What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
The future of the long-running concert series at Washington, D.C.’s Fort Reno is in doubt. Organizers recently announced that new policies at the National Park Service and Park Police, which are responsible for the park at Fort Reno, would make it impossible for concerts to take place this summer. Kojo chats with Fort Reno’s organizer, Amanda MacKaye, about the future of the concerts – which have been a fixture since the 1960s and featured everyone from Fugazi to the Nighthawks.
- Tara Morrison Superintendent, Rock Creek Park; National Park Service
- Allan Griffith Lieutenant, U.S. Park Police
- Amanda MacKaye Organizer, Fort Reno Summer Concert Series (Washington, D.C.)
Video: Fort Reno Concert Series to Continue
Amanda MacKaye told Kojo Nnamdi on his radio show Monday that the Fort Reno Concert Series would continue, a victory for supporters of the decades-long event who feared it would be canceled because of new National Park Service policies.
“We were able to find some middle ground to meed their needs and find out who we are and how we can best work together,” she said of her meeting earlier that morning with the National Park Service and Park Police.
Watch the discussion below.
U.S. Park Police:”There Needs To Be A Dialogue”
U.S. Park Police Lieutenant Allan Griffith said “there needs to be a dialogue” between community event planners and the National Park Service.
“It can’t just be turning in a permit and being issued some bureaucratic response,” he said Monday on the Kojo Nnamdi show.
He said a discussion earlier that morning with Fort Reno Summer Concert Series founder Amanda MacKaye helped both parties better understand the issues and how to work through them.
Watch Griffith’s discussion below.
Watch Full Video
Watch Kojo’s full discussion in the studio with Amanda MacKaye, Tara Morrison and Allan Griffith.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a checkup on the health of the D.C. area's musical ecosystem. But first, the future of one of the District's longest running musical traditions. For decades, music lovers of all ages have flocked to Tenleytown in upper Northwest D.C. for the free summer concerts at Fort Reno. It's a stage where D.C. area legends like Fugazi and the Dismemberment Plan have shared audiences with lesser known, up and coming local acts, even high school bands.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA place where an audience on any given night may have included teenagers sitting on a picnic blanket with their parents. Eating ice cream from a Good Humor truck that's been reliably posted up on Chesapeake Street year after year. But, last week, D.C.'s musical community gasped when it learned that this summer's concerts at Fort Reno may be canceled altogether. Because of complications between the organizer of the series and the entities responsible for the park, The National Parks Service and the US Park Police.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe two sides met this morning to work out their misunderstandings. And we're now joined by two of the individuals who participated in that meeting to chat about the future of music at Fort Reno, both this summer and beyond. Joining us in studio is Tara Morrison, superintendent of Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., which is managed by the National Parks Service. Tara Morrison, thank you for joining us.
MS. TARA MORRISONThank you for having us.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with me is Allan Griffith. He is a lieutenant with the United States Park Police. He is also in studio. Thank you for joining us.
MR. ALLAN GRIFFITHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call. 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question there. We await the arrival of Amanda MacKaye, who organizes the summer concert series at Fort Reno in Washington. I expect she will be joining us shortly in studio, but Tara Morrison, you can tell me what proceeded at the meeting that was held this morning.
MORRISONYes. We actually had a very good and constructive conversation and what I'd like to say is that I think it was a delayed conversation. This is something I think we all realize we should have scheduled, maybe last summer, after the events from last year. This is a long standing tradition in the city, and we understand that it's something that we want to have continue. But there is a need for Park Police presence during the event and we didn't communicate that in a timely manner and in a formal manner to Ms. MacKaye.
MORRISONSo when she learned of this requirement in a formal manner just a few months ago, it was a shock to her and her budget. But through our conversation this morning, we were able to talk through that a little bit more, why this was required and how we wanted to ensure that all visitors to the concert series understood that this was for public safety. And something that we're doing across the board and we were able to talk with Ms. MacKaye about not only having a vehicular presence, but incorporating foot patrols, bike patrols, possibly scooters.
MORRISONAnd also having, and Lt. Griffith can speak to this as well, but having the event organizer and park police work more closely together so that there is a relationship built. And that the community feels more comfortable and understands why this presence is there. So, we were able, and Senator Strauss was helpful in facilitating the meeting and he was present there as well.
MORRISONWe were able to work through and have a, you know, a few things to work out in terms of how the payments will be processed, but Ms. MacKaye has agreed that the issues have been resolved and we'll be able to move forward, which was a great thing for all of us, because we really do want to see it continue.
NNAMDIYou mentioned Senator Strauss. For people who may not be familiar with him, Senator Paul Strauss is what is known as a Statehood Senator in the District of Columbia, elected to push for voting rights and maybe statehood in the District of Columbia. He was one of the early participants and organizers in this concert series and he stepped in to facilitate the meeting between Amanda MacKaye and representatives of the National Parks Service and US Park Police. Lt. Griffith, was there a need, in the past, for this kind of security, or is this a need that is arising now, and if so, why?
GRIFFITHWell, a more accurate way of framing it would be with our methods of staffing, and some of our previous schedulings, we had, within the staff of the Rock Creek station, the ability to affect this type of coverage, to ensure the safety of the event without implementing any type of overtime or extra cost. We're now looking at different scheduling levels, different staffing levels. We simply don't have the manpower, as it exists currently, to provide the completely focused attention to this one event. And so we were constrained to avail ourselves of the process of incorporating an officer on overtime.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about the future of Fort Reno in a way with the individuals who met this morning to try to resolve the difficulty, the controversy, the misunderstanding that arose. And joining us now in studio is Amanda MacKaye who organizes the summer concert series at Fort Reno in Washington, D.C. Welcome. Thank you for joining us. Good to see you.
MS. AMANDA MACKAYEThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou also can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org where you can watch a live video stream of the conversation and ask a question or make a comment there. Or simply send email to email@example.com. Do you regularly attend the summer concerts at Fort Reno? What brings you there? 800-433-8850. Amanda MacKaye, can you tell us about how this misunderstanding originated and what your takeaway is from the meeting this morning?
MACKAYEMy takeaway is that, as I had hoped, I was able to meet with folks from two organizations that are, have both countless times said that they were not interested in the concerts having to end. And we were able to find some middle ground to meet their needs and then to find out who we are and how we can best work together. The situation arose through a confluence of life, basically. We had expected to receive our permit. And when it did not arrive, checked in and was told that there was gonna be a need for posted police presence.
NNAMDIWas there such a need in the past?
MACKAYEIn my opinion, no.
NNAMDIWas there ever a posted police presence in the past?
MACKAYENot in my time as being the person who's dealt with all the paperwork.
MACKAYEI can't speak to the last 40 years. I'm not old enough. But I think that it's fair to say that everyone is a busy person, and we did the best we could to communicate in the time that we had. And we're back on track.
NNAMDIYou are back on track. How was this process handled in previous summers? Why was this summer different?
MACKAYEI actually don't know why this summer was different. You know, it's always been a very simple, easy process. We apply for our application. I have some welcome back to the summer sort of emails with our ranger. It's very easy to communicate, and then we get our permit and we go on. There was just some extra questions this year that they didn't come across in a timely enough manner, I suppose, is the way to put it.
NNAMDIAs anyone who's gone to Fort Reno in the past knows, it's a free concert series, where does the budget come from to pay for things like permits and engineering?
MACKAYEIt comes from, oftentimes, the people who are actually playing the shows. They're playing for free. They're donating their time. But they're also donating money to make sure that it goes on for future generations. It's coming from the folks who are sitting in the grass watching. It's also coming from folks who used to do it and now live far away, but love that it exists because it is a totally unique experience to this area. They can't find it in other areas they're moving to and they wish that there was something like the concert series still going on for them to attend, and they want to make sure it's still going.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about the future of the concert series at Fort Reno. We're talking with Tara Morrison, superintendent of Rock Creek Park in Washington, which is managed by the National Parks Service. Allan Griffith is a lieutenant with the United States Park Police, and Amanda MacKaye organizes the summer concert series at Fort Reno here in Washington. I want to go to the phones and we will start here with Sherry in Northeast Washington. Please all put on your headphones so you can hear Sherry when she speaks. Sherry, you can now speak. You're on the air. Go ahead please.
SHERRYGood afternoon, Kojo. This is Sherry Brown. I'm one of the brothers who used to organize the Malcolm X Day celebrations in Anacostia Park Southeast.
NNAMDII know you, Sherry.
SHERRYFrom 1972 until 1995, and we had to stop holding the Malcolm X Day celebrations because of very similar issues. In fact, we lobbied the District government to try to get a park that the city could control, because we could no longer pay the fees. And that the park service and the park police were imposing on us. Which is why we had to stop holding the Malcolm X Day celebration, so I'm in sympathy with the folks from Fort Reno, cause it caused us to have to stop holding our celebration. Which, you know, which is very much needed.
SHERRYYou know, I would like to see the District government control some of the parks in the city so we don't have to deal with the park police and the park service and their bureaucracy. 'Cause we, yeah, we found it impossible. Because they just kept -- every year the bills got higher and higher, and we got to the point that we could no longer afford to hold the celebration because of that.
NNAMDIOkay, Sherry, thank you very much for your call. Tara Morrison, is this a communications issue, as Sherry seems to suggest it is, or is it a budgetary issue?
MORRISONWell, I think part of what we discovered in our meeting this morning with Ms. MacKaye is that it, in large part, it is a communication issue and some of the great feedback that she gave us was -- and the permit applications that are available to individuals interested in holding events on park land -- it wasn't very clear. And that information, you know, and even, that information needing to be, maybe more explicit in what is required and what the process is for a person having an event.
MORRISONWe understand this -- it is a financial issue for some, but I think what our responsibility is, is to make sure that the information is readily available so that everyone understands the process and the requirements and the procedures in a timely manner. And that we have time to work with and through the issues, and one the things that we acknowledged this morning is that we should have started this conversation last summer, so that an entity such as…
NNAMDIWhich people would raise the question, why was it not started last summer? The perception is that the National Parks Service took this event so lightly that until Senator Paul Strauss stepped in, it was difficult for Amanda MacKaye to even get the attention of the appropriate officials at the Parks Service. Could you explain why that is? What is there in the procedure that makes it seem to organizers of Washington D.C. local events as if the National Parks Service is this huge behemoth and we are this very tiny creature to whom attention should not be paid until the very last minute?
MORRISONI think it's -- I think it really was just the timing issue. So, as soon as we recognized this was an issue, we were in the process of reaching out to Ms. MacKaye ourselves and I got contacted by Senator Strauss, who agreed to facilitate the meeting. So, as soon as we were aware -- and I think it really goes back to last summer. That was the time to begin the conversation. The conversation became more formal and Lt. Griffith actually participated. So, I will defer to him and Ms. MacKaye, but it was really just in the last couple of months that this started to all get fleshed out and the timing of everything, needing to expedite it.
MORRISONBut as soon as it evolved, we quickly came to the table. I mean, this was just in the last three days that we all agreed to come to the table and have this conversation. And, fortunately, with sitting around the table face to face, we were able to work through the issues and resolve it.
NNAMDILieutenant Griffith, we heard from Sherry Brown earlier, is there a way that local organizers in Washington can facilitate communications with the U.S. Park Police so they can be assured that when they are trying to host events, that there is some direct communication that they have before the last minute arrives?
GRIFFITHWell, I think rather than separating the communication between the Park Police and the National Park Service, viewing them as separate entities, it should be understood that we are actually a common entity. United States Park Police falls under the purview of the National Park Service. And I think what this has brought to light is that there needs to be some standardization, yes, of how our permitting process is presented to those who are seeking permits.
GRIFFITHBut additionally, it needs to be explained that -- and this is to the permit -- individual seeking permits -- each event has different constraints. Something that's going on in Anacostia Park, given its geography and some of the constraints that they may face there are different from some of the things we face at Fort Reno. What's important for the permit seekers to understand is that we're trying to provide public safety essentially on two fronts.
GRIFFITHOne for appropriate and timely response during the event, when there are a number of people present, so that we can avoid any kind of serious issues arising. But also we have a responsibility in terms of enforcement. Our challenges may be somewhat different from those experienced by the gentleman in Anacostia Park, but there needs to be a dialogue between those seeking the permits and we the issuers to try and explore some of those challenges.
GRIFFITHAnd I think what was a great take-away for me personally in speaking with Ms. MacKaye today is that we're beginning to understand some of her concerns which led to a hesitancy on her part to just blindly pay the fee. Conversely, we need to understand that we have an obligation to try and be consistent with the expectations of her patronage. And so, this is a dialogue that must exist. It can't just be mailing in or turning in your permit and being issued some bureaucratic response. It's very fluid.
NNAMDII'd like to go to the issue of funding because, Amanda MacKaye, you seem to say that in the agreement that was reached, there will be a financial responsibility on the part of you, who organized the summer series, in the future and there was not in the past.
MACKAYECorrect. You know, I have no control over the budgets. And so, it is what it is. These costs are being met, you know, through these organizations. And as the permit holder, that is -- that becomes our responsibility.
NNAMDIBut you mentioned earlier that this was about -- or I inferred from what I saw about your budget earlier that this cost would essentially double your budget and you had a concern about what would happen on the days when all of those of us who have attended these concerts know the rain comes, it's that time of year, and you cannot have a performance. Have there been agreement about that?
MACKAYEWell, you know, it is true, this will double, it will more than double our budget and we will have to consider this cost each year as we do our planning. And we are trying to figure out how their constraints are going to work with our meteorological constraint. You know, we don't know when the rains will come. We do our best to inform everybody in as timely a manner as possible. But if, you know, there is this element of if we're paying for an officer to be present and we're not there, how is that all going to work out? And it's part of the conversation that we had today and it will continue.
NNAMDIWell, I want to quote something that you said earlier because for those who are wondering about the future of this concert, you said, "That's a deeper moral question for me. There are no sponsors are this event, all you're getting is the music. It's just bands in a park. That's all it is. And those bands are committed to supporting a venue that is free of all trappings other than their music and open to all people all the time. It's for everyone and there's nothing else like this." Could increased cost force this series to change in someway or the other such as looking for sponsors?
NNAMDIIt's not going to happen.
MACKAYENot going to happen. You know, growing up in the D.C. Punk scene, I have -- it's in my blood. I cannot sell out the music. And this concert series is so loved by so many people. I have stated in the last few days to many people that I have absolute confidence that if a bar needs to be raised, people will be there to assist. And we'll figure it out. The cost is true, that it's burden. However, the greater thing for us was the communication of how it's all going to work out and how we are going to integrate.
MACKAYEBecause that was the conversation I really needed to have was how are we going to integrate? If this is the new day of procedure, then we need to figure out how we're going to work together.
NNAMDII want to get a couple of calls in first. First one having to do with funding. Roderick in Northwest D.C. You're on the air, Roderick, go ahead please.
RODERICKHey, my name is Roderick. I am a native D.C. and I'm with the Wilson High School. This was back in the '60s and '70s, so therefore I know about Fort Reno and it's an enjoyable entertainment on weekdays and also on weekends. You know, there's a part of my question to people on the panel. My question is when this event is thrown -- when these events are thrown on Fort Reno Park, do bands pay? Or is this something purely voluntary where the bands just want to go out and just play for the public? And that's my question, thank you.
NNAMDIWell, we heard the budget. We can answer that, the bands are not paid.
MACKAYEYeah. No, the bands are not paid. I am not paid. The folks who come and volunteer to keep the crowd safe and under control each evening are not paid.
NNAMDISound engineer, that's who get paid.
MACKAYEYeah, that's the only person who is paid is our sound engineer because he comes, brings his gear at risk to his -- to himself, you know, in terms of it rains, and so he does need to be paid. And obviously we have to pay for the port-a-potties and any sort of sundries that we need for the bands.
NNAMDIAnd a question from Mike in Washington, D.C. that this is really for the National Park Service. Here is Mike. Mike, you're on the air, go ahead please.
MIKEThanks, Kojo. I'm calling about a couple of parks that also have concerts that I believe I've seen you attend and that's Fort Dupont and Carter Barron.
NNAMDIThis is true.
MIKEOkay. So I'm gonna talk about Carter Barron.
MIKERight. And I'm surprised you didn't bring this one up, Kojo. But I want to talk about Carter Barron because this is a paid event that even our Attorney General Eric Holder attends concert at the same venue.
NNAMDIYou want to know if those are going to continue?
MIKEWell, obviously it's been -- the concert series has stopped for the past two seasons down there and I'm curious -- an you can't really find out any answers why the concert series has stopped. And also, it's been very successful down there because some of the concerts are being sold out.
NNAMDIWell, we are running out of time very quickly, so let me ask either Lt. Griffith or Tara Morrison if you can respond. Tara Morrison?
MORRISONI'll take that. The concert has shifted over the last two years and at least not this summer but the previous summer we were reevaluating and working through our budget. And with the ability to plan the event, we were only able to offer free shows by the time we were able to get all the plans in place. And at this time, we're doing the same thing for this year. And I think the larger picture is really needing to take a look at the series and what ability or what level of programming that we're going to be able to offer in the future. So that's something that we're...
NNAMDIThat's Carter Barron?
MORRISONYes, that's Carter Barron.
NNAMDIAnything about Fort Dupont?
MORRISONI'm not sure about Fort Dupont.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. These are issues that we, I guess, are going to revisit sometime in the near future. Tara Morrison is superintendent of Rock Creek Park in Washington, which is managed by the National Park Service. Tara Morrison, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAllan Griffith is a lieutenant with the United States Park Police. Allan Griffith, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Amanda MacKaye organizes the summer concert series at Fort Reno in Washington. It's a part of Washington and the MacKaye family tradition. Amanda MacKaye, thank you for joining us.
MACKAYEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, a check up on the health of D.C. areas musical ecosystem. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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