Waiting for the Fort Reno schedule to be announced is practically a D.C. tradition. So no one raised an eyebrow -- and apparently only one person started a spoof Twitter account -- when the wait seemed to take a little longer than usual this year, running into the last week of June, days before the series has traditionally started.
The announcement posted to the Fort Reno Web site on Thursday wasn't what anyone was expecting, however. In a statement, concert organizer Amanda MacKaye said that after running each summer since 1968, the popular outdoor concert series at Fort Reno, which has served as a showcase for area rock and punk acts including Fugazi, Dismemberment Plan, Ted Leo and countless others, would go dark for 2014.
The reason, MacKaye wrote, was that the National Park Service and the U.S. Park Police asked Fort Reno to pay for a Park Police officer to be posted on site at each concert. That cost, she wrote, would double the budget of the volunteer-run series.
"With the heaviest of hearts," she wrote, "the decision is that the concert series will be dark for 2014 in an effort to resolve this for the future."
Fort Reno's typical budget is between $2,500 and $3,000 a season, much of it payment for the sound engineer, MacKaye said in a phone interview. She said that she received a bill for $2,640 from the Park Police to cover the presence of the officer at the site after the statement was issued.
MacKaye said this year's schedule and list of performers was complete, with the series set to take place over eight concerts July 7-31. She said she had selected such bands as Priests and Title Tracks to perform.
"What I was telling them was that a permit hasn't come in yet," MacKaye said. "I didn't want to alarm them. But out of respect for them, I couldn't leave them in the dark any longer."
Multiple calls to the National Park Service and U.S. Park Police went unanswered. The National Park Service and Park Police issued a statement Thursday evening saying they were "reviewing the details of previous permits and previous law enforcement needs related to the concert series."
"Our primary goal is public safety," the statement read, while offering fans some hope: "Both the NPS and USPP recognize the importance of the concerts to the community and look forward to further discussions with the permit applicant."
By mid-afternoon Thursday, #SaveFortReno had picked up steam on Twitter, and a change.org petition had been created to request that the National Park Service and U.S. Park Police allow the series to continue.
Paul Strauss, one of the District's two elected shadow senators, also rallied to Fort Reno's side, saying he had conversations with National Park Service officials about the plight of the series and that he was hopeful about the results. "In fairness to the Park Service, they have been decimated with revenue cuts and are under a lot of pressure to try and recoup the costs of many of these events," Strauss said. "From their perspective, many of these events are put on by corporate sponsors, so it's appropriate when you have Pepsi-Cola or an athletic company that that money is recouped by taxpayers. But Fort Reno is a public event put on by volunteers in a public park. There are no corporate sponsors."
Strauss knows the series intimately. Working with the Neighborhood Planning Council and Northwest Youth Alliance, he helped run the series from 1985 to the mid '90s. He said the series had used volunteers to patrol the concert area since its beginning.
"Part of the way that the concert series is run -- and it's a beautiful way that it runs -- is that the people who are there are looking out for it," MacKaye added. "If we can get the Park Police to loosen their grip on this public space, there is still time."
As to whether she would consider a crowd-funding effort to cover additional costs for the summer: "My focus is not about the funds," MacKaye said. "It's the insistence that this money [for security] be paid without a clear understanding of 'Why now?'"