins said. "The main problem is the congestion, the disrespect for parking regulations."
Collins said that he has had people parking in his driveway and double-parking on narrow Minnesota Avenue SE, making a simple car trip to the drug store a major, two-hour event.
"Most of us are retired," Collins said. "Most of us own our homes. We don't like to be uprooted every Friday and Saturday night."
Yesterday, D.C. City Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), who represents the ward that extends to the westernmost border of the park, held a press conference to express those community complaints, and asked that the concerts be stopped -- at least in Fort DuPont Park.
Winter said she thinks that the concerts should be moved to some other park, possibly Anacostia Park in Ward 8, east of the Anacostia River.
"I want it out of Ward 6," said Winter, who faces a reelection campaign next year if she wants to keep her seat. "I serve the people who elected me. If I wore a different hat, I might take a different posture."
The complaints of some of the park's neighbors are particularly ironic because the musical events have been considered one of Washington's most successful enterprises in free summer entertainment. The concert series opened in 1974 at the suggestion of community residents who wanted more free entertainment for young people.
The series has attracted big-name acts to its stage, but as the namesk got bigger, so did the crowds and the mess they left behind.
The concerts are sponsored by the National Park Service, which owns the park, with support from the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., since the Park Service ran out of money.
R. J. Reynolds put up $25,000 for the concert series this year when the federal government reduced the Park Service's budget to $40,000 for the series, according to Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.
But Alley said the Park Service's agreement with the company specifically prohibits the firm from either advertising on the park grounds or from handing out free sample cigarettes on the park premises.
"We try to stay away from the commercial aspects of it," Alley said. "We do not support it or endorse it."
However, Winter said she was just as annoyed by the distribution of cigarettes outside the park at curbside during the traffic jams as she was by the noise and the garbage the concert-goers produce. The cigarette distribution, she said, encourages what she called "cancer-causing habits," especially among young people